• Fabián Llanos

    Shorebird conservation at Bahía de San Antonio, Argentina

In Brief

Location:

Bahía de San Antonio, northern Patagonia, Argentina

Goal:

Improve the population status of at-risk migratory shorebirds by increasing protection of a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of International Importance

Conservation Value:

Bahía de San Antonio, a coastal marine protected area administered by the province of Rio Negro, represents a key stopover area for shorebirds migrating between Tierra del Fuego and Canada. More than 100,000 shorebirds used this site in the 1990s, including 40,000 Red Knots (Calidris canutus rufa). However, in recent years, many fewer knots (<3,000) have been observed there, reflecting the dramatic declines that have been recorded for the species throughout its range. Bahía de San Antonio also hosts a population of almost 600 wintering and breeding American Oystercatchers and breeding colonies of South American Tern, Kelp Gull and other species. See the Background section below for much more information.

Threats:

Although Bahía de San Antonio is a provincial coastal marine protected area, shorebirds using this important stopover site are subject to increasing human disturbance and the threat of inappropriate development adjacent to sensitive shorebird habitat. Primary threats include recreational use of ATVs, camper vehicles, motorbikes, and surf kites; unmanaged loose or feral dogs, and poorly permited coastal development projects.

Actions & Results:

  • Working with the province, we are markedly reducing disturbance, while increasing public awareness deploying additional rangers at critical sites during the annual migration season (March to mid-May) — see details in "In Depth" section, below.
  • Our rangers also promote awareness of shorebird and biodiversity conservation at schools and with the community.
  • We are providing best-practices expertise to decision makers regarding shorebird conservation needs.

Project Field Partner:

Fundación Inalafquen

Size of Area Involved:

65 km of coastline within the Protected Natural Area.

Cost:

ICFC's commitment for 2017: $73,737
Cumulative spending 2015-2016: $168,203

Support this project

Rangers at Bahia de San Antonio.  photo: Patricia Gonzalez 

In More Depth...

Project Partner and Personnel

Our partner is the Argentinian conservation organizaton Fundación Inalafquen, in cooperation with the Río Negro Province. Project leader are Patricia Gonzalez, ICFC Shorebird Program Coordinator, and Mirta Carbajal, President of Fundación Inalafquen. This project is supported in part by the Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity Tesearch Fund, Royal Ontario Museum.

Background

Bahía de San Antonio, a coastal marine protected area administered by the province of Rio Negro, represents a key stopover area for shorebirds migrating between Tierra del Fuego and Canada. More than 100,000 shorebirds used this site in the 1990s, including 40,000 Red Knots (Calidris canutus). In recent years, fewer knots (<3,000) have been observed there, reflecting the dramatic declines that have been recorded for the species, but this represents 25-50% of the Tierra del Fuego population (Baker, Gonzalez, Morrison, & Harrington, 2013). The current norm is about 20,000 shorebirds.

Bahía de San Antonio also hosts a population of almost 600 American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) and breeding colonies of South American Tern (Sterna hirundinacea), Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus), and other species. The area was declared protected in 1993; it is recognized as Site of International Importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. Thanks to the work of the Argentinian conservation group Fundación Inalafquen, a Shorebird Interpretive Center was established in 2007. Shorebird Festivals are now held each year and the Red Knot was recently declared as the symbol of the city of San Antonio Oeste.

Shorebirds stop to refuel and rest, while moulting into breeding plumage at Bahía de San Antonio. Many knots and other species stay there as late as May 7-10, and then make an 8000-km nonstop flight to the United States in 8-10 days (based on information from geolocators attached to birds and resightings of color flagged birds; Allan Baker, personal communication). The late Dr. Allan Baker explained: "Without this link in the migratory chain we risk losing the wintering red knot population in Tierra del Fuego. Since the year 2000 the Tierra del Fuego population has declined from 52,000 red knots to 10,000 in 2013 , and similar population declines have also occurred in the other Canadian species."

Enhanced protection measures are now critical, because disturbance and destruction of feeding and roosting habitats is causing birds to leave optimal areas. This adversely affects their physical condition and lowers their chances of surviving their long distance migrations. In recent years everal factors have led to worsening disturbance:

  • the growth of the three urban centers (San Antonio Oeste, Las Grutas beach and the Port of San Antonio Este) that grew from 15,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 30,000 in 2010, and a large real estate development at Las Grutas beach that had 424,000 tourists between December 2013 and February 2014, compared to 172,000 visitors in 2003-2004;
  • increased traffic from ATVs and motorcycles (a social trend driven by highly successful marketing);
  • increased number of holidays and non-working days (27 days in 2014 compared with 14 days in 2000), which brings more visitors to the coast;
  • increased beach access points.

The number of provincial conservation officers working in the Natural Protected Area has not been enough to protect the three main vulnerable shorebirds sites.

With this project, we have an agreement with the province of Rio Negro to collaborate in affording the level of protection called for in the reserve Management Plan.

Actions & Results

Results

  • In the period 15 March to 10 May 2016, rangers were able to halt 96% (499 out of 520) incidences of disturbance caused by people, dogs and vehicles.
  • Improved protection measures (more rangers, training, uniforms, signage) reduced disturbance markedly from 2015 to 2016 (see table below).
  • Vandalism was also reduced.
  • 22 tickets for infractions were written and weapons and fox traps were seized.
  • Coordination with other security forces was improved.
  • Our rangers were appointed as honorary guards and participating in anti wildlife trafficking operations.
  • Community relations improved.
  • Rangers gave talks to visitors and at schools reaching more than 400 students and over 4,500 other people. 
  Mar-May 2015 Mar-May 2016 percent change 2015-2016
Reduction in disturbance from 2015 to 2016
number of vehicles 127 14 -89%
number of people causing disturbance

54
(8% of 654)

18
4% of 463)
-65%
number of dogs causing disturbance 26
(54% of 56)
6
(14% of 43)
-77%

Actions

  1. Train, equip and manage conservation officers (rangers) who:
    • enforce regulations aimed at reducing disturbance and threats to shorebirds and their habitats;
    • promote awareness of shorebird and biodiversity conservation among tourists, local visitors, school kids, and high school and university students.
  2. Provide expert input on shorebird conservation needs in relation to coastal development affecting sensitive areas at Bahia de San Antonio.
  3. Collaborate with Atlantic flyway colleagues with respect to public awareness, social media and communications.

Signs decrease disturbance to birds. photo: Fundacion Inalafquen

Education indoors (above) and outdoors (below) makes a difference. photos: Fundación Inalafquen

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