Wetlands in Bolivia: Pantanal
Preservation and Sustainable Development
(Excerpts from the full paper presented in the uncorrected, advance proof of The
Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, Hudson MacArthur Publishers,
copyright 2000 by Waterland Research Institute)
Wetlands occupy an important part of the Bolivian
territory and in particular its tropical zone. The Bolivian tropics are
composed of three districts — Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz — and extend into
the districts of La Paz and Cochabamba. Wetlands in the northernmost district
of Pando (63,827 km2) have not been characterized. In the district
of Beni, some recent studies were conducted and proposals were made for
a systematic classification of wetlands (Miranda 1999). Beni covers an
area of 213,564 km2, of which 30,000 km2 correspond
to different types of permanent wetlands and over 100,000 km2
are flood areas constituting temporary wetlands during the rainy season
(November/December through April/May).
A high productivity and rich fauna characterize
the Beni wetlands. Several wetland related species of mammals can be found
there (i.e. Noctilio, Chrysocyon brachyurus, Pteronura
brasiliensis, Lutra longicaudis, Odocoileus dichotomus,
Tapirus terrestres). Some of the largest are Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
and the river mammal Inia geofrensis. About 70 species of birds
are closely related to these wetlands, some very rare (Phistocomus hoazin,
Eurypiga helias and Heliocornis fulica). Reptiles constitute
another important part of the fauna. Some species are in danger of extinction
due to hunting (Caiman latirostris and Melanosuchus niger).
River turtles and over 300 species of fish are also characteristic of this
Many of the problems affecting the district wetlands
and other wetlands in the country come from draining, and from clearing
the land by burning it, which is a method used in cattle raising and agriculture.
Local ethnic groups use the latter “technique” to facilitate hunting "wetland
deer" (Odocoileus dichotomus). Preservation and sustainable development
challenges facing the Beni wetlands include hunting reptiles and other
species; the introduction of exotic species such as Tilapia; commercial
fishing; pollution by toxic substances; and removing woodlands that block
water courses. Because of the rather high degree of human intervention
in the region, it is crucial that Bolivia develop a wetland strategy.
A comprehensive study of wetlands in the district
of Santa Cruz (370,621 km2) still must be done. However, valuable
information has been obtained for parts of the Bolivian Pantanal, and it
will be discussed in the next section.
The Bolivian Pantanal covers about 10 percent
of the total Pantanal area (100,000-175,000 km2). It comprises
several zones, two of which, Otuquis and San Matías, became part
of the National System of Protected Areas in 1997, and recently were studied
systematically. The main areas in the district of Santa Cruz include: San
Matías; the north and south of Puerto Suarez — the Caceres Lagoon;
the open and low marshes between the San Fernando river and the La Gaiba
Lagoon; and the extended marshes around Puerto Bush — Otuquis and Tucavaca.
The San Matías reserve and the Otuquis reserve have been systematically
studied in some detail (Universidad Autónoma 1997).
The Otuquis Pantanal reserve covers 1,005,950
hectares, of which 903,350 hectares are designated as a national park and
102,600 as a natural area of integrated management. Rainfall is estimated
at 900-1,100 mm/year, with 80 percent of it falling between October and
January. The mean annual temperature is 26oC. As a result of
the interaction of the temperature, rainfall and height regimes, this zone
is classified as "dry temperate forest” (bs-TE). Soils are composed of
quaternary sediments of pluvial character. The internal hydrographic network
does not posses a defined distribution pattern, being assimilated into
a closed basin where water courses are born and die in the Paraguay and
Negro rivers. One exception is the Otuquis River in the northern section
which runs east and south and drains into the Pantanal, eventually ending
up in the Paraguay River. Its flow rate varies between 1.55 m3/sec
in September and 33.9 m3/sec in March. Three phitogeographic
regions converge in Otuquis, Chaco, Cerrado and Amazonia, and flora and
fauna characteristics of each can be found, as noted later on.
The reserve is almost unpopulated; there are five
or six farms. At its northern limit, however, there are ranches and urban
populations of importance along the Santa Cruz-Puerto Suarez-Corumbá
railway (constructed in 1940-45). In fact, 90 percent of the population
in this region (25,426 inhabitants at last census) is concentrated along
the railway line.
As for cultural diversity the Otuquis is characterized
by the presence of two indigenous communities, Chiquitanos and Ayoreos,
who are Creole (Spanish: criollo) peasants and descendants of the Spanish colony; recent
colonizers (Quechuas and Aimaras) from the Bolivian highlands; and foreigners,
mainly from Brazil. The Ayoreo people (about 838 who live along the railway
lines) have a semi-nomad culture, while the Chiquitanos people (about 2,819
in the same area) are a sedentary group partially because of the strong
Jesuit influence from Spanish colonization.
Important economic activities take place around
the Otuquis. Tourists number between 8,500 and 10,000 per year around the
city of Puerto Suarez. Several new projects are discussed briefly further
on, and it is expected that they will be completed within the next five
years. In the Free Zone of Puerto Aguirre, commercial visitors number about
250,000 per year. Access is by plane, road and train, but in general the
infrastructure is not well developed. Feasibility studies are being carried
out to look for better solutions. Mining concerns in this area cover 301
hectares and operate mainly in the “Cerro Mutun” iron ore deposits, which
are considered some of the world largest reserves (estimated at 25 million
tons of secondary positive mineral reserves, 77 million of primary positive
mineral reserves and 330 million tons of probable reserves), and which
presently refine 15,000 tons/year of iron ore.
The San Matías Pantanal reserve covers
2,918,500 hectares. It is located next to the Pantanal Matogrossense National
Park in Brazil, permitting a flora and fauna corridor that will enhance
preservation efforts in both areas. Rainfall is in the order of 1,400-1,600
mm/year, 80 percent of which falls during the rainy season (October-April).
Mean annual temperature is 25oC. As a result of the interaction
of temperature, rainfall and height regimes, 50 percent of the zone is
classified as a humid temperate forest (bh-TE) and the other 50 percent
as a dry temperate forest. Precambrian rocks belonging to the “Brazilian
shield” provide the surface with a wavy and rocky physiography without
permeability or porosity, and as such they have no capacity for circulation
or storage of underground waters.
The predominant vegetation belongs to the Brazilian
Cerrado formation, but because it intersects the Chaco and Amazonian regions,
it is possible to find flora and fauna characteristics of each. Fifty-six
large and small ranches dot the area with about 534 people. The cultural
diversity both in the area and in the areas of influence is represented,
as in the Otuquis Pantanal, by Chiquitanos and Ayoreos; Creoles; migrants;
and foreigners, mainly from Brazil. The entire Angel Sandoval Province,
where the reserve is located, has 10,956 inhabitants.
The main economic activities are centered around
cattle ranching and agriculture (rice and corn). Recently the production
of soybeans has increased. Soybean products are the main agro-industrial
export of Bolivia. Some uncontrolled forest activities are common. Tourism
is extremely limited due to the lack of services. In the town of San Matías
outside of the protected area, visitors total 1,500-2,000 per year. New
initiatives are planned to attract larger numbers of visitors. Within the
reserve and the surrounding area, mining concessions (gold and precious
stones) cover 214,643 hectares.
In recent, but still preliminary studies of the
Otuquis and San Matías wetlands, 14 vegetal formations were identified.
Of these, nine were found in Otuquis and 13 in San Matías. Eight
hundred and seventy-four specimens were collected, and 409 species identified,
while the rest were classified to the level of family and gender, with
a few unknown. All the material was collected at the Herbarium of the Museum
of Natural History of Santa Cruz. The dominant species in the different
parcels under study are shown in Figure 1.
Several development projects exist in areas
within the Bolivian Pantanal. Some of the more important are listed below:
1) The Atlantic-Pacific Corridor is an initiative
of the Bolivian and Brazilian governments, mainly to open routes between
the inner Amazon areas to the Pacific. There are two specific proposals,
the first to connect Puerto Caceres (Brazil)-San Matías and San
Ignacio, which would serve to transport the soybean production in the Brazilian
state of Mato Grosso to the Pacific. The second proposal would connect
Pailon and Puerto Suarez. Such a corridor would integrate several Bolivian
small urban and rural communities and provide them access to larger markets.
Investment is estimated at $300 million (US).
2) One development project being extensively discussed
is the construction of the Paraguay-Parana Hidrovia covering 3,442 km from
Puerto Caceres to Nueva Palmira (Uruguay), opening both rivers for navigation.
This is the second largest system in South America. It drains an area of
1,750,000 km2 and has a population estimated at 30 million people. Investment
is estimated at US$1.3 billion, with an additional US$3 billion required
for operation and maintenance over a 25-year period. This project involves
dredging, construction of dams and large movements of land and rocks. The
degree of its environmental impact is a matter of discussion. The coalition
Rios Vivos, composed of about 300 NGOs, believes that studies undertaken
by IDB/UNDP and others are not sufficient for a final decision. Further,
they say that little consultation was done with local participants to this
point and that it serves only limited private interest groups (Both Ends
1997). In their extensive report, they highlight as a major drawback the
lack of research on the behavior of the hydric systems of the La Plata
River Basin and the Upper Paraguay River Basin.
On the other hand, in the study by Rios Vivos
the authors foresee an important set of negative impacts — social, cultural
and environmental-economic — that would increase flooding and water pollution,
affect the existing fisheries, drain lagoons and other wetlands, and expand
water transmitted diseases. It is important to emphasize that the Pantanal
provides for the exceptional stability of the current Paraguay River flow,
and that this stability may be broken by any human intervention (Cebrac-WWF
1994). In addition to the environmental impact, the authors severely criticize
the economics of the whole project, since the internal rate of return is
very low, less than seven percent. The alternative proposed for sustainable
development involves a mixture of transportation modes, using both river
and railway transportation.
3) The Puerto Suarez-Puerto Bush waterway route
is an initiative of the Bolivian government that would create a permanent
transportation system, mainly to export iron and manganese minerals from
the Mutun deposits. Investment is estimated at US$3.5 million.
4) Puerto Aguirre is a private initiative. In
operation since 1985, the port of Puerto Aguirre is located on the Tamengo
channel, which recently was dredged at 2 km from Caceres Lagoon and 8 km
from Corumbá in Brazil. It serves as a hub for the export and import
of processed and non-processed goods. The Tamengo channel permits ships
of up to 1,200 tons to navigate between eight to 10 months of the year
and up to 1,500 tons during the rainy season. Economically, it generates
about US$40 million per year.
5) The Bolivia-Brazil gas line was inaugurated
on February 9, 1999. It covers 3,069 km between Rio Grande Station (30
km south of Santa Cruz) to Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre in Brazil. The Bolivian
portion, covering 557 km, was built at a cost of US$435 million, out of
a total cost for the project of US$2,015 million. In April, 1999 it was
slated to initiate operations by transporting eight million m3/day of natural
gas and is expected to reach 30 million m3/day in seven years.
The line runs almost parallel to the railway. Near the town of El Carmen,
it crosses the northern part of the Otuquis Pantanal. The right-of-way
covers 30 m, including the working space. The permanent right of way is
17 m and the line is buried 1.5 m below ground. A detailed environmental
impact study was undertaken (Dames & Moore 1996) and an Environmental
Management Plan and a Plan for the Development of Indigenous Communities were produced.
The first plan established a detailed integrated environmental strategy
for construction to minimize and mitigate the impact. The second plan contributed
significantly to the consolidation of native territories, particularly
providing support for their land claims.
6) Several firms are planning to construct thermoelectric
plants using extensive Bolivian gas reserves to produce electric power
for sale to Brazil. Also, there are plans to construct additional gas lines
into Brazil to produce electricity in plants there. Construction of the
San Javier (Santa Cruz, Bolivia) -- Cuiaba (Mato Grosso, Brazil) gas line
is almost ready to begin operating, pending government authorization.
7) Deficiency of tourism services on the Bolivian
side of the Pantanal influences visitors to use the Brazilian services
in Corumbá, across from Puerto Suarez. For this reason several initiatives
have been undertaken to develop the tourist industry in the region. Three
of these are of importance: the expansion of the Hotel Pantanal services
at Puerto Quijarro, the ecotourism project of the Spanish NGO “Amigos de
Donana,” and the project “tourist territorial planning” of the Blackstone
Corporation (Blackstone 1997). Cattle ranches in the region have good potential
to serve as centers of tourism, and in interviews conducted in the recent
past, owners have agreed to integrate themselves into the plans to develop
tourism. The lagoons of La Gaiba, Uberaba, Providencia and Caceres offer
a high potential for tourism because of the biodiversity and scenery.
It is clear that the preservation and sustainable
development of the Pantanal by the three national stakeholders -- Brazil,
Bolivia and Paraguay -- will require a multinational effort and a well-defined
project. Two main objectives of such a project would be: a) To create "a
common vision," and b) To create and strengthen the management capacity
of the public and private sectors within the participating countries. In
proposing such a joint effort, we recognize that many civilian projects
and initiatives for research, management and participation are already
underway. The main idea behind the construction of a "common vision" for
all participants will involve bringing together both conceptual and actual
results into a sustained developmental framework, and further develop management
capacities based on the experience, identification and execution of the