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Is there a future for flightless grebes?

Peruvian Pollution Peril

Conservation organisations and civil society groups have gathered in the city of Junín, in the Peruvian Andes, to demand action to reverse the deteriorating condition of Lake Junín (Lake Chinchaycocha), the second largest lake in the Peruvian Andes and home to the Critically Endangered Junín Grebe Podiceps taczanowskii.

During the first half of the 20th century, this flightless grebe was described as abundant. Declines followed deterioration in water quality due to pollution from mining, and water abstraction for a hydroelectric plant. The population is now estimated at 100 to 300 individuals.

As a consequence the groups, including BirdLife International, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), ECOAN (Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos) and INRENA have adopted the Junín Grebe as the symbol of wetland conservation in the high Andes.Lake Junín was declared a national reserve in 1974, and a Ramsar site in 1997, but conditions in and around the lake continued to deteriorate. In 2002, following pressure from lakeside communities and conservationists, the Peruvian government passed an emergency law to protect the lake, control and clean up pollution, and reduce water abstraction.

"In practice, this has not solved anything", says ECOAN's member, Alejandro Tello. “The condition of the lake and the situation for the communities has not improved, and may actually have worsened.”

The Endangered Junín Rail Laterallus tuerosi is also restricted to a small area of the lake, and is declining because of deteriorating habitat quality. The lake’s ecosystems are also important for migratory waterbirds, including globally significant numbers of Wilson’s Phalarope Steganopus tricolor.The lake provides vital ecosystem services to local communities, who are also suffering from the impact of pollution and water level fluctuations. The groups are calling for an independent environmental audit, and for social partners and conservation professionals like BirdLife, ABC and ECOAN to carry out continuous environmental monitoring. They are demanding that the lake’s natural resources are managed sustainably for the benefit of local communities, rather than powerful external economic interests.

The area has great potential for development through tourism. Peru’s tourist agency, PromPeru, is working to increase the number of birding visitors, which currently stands at less than 300 a year. The communities are also demanding compensation for damage done to the lake by mining companies, and for royalties from the hydroelectric company. This will provide resources for the restoration of the lake, including environmental education programmes, and increasing opportunities for sustainable local development. "This is so our children will not see emigration as the only possible way out of this unjust situation", said Percy Chagua Huaranga, Mayor of Junín province. "If the Junín Grebe recovers and re-colonises other areas of the lake, it will mean not only that we have secured the future of this species and the recovery of the ecosystem, but also that we are changing our view on the irrational exploitation of our natural resources.

It's time to be better citizens and not just selfish individuals."


Constantino Aucca, president of ECOAN said, "We are looking to collaborate in a solution for these issues at Junín Lake and to that end, we are helping the Junín National Reserve in their different activities with the objective of conserving these threatened species.”

"We have the chance to save from extinction what is probably the most threatened bird in our country",
said Fernando Angulo Pratolongo of BirdLife’s Peru Programme. "We have to raise the consciousness of the local people and the authorities at both local and national levels, that we are about to face the extinction of a bird species in front of our eyes. This responsibility will stay with us for ever, so it's time to do something together."

ECOAN, with support from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and ABC, is leading a drive to create this consciousness. And through support from the USFWS-Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act this drive will also take into consideration the needs of migratory species, set within the framework of the Ramsar Convention’s supported High Andean Wetland Strategy.

4th July 2014