Spanish Version

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Forest Burnings: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

 Perhaps some have read this novel written by García Márquez, which describes a murder and details of this killing. The same is happening with our beloved Amazonian forests and the worst problem is that this death may extend not only to animals and plants but all of us.

"Ipias" Hills burning - September 2011

The Amazon, before becoming a victim of human settlements, had no time of the year with burnings like now. Since man came up with the "bright idea" to transform forest lands for grazing and agriculture by burnings, this has not stopped. What is not known is that this action diminishes the rainfall and what was once a rainforest, becomes an arid and dry plain. As an example we can mention all the Chaco's Zone (south east of Bolivia, part of Paraguay and northern Argentina) that was previously rain forest and is now a semi-dessert with scarce vegetation and water problems due to old burnings, long time ago. The Spanish name "chaco" is translated as burnt land and it just shows what has been done with this site. There is also another surprise, the land after the burnings is not suitable for agriculture and is infertile. The reason is that all the wealth and productivity of the Amazon is related to its ecosystem and its living organisms, once they disappear, the soil is not suitable to produce.

Chaco's Zone - A very arid zone compared with rainforest.

The idea that the product of burning enriches the soil, is totally false and incorrect, as this ends up destroying all micro-organisms and in a very short time the land is totally unproductive. What do most of the people? They go further to burn another portion of the rainforest and thus it has no end. Not for nothing, now the Bolivian government wants to build roads through the rainforest, this just shows the greed of some people and their short vision for the future. It is important to understand that this is no longer a political (Right vs. Left), economic (rich vs. poor), racial, social or ethnic problem, it is everyone's problem. You can compare what happens with a person who smokes. We currently know that this is not good for our health, even in the pack you find a big warning, but what happens? Some keep smoking until there is a serious disease, usually incurable. When they stop smoking, it's too late, that "cancer" is very advanced and only the worst may be expected.

Everything is caught by fire.
After the fire, nothing is left.
More fire and burnings.
The fire is spread by wind.

Some people think this position is "exaggerated" and that while this does not affect them, there is no problem. In addition it is thought that only the authorities are responsible, but the magnitude of this problem has gone further and there is much in play. One consequence is the greenhouse effect.
C02 or carbon dioxide is among the gases that cause this effect. The more CO2 will be spilled in the atmosphere, the higher temperature increase that will be. This is similar to what happens inside a closed car in the sun. Soon the temperature within it increases and reaches a point where you can not stay inside. It is believed that this contamination is only done in developed countries by industries and automobiles, but this is not true. From the total of carbon added to the atmosphere between the years 2000-2008, over 15% is due to burning of forests in countries like Bolivia. Our own experience of previous years has confirmed this and it is possible that it is even worse.

A denounce is done. Let's hope the authorities find the outlaws.
Some soldiers and firemen fighting against the fire.
This year more people helped fighting the burnings, but the best way is preventing them.

According to estimates by scientists, deforestation and fires will continue to grow in the southern hemisphere until 2025, and for the year 2100, it is estimated that the average temperature will rise 3 degrees Celsius, which will destabilize the entire planet (Source: Prof. Galen A. McKinley, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Center for Climatic Research - University of Wisconsin - Madison. Project dissemination of NASA).

After the burnings the rainforest does not come back.
Destruction and contamination.

Scared animals after the burnings - September 2011.

What to do?

1) Take action. It is no time to have a passive attitude, just reading or hearing about the bad news.
2) Assess the wonders of nature that we have about its unparalleled beauty and appreciate it. Photography is a medium that allows it.
3) Pass this message to everyone. We should try to educate all. Let's start with our children and young people.
4) Do not contribute more to predation. Do not let this consumer society influence your life style, save energy, do not waste wood or paper. Take care of our environment!
5)  Do not break the law and denounce who does!
6) Finally, try to support any reforestation campaign, plant trees ... We can even start at our own home.

We want green and healthy forests. Giant ferns - Amboro Park.
With animals...
plants and...

Only if we all act as one, perhaps we can reverse the destruction and unlike in the novel above, we will able to change the end and avoid our own death.

Special thanks to Anke Arno, Steffen Reichle and the group of Bolivia Nature Photographers for the photographs provided.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Uyuni, a place on earth that seems from another world

Many people want to explore the space and know other planets. They become exited when they see several pictures and movies that were obtained in the exploration of Mars, but most of them do not know that there is a very weird place in South America that have impressive sights that can be compared to what we can found in other planets.

The puna in the Andes

This place is the Andes in South America. This mountain range extends from North to South and several countries share the privilege of having part of it in their territory. Between the several amazing places that may be found there, we can mention two spots that are the most remarkable ones, which are the Patagonia (between Chile and Argentina, we will talk about it in the future) and the Uyuni salt flat and its neighborhoods including the Eduardo Avaroa National Park in Bolivia. The last spot is located in the far southwestern part of this country.  Although, by far, it is the most visited touristic place in Bolivia, its beauty and attractions are not known by many.

A salt flat view with the typical pentagons formed due to water evaporation

The salt flat is the world´s largest one and was formed by an ancient lake. It covers 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq. miles) (source: Wikipedia) and it is located between the Oruro and Potosi departments. One amazing characteristic is its extremely flatness (less than 1 meter or 3 feet along the entire flat). As any natural wonder it is endangered by human's greed due to its lithium richness containing 50 to 70% of the world´s reserves.

Incahuasi Island with giant cacti
A weird effect of water "boiling" at a low temperature.

At the very center of the salt flat we find an island called Incahuasi or "Isla de Pescadores", fishermen island in Spanish, featuring giant millenarian cacti, which grow at a rate of 1 centimeter (0.39 in) per year to a length of more than 12 meters. There are also more than 80 bird species in the area including the famous flamingos.  

Flamingos in a small lake

Because we have nothing but salt, some small hostels in the nearby are built of salt bricks and are also touristic attractions.

A salt hotel in the middle of the salt flat.

Next to the Uyuni salt flat, we find the Eduardo Avaroa national park. In Spanish its name is "Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa" and it was named after a Bolivian national hero of the Pacific War (1879). The park is at an altitude between 4,200 m (13,800 ft) and 5,400 m (17,700 ft) and cover an area of 714,745 hectares (1,766,170 acres) (source: Wikipedia). It is part of the Altiplano (central Andean dry puna) and has an aggressive environment (very low precipitation 250 to 500 millimeter (9.8 to 20 in) per year and a high temperature gradient (from 20-25 degrees at midday to -20 degrees during the night and early morning)).

Wind blowing in a typical sun set

Ollague volcano. It is one  that is still active. See its fumarole at the left.

The attractions found there compare to the best ones found in other very well known parks around the world, confirming that the Andes is a wonderful gem of nature.
One of the best attractions is Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon), which was declared a National Wildlife Sanctuary, category IV under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). This lake has a very intense red color, which is caused by the algae and other micro-organisms that live in it. You can find 4 types of flamingos there (depending on the period of the year) and the place is really out of this world.

A view of "Laguna Colorada"
Another view of the red lagoon

Another very interesting place is Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon), which is located in the skirt of the Lincancabur's volcano. As can be guessed, the green color is due to the minerals and chemicals originated due to the volcano, which does not allow birds or other fauna in the lake.
Green lagoon with the Licancabur volcano

Close to the park we find "Sol de mañana" (Morning Sun), which is a region with active volcanic activity that generate geysers and thermal waters. It is very impressive to see and hear the activity of this place, which is visited mostly at early morning (6 a.m.) because the activity is high during this period. This is possibly the reason of having this name. One can recognize the power of nature and it should be mentioned that no photo can show what one can experience being there in-person.
Sol de mañana in full activity
A man made hole working like a geyser. The steam is not hot and you can touch it.
Another view of Sol de mañana
Thermal waters. You can enjoy a warm bad in this cold weather.

The region is full of surprises. For example between the salt-lake and the lagoons you find an ancient glacier that has no water, but left estrange rocks sculptured by wind. One of the most remarkable ones is the rock tree and another spectacular feature are the mountains with amazing colors. This region is for sure heaven for geologists.
Mountains with a wide gamma of colors.

The rock that has a form of a tree, sculptured mostly by wind
Another rock with a weird shape
The train cemetery, very close to Uyuni town is also a place worth to visit.

If you have the time and the possibilities to come, do not hesitate. You will not find a 5 stars hotel, but I am sure you will not forget it. You do not know how long it will last!