New initiatives aim to protect Chile’s Salar de Atacama wetland

Between 2011 and 2016, nearly US$ 3 million is being invested in research to find the most effective ways to sustainably develop the Atacama.

San Pedro de Atacama is renown for its stargazing, fascinating landscapes, and activities for the adrenaline junkie. But two organizations are now on a mission to add one more thing to the town’s profile: sustainability.

Between 2011 and 2016, nearly US$ 3 million is being invested in research to find the most effective ways to protect the region’s wetlands and sustainably develop the Atacama. The projects aim to not only promote tourism in the region, but also to improve the quality of life for the area’s residents.

One of the organizations currently working in the Atacama is the Project for Ecosystem Services (ProEcoServ), a worldwide initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility that is currently running programs in Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago, Lesotho, and South Africa.

For the past 15 months, the organization has been designing support tools for environmental policy making alongside the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, with a special focus on the Salar de Atacama salt flat.

This incredibly biodiverse wetland ecosystem is home to a variety of migratory bird species and three Andean flamingo species who use the area for shelter and breeding grounds. It’s for this reason that ProEcoServ seeks to protect the habitat for years to come with the help of the local government.

The other sustainability campaign is called “Diagnostic and integrated environmental management of Andean wetlands,” a US$ 1.3 million project headed by the Ministry of the Antofagasta Region. Launching this month and set to run for two years, the initiative aims to protect the Salar de Atacama and ensure that future development of the altiplano occurs sustainably.

“Wetlands have a significant impact on people’s lives. They develop life. If they dried, whole communities could disappear because of the tourism activities carried out in the area,” project manager Hugo Thenoux told La Tercera.

According to Thenoux, the assessment will analyze how local economic activities are currently affecting the wetlands and create public policy recommendations for the future.