Mega dam project could drive Argentina’s hooded grebes to extinction

Mega dam project could drive Argentina’s hooded grebes to extinction

Ignacio “Kini” Roesler spent three years surveying hooded grebes in Argentina’s Patagonian wilds without finding a single breeding colony. Then, suddenly, his survey team stumbled upon a lagoon with 20 hooded grebe nests floating on its surface. Elated, they left to pick up monitoring and camping equipment for a longer site visit. But when they returned, the grebes had mysteriously vanished.

“We were so disappointed,” says Roesler, now an assistant professor for Argentina’s National Council of Scientific Research and the conservation director for Aves Argentinas, a bird conservation group. They did, however, find a tiny colony of four nests on the property of a gaucho—a cowboy in South America’s treeless plains—tending some sheep. “We stayed there four days to monitor them, and I got to see a hooded grebe chick hatch for the first time,” Roesler says.


Damming the Santa Cruz River, the last free-flowing glacial river running from the Andes to the sea, would affect its course. Altering its course would change the natural course of the Argentino Lake as we know it.

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For Roesler, the hatching marked a victory in the battle to save one of Argentina’s most emblematic and endangered birds. Hooded grebes live only in Santa Cruz Province, where they were discovered in 1974. In the 1980s, their population numbered around 5,000. But since then, a lethal combination of climate change—which is transforming Patagonia—and competition with invasive species has reduced their population by more than 80%.

Roesler says the species’ population has stabilized and even begun to grow slightly thanks to a decade of conservation work by Aves Argentina, Ambiente Sur, and a host of other conservation partners. But now, all that progress could be erased by a pair of mega dams in construction on the Santa Cruz River.

The hydropower project is expected to significantly alter the flow of the river and harm a variety of local species, including hooded grebes. But due to an incomplete environmental impact assessment of the project, nobody knows just how much damage it could cause.

“Usually the impact of mega dams on downstream estuaries is very big because they change the water level, but there aren’t any studies of how these specific dams could affect the estuary of the Santa Cruz River,” Roesler says. “What we do know is that for the last few years, 95% of the hooded grebe population spends part of the winter in that estuary. These dams are basically a death sentence.”

Beyond harming particular species, the dams could flood an area almost twice as big as the capital of Buenos Aires, destroy important archaeology sites, and negatively affect the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. Aves Argentina, Ambiente Sur, Fundacion Vida Silvestre Argentina (WWF’s partner organization in Argentina), and other conservation groups are calling for the national and provincial governments to halt construction of the dams and invest in renewable energy sources to meet the country’s rising energy demand.

If the construction continues, Argentina could quickly lose one of its most famous birds. “Hooded grebes have unique markings and some of the most elaborate mating dances, and they’re adapted to live in an extremely harsh environment,” Roesler says. “Everybody knows and loves them but it’s hard to see them because they live in such a remote place. They’re becoming the panda of Argentina.”

Published November 26, 2018 at 06:00AM

New partners join national governments to fight climate change

New partners join national governments to fight climate change

In 2015, nearly 200 countries signed a historic agreement in Paris that established the world’s first truly global plan to tackle climate change. Now, three years later, there’s still a significant gap between the pledges countries made to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases and what’s actually needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and stave off the worst impacts of a warming planet.  

And though world leaders will meet in December to ramp up efforts mapped out in the Paris Agreement— climate change is not just their problem alone to solve.  All sectors of the economy—states, cities, businesses, and more—have a crucial role to play in closing the emissions gap. Many of these new leaders will travel to the talks to show their continued commitment to climate action.

“There’s a new face of climate leadership emerging from around the world: CEOs, university presidents, civil society, and leaders from local government and indigenous communities,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF’s global climate and energy practice lead. “They are demanding climate action and partnering together to accelerate implementation in key countries. This is a global groundswell and we are all in.”

Take a look at how groups are coming together around the world:

In November, a new coalition of Argentinian businesses, cities, investors, civil society, and universities banded together to form the Alianza para la Acción Climática Argentina. Members include clothing company Patagonia, cosmetics company Natura, the capital city of Buenos Aires, University of El Salvador, and the association of 2,000 agro-commodity producers in Argentina called CREA. Together this coalition represents over 13 million citizens and over 30% of the nation’s economy.

In August, more than 35 Mexican entities—from universities to local governments—officially signed a declaration stating that they will work together to advance the country’s goal of reducing up to 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

in July, nearly 300 companies, cities, investors and other partners are part of the Japan Climate Initiative, a group dedicated to realizing a carbon-free society and expanding renewable energy across the country. The group is comprised of local governments from many of Japan’s major cities, like Tokyo and Yokohama, and small businesses, and major companies such as Sony and Panasonic Corp.,

United States
When the US government announced that it would withdraw from the historic Paris agreement, We Are Still In was formed to ensure the US remains a global leader in reducing emissions. We Are Still In has grown to 3,600 signatories collectively representing 155 million Americans and $9.5 trillion of the US economy. 

All of these climate coalitions are partners of the Alliances for Climate Action (ACA), a new global network—supported by WWF and our partners—working to speed up individual countries’ progress towards climate targets.

According to the United Nations, action by businesses and local leaders around the globe has the potential to halve the emissions gap. But if we’re going to avoid 2°C of global warming, then a greater collective action is needed.

Through the Alliances for Climate Action, WWF and partners will continue to support and grow these new leaders dedicated to pursuing immediate climate action. 

Published November 20, 2018 at 06:00AM


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