Ecotourism and the Implications for Iguazu Falls
By Amelia Littleton
November 17, 2014
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Iguazú Falls sits right on the border between the state of Parana in Brazil and the Misiones province of Argentina. The name comes from the indigenous word for “great water”. The history of the falls begins with man named Alvar Núñez Cabeza, who discovered them in 1541. The water flowing over the falls comes from the Iguazú or Iguaçu River. The water from the falls eventually flows into the Parana River, and creates a humid sub-tropical climate with diverse fauna. Iguazú is owned by the national governments of both Brazil and Argentina. The falls are also part of the national system of federal protected areas; both ownerships are linked to UNESCO World Heritage Sites . The falls themselves are about 80 meters high and 3 kilometers in diameter. There are approximately 275 individual cascades.
The tourism industry on the Brazilian side of the falls is comparable to Disney World, yet the natural beauty is not lost on the visitor. Tourism in the park is of great economic value to the area. The number of visitors to the Argentine park in a single year has reached as high as 890,000. . On the Brazilian side, there have been as many as 12,000 daily visitors on a peak day .
The biggest facet of biodiversity in and around Iguazú falls can be found in the plant species. Over 2,000 species alone have been identified in the region, and that is significantly less than other nearby areas in Brazil and Paraguay. Vegetation thrives in this area due to the constant spray of water from the falls and the substantial amounts of sunlight due to the location. One of the most popular animals at Iguazú is the Coati, particularly because they are one type of animal which seems to have become immune to the tourists of Iguazú. Many scientists study their patterns in regards to social competition, predation and feeding habits . The coati is an interesting example of how the nature in Iguazú has adapted to human influence of the tourism at this popular site. Tourism to the area has increased greatly, especially since in the 1990’s a railroad was built in the area in order to make access to the site easier. Although the railroad has decreased the amount of auto pollution, it has made Iguazú far more available to the tourist industry .
Aside from tourism, there are other human influences that are causing problems to the environment of the area. There is a large amount of deforestation in the area due to the rising interest in soy production and other monocrops in Brazil. Other threats to the biodiversity include poaching and extraction of plants and animals. There are over ten species identified on the “ICUN’s Red List”, and if the area becomes degraded farther by means of tourism or deforestation, it is possible that these species will no longer exist . One way to prevent this is to have less intrusive tourism to the falls, to remove some of the major roads, and to emphasize a “leave no trace” philosophy. Both the Brazilian and Argentine governments have begun implementing this in their own ways; communal bus tours in Brazil and a ban on helicopter tours in Argentina are small steps closer to a more sustainable ecosystem. Although the deforestation and poaching are causing large issues for the environment, tourism is the activity that impacts the falls the most. Since deforestation and poaching occur only in the surrounding areas, the degradation of the immediate area surrounding the falls is due to human impacts. The boats, helicopters and car traffic in the parks are leading to higher levels of pollution in Iguazú. The tourism to Iguazú is both international and domestic, and makes Iguazú a “highly visible property” leading to a high level of political and economic interest from all countries that benefit from the tourism of the falls .
With the boost in economic activity that tourism brings, there are serious environmental implications. Loss of biodiversity is a huge one, and it spans more than just visits to the park on either side. Inside the park, the Brazilian side has begun only allowing their own private buses drive through in order to cut down on the number of vehicles passing through. However, the falls have companies that take advantage of the views and the water to exploit tourism and the ecosystems. One of the biggest issues is with the helicopter rides that some private companies provide, due to the fact that the emissions and overall exposure from the helicopters can be damaging to the flora and fauna .
Iguazú is a hub for both the natural and unnatural. Overall, the tourists that come to Iguazú appreciate and respect the landscape and cooperate with the different measures taken to preserve and conserve the site. However, in order to truly keep the nature of Iguazú safe more action should be taken. The exposure to human influence changes everything from the water to the habitats of native species. A huge destination in ecotourism, Iguazú falls needs to continue taking steps toward lower impact tourism.
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