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May 26, 2017

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South America's Parana Delta under major threat from human activity

BUENOS AIRES--The Parana delta is one of Argentina's most bountiful ecosystems and an internationally protected wetlands but human encroachment in the form of urban settlements, farming and cattle breeding is jeopardizing this vast coastal region and its biodiversity.

"The main danger is the spread of activities that have no connection to the region," said Carmen Penedo, a biologist with the Wetlands Foundation. The Parana delta is very vulnerable, she added.

The Parana delta is a Ramsar site (the 1971 Ramsar, Iran, Convention was created to protect the world's wetlands) and has been declared a biosphere reserve by Argentina.

Its ecosystem, comprising rivers, streams and islands stretches over 22,590 square kilometers. To the north it reaches out over the Paraguay river and to the south along the Parana river until it merges with the River Plate. The delta is also a major water reservoir for South America.

The characteristics of the delta differ depending on each particular area of the territory. For example, there is the touristic and more populated area known as the Lower Delta, near Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital. Then there are the bleak and inhospitable islands covered in scrub and rushes in the provinces of Entre Rios and Santa Fe.

The Parana delta is the fifth most important of its kind in the world. The Parana is also one of the few deltas that flows into another freshwater river, not directly into the ocean, and one of the few that continue to grow. It is growing at the rate of about 100 meters per year and experts say that by 2100 it might reach the coast off Buenos Aires.

The Parana delta has ecological functions such as softening the effects of floods and droughts, preventing erosion, protecting the coast and regulating the climate. The delta helps to purify water and provides natural resources. It is a refuge for flora to grow and fauna to feed and reproduce.

Penedo said that many of those functions are under threat because farmers and animal breeders are encroaching on the delta islands.

"Before cattle raising was done in keeping with the way a wetland works. But now breeders are transferring methods used on the mainland to the islands. They are bringing a lot of animals and they are doing construction works to dry out the wetlands to keep the animals from dying," she said.

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