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Valdes Biosphere Reserve, Argentina

The Valdes Biosphere Reserve encompasses the Patagonian Steppe, Hill Plains and Plateaus, and Argentine Sea eco-regions. It is home to significant biodiversity including highly fragile terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the conservation of which is crucial to addressing the vulnerabilities of key species. Both the Patagonian steppe eco-region and the Argentine Sea have been recognized as important sites and are inscribed on WWF’s Global 200 list.



Surface : 2,015,011 ha

  • Core area(s): 520,757 ha
  • Buffer zone(s): 1,411,735 ha
  • Transition zone(s): 82,519 ha 

Location: 42°34’27”S – 64°19’36.66”W

Administrative Authorities

Secretaria de Turismo y Areas Protegidas del Chubut, Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganaderia, Bosques y Pesca (Direccion de fauna y flora silvestre), Secretaria de Cultura de la provincia del Chubut, Administracion del Area Natural Protegida Peninsula Valdes, Prefectura Naval Argentina, Ministerio de Ambiente y Control del Desarrollo Sustenable, Ministerio de la Produccion, Ministerio de Hidrocarburos, Administracion de Vialidad Provincial, Intendencia de Puerto Piramides, Intendencia de Puerto Madryn, Intendencia de Rawson

Fernanda Paura

Dirección de Planificación, Ordenamiento y Uso Público. Secretaría de Turismo y Áreas Protegidas del Chubut

Avenida 9 de Julio 280 Rawson, C.P. 9103 ARGENTINA

Tel.: +54 (280) 448113 - 4485271


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Ecological Characteristics

The Patagonian steppe includes temperate grasslands, which are characterized by high fragility and develop in cold and dry climates under constant winds. These grasslands have the potential to absorb and store carbon, contributing to the fight against climate change. The biosphere reserve is also of botanical interest, as it hosts numerous endemic species including families of Brassicaceae, Cactaceae, Fabaceae, Oleaceae and Verbenaceae among others. One example of emblematic mammal endemic species is Dolichotis patagonum (the Patagonian hare). A key impact associated with human activities in this eco-region is desertification, which affects certain parts of the area, diminishing the capacity of ecosystems to provide ecological services such as carbon sequestration and the supply and regulation of water.

The Argentine Sea eco-region is characterized by cold-temperate waters and relatively low biodiversity compared to tropical environments, and presents species that have a high biomass. The eco-region is one of the most productive in the world. The Patagonian region, in particular, produces an abundant amount of phytoplankton, about three times higher than the world average. The coastal marine environment of this eco-region is affected by various anthropogenic threats, such as degradation, overexploitation of resources, the introduction of new species, physical changes to the coastal zone, pollution and mass tourism. However, the marine coastal areas remain suitable habitats for the feeding and reproduction of many species of birds and marine mammals. Particular bodies of water, such as the Golfo Nuevo and San José, function as crucial sites for the reproduction of species such as Eubalaena australis (the southern right whale).

The Valdes Biosphere Reserve incorporates the Peninsula Valdés Natural Protected Area, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999; San Jose and Playa Fracaso, which were nominated Ramsar sites in 2012; the El Doradillo municipal protected area, and the natural protected areas of Punta Loma and Punta León.


Socio-Economic Characteristics

According to the 2010 National Census, 214,196 inhabitants live in the Viedma and Rawson departments. The local population is distributed across rural and urban communities found mainly in the transitional zone. There are numerous important cultural features in this biosphere reserve. For example, significant paleontological and archaeological remains are situated in the province of Chubut, especially in the coastal area of the north Patagonian gulfs, which are particularly rich in ruins and archaeological sites. In Chubut, there are also three recognized indigenous groups: the Mapuche, Tehuelche and Ona. Their numbers are estimated at about 24,000 people, representing about 5% of the population of the province. Native indigenous languages are still spoken in this area with about 22% of the Mapuche population in Chubut knowing their own native language. However, Spanish is the most common spoken language. The maintenance of indigenous cultural practices and languages is a challenge for people living in this area, as native indigenous languages do not generally form part of children’s school education.

The most important economic activities in the region are livestock rearing, tourism, fisheries, industry (aluminium, porphyry) and, more recently, wind power generation. The main agricultural activity in the biosphere reserve is sheep farming, with the second and third (in quantitative terms) being cattle and goat farming. These are developed through extensive and continuous grazing. These activities cover about 300,000 hectares of the buffer zone, constituting 50% of the area of the biosphere reserve.

Incipient initiatives related to sustainable land use and tourism are currently under development. Technological transfer and development projects to improve land use management have also formed part of local responses to the desertification problem in Patagonia. However, such initiatives are not widely disseminated and, thus, they have not been capable of reversing the desertification process. Tourism has generated good opportunities to explore and demonstrate approaches to sustainable development in the area.


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Last updated: October 2018