There are more than 60,000 hectares, located in the area around the Maipo River’s mouth –which include the communes of Santo Domingo and San Antonio of the Valparaiso Region– that from today will be protected by the law that declares the Maipo River Wetland a Nature Sanctuary. The sanctuary management will be carried out by the Cosmos Foundation, plus a committee formed by the Regional Ministerial Secretariat of Environment of the Valparaiso Region, San Antonio and Santo Domingo municipalities, and the San Antonio Port Company (EPSA by its initials in Spanish).
The wetland has a highly dynamic and seasonal character since, in addition to hosting dozens of species permanently, it is part of an essential migratory route in America and receives thousands of birds annually from the northern hemisphere. “Altogether, 181 bird species have been registered in the wetland, which represents around 35% of the national avifauna, being the place with the largest number of bird records in Chile”, the document says.
The conservation objects of the new “Río Maípo wetland” Sanctuary, include the wetland itself, dunes, birds, native mammals, ichthyofauna, the Chilean frog, and the landscape. However, according to experts, the wetland also plays a key role in disaster risk mitigation. Indeed, says Carolina Martínez, a researcher from the Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (CIGIDEN by its initials in Spanish), academic of the Catholic University of Chile (UC in Spanish) and director of the Coastal Observatory, wetlands like this one are considered as the “front line” protecting the entire surrounding coastal system from extreme waves, storms and tsunamis.
Wetlands and mitigation
“Wetlands allow the renewal of sediments for beaches and the conservation of dune fields. When the beach recedes and is not protected, some ecosystem services provided by the coast are lost, such as climate regulation, flood and tsunami mitigation, and a natural, cultural and tourist heritage,” she claimed.
The enactment of this law will allow the preservation of a rich habitat where different species of waders, waterfowl, land and sea birds locate their nesting, feeding, shelter, and rest. Most of these species are included in the conservation status category, some are endemic species and/or endangered species.
For this reason, Diego Urrejola, director of the Cosmos Foundation, believes the challenge will be wetland governance that involves various agents, including the community, local authorities, the scientific community, and the government represented by the Ministry of Environment. ” Local organizations are going to play a critical role in the future management of this sanctuary “, he said.
Finally, Carolina Martínez emphatically states that both the latest swells and the rapid retreat of beaches in the central zone make it clear that Chile needs new legislation for the protection and sustainable management of the entire coastal area throughout the territory. “The proposed Coastal Law includes the projection of ecosystems like wetlands, dune fields, and coastal estuaries,” he says.
In the area adjacent to the new Sanctuary, there is also an urgent need to protect the wetlands on the north bank in San Antonio commune, which today does not have this type of preservation categories such as “Ojos de Mar de LLolleo”, being threatened by the expansion project of the San Antonio port (outer port). Along with this, Urrejola stresses the importance of look forward to better legal protection of coastal ecosystems through other legal protection instruments.