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Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands — A Story of Hope

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Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands — A Story of Hope
Esteros del Iberá,. Photo by Evelyn Proimos

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Until a recent trip to Argentina, I had never even heard of the Iberá Wetlands and was completely unaware of its scale and significance. Whilst travelling through the country, Iberá was recommended as an up-and-coming visitor destination by a number of locals. With our curiosity well and truly piqued, my family and I managed to reshuffle our schedule and squeeze in a two-day stay in this little-known water wonderland. Now, I firmly believe that it’s a secret not just to share, but to inspire.

Known locally as Esteros del Iberá, this vast wetland area is situated in Argentina’s northern province of Corrientes. It is one of the most important freshwater reservoirs in the continent and the world’s second-largest body of fresh water (after the Pantanal in Brazil).

Water hyacinth in bloom , Argentina
The extensive vegetal carpet of the Iberá Wetlands forms cushions of vegetation 1-3 metres in depth that are able to support certain trees and animals. Photo by Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina

The basin itself, formed through tectonic plate movements, is filled with natural rainwater and serves as a filter for one of the largest underground lakes in the world, the Guarini Aquifer. It comprises a mixture of marshlands, lagoons and savannah grasslands and is home to a staggering 4000 plant and animal species, making up 30 per cent of Argentina’s biodiversity.

Until relatively recently Esteros del Iberá was a region of livestock grazing, commercial hunting and illegal poaching. Puma, jaguar, wolf, deer, giant anteater and otter were once regular inhabitants of the area but numbers had significantly declined over the years, with many species becoming endangered and, in some cases, almost extinct.

Long-snouted anteater on a fallen tree trunk, Argentina
The giant anteater has no teeth but a very long tongue in its snout which it uses to dig for ants and termites; its lengthy bushy tail means it can measure up to 2 metres long. Photo by Pascale Gueret

While this is, sadly, not an unusual scenario in areas rich in wildlife, the story behind its reversal in Esteros del Iberá really is.

In 1983, as part of an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands, the area was included within a provincial protected area, the Iberá Provincial Reserve. Driven by a combination of philanthropy, social conscience and local pride, Ibera’s renaissance began.

The reserve is now administered by innovative NGOs and the Corrientes government with the aim of protecting the fragile ecosystem of the area and reversing the decline of native wildlife species.

Donations of tracts of land have seen the boundaries of the park expanded from the original provincial reserve to include four new national park zones to form the Gran Parque Iberá. The total protected area is around 13,000 square kilometres, the largest of such areas in Argentina.

A group of young and old capybara on a river bank, South America
Capybaras are very agile on land and in water. Being excellent swimmers they are able to stay underwater for up to 5 minutes to evade predators and can even sleep underwater keeping just their noses above water. Photo by