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Posts Tagged ‘tourists’

Photo: Javier Rubilar via Wikimedia.
Chile’s Atacama desert in flower.

I’m not much of a traveler, but when I see photos like the one above showing the desert in flower, I think it would be a treat to see that. Then I read that Chile’s flowering desert is in danger from tourism and I feel like I am actually doing my part by staying home. (Ha! I sound like the fox in the Aesop’s fable.)

Tibisay Zea reports at the radio show the World, “In Chile’s Atacama Desert, it almost never rains. The area is so dry that it even serves as a practice site for expeditions to Mars. But once or twice every decade, the skies open up and it rains, causing dormant seeds underground to grow.

“As a result, a spectacular ‘flowering desert’ of plants that are mostly endemic to the Atacama region attract tourists and botanists from around the world. But the great interest in the flowers is also the same thing that’s endangering them.

“This natural phenomenon of the blooming desert usually happens every 5 to 7 years, and it’s difficult to predict.

“ ‘There needs to be a perfect combination of precipitation and temperature for the flowers to bloom,’ said Monserrate Barrientos, a tour guide for the flowering desert in Copiapó.

“The most emblematic of the plants is a little pink flower — known as pata de guanaco, or ‘guanaco’s foot’ — that carpets large swaths of the desert during the bloom. Guanaco is a wild llama native to the area, whose feet look similar to the leaves of the flower.

“ ‘The leaves are thick, to [be able to] store water,’ Barrientos said. 

“For many scientists, the flowering desert is an exciting event, because it proves the resilience of certain types of flora, like the pata de guanaco, in the world’s driest desert.

“Benito Gomez Silva, a microbiologist at the University of Antofagasta, is studying microorganisms that are very resistant to extreme water scarcity. …

“But the flowering desert is facing several threats. One of them is climate change, according to Cesar Pizarro, a biologist with the Chilean Department of Conservation. ‘Longer droughts or heavier rains could affect the frequency of the desert bloom,’ he said.

Another threat is traffickers who collect the native plants, as well as visitors who pluck flowers to bring home with them.

“During his first visit to the Atacama region earlier this month, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric announced the creation of the Desierto Florido National Park for the first quarter of 2023 in an attempt to preserve the area.

“Environmental organizations have raised concerns in recent years about the possible negative effects of large numbers of tourists visiting the flowering desert, as well as the illegal trade of native flower species and the development of motorsport in the region. … An increased level of protection will ensure that tourists behave responsibly. 

“Chilean tourists Carlos Silva and Ana Maria Acuña drove 23 hours from across the country just to see the flowering desert. …

“Ana said that she’s been inspired by the visit. ‘Humans have a lot to learn from nature. It’s so resilient to scarcity, to difficulties.’

“Professor Benito Gomez-Silva agreed that there is a lot to learn. ‘It’s like translating the information that our little brothers, the microorganisms in the desert, provide for us,’ he said.”

More at the World, here. Nice photos. No firewall. Donations to the World welcome.

You might also be interested in my 2021 post “Returning Pilfered Cactuses,” here, about busting traffickers of Chile’s protected cactuses: “most likely the biggest international cactus seizure in nearly three decades.” 

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Photo: John Francis Peters/The Guardian
The super bloom of wildflowers in tiny Borrego Springs, California, is wonderful to behold. Good planning is ensuring that the chaos of 200,000 visitors in March 2017 is not being repeated.

My friend Kristina is headed off to a family reunion in the Southwest, and she’s excited that she’ll be there when the desert is in bloom. Have you ever seen that amazing phenomenon? It doesn’t happen every year. You need just the right amount of rain at just the right time.

Katharine Gammon writes at the Guardian, “It’s lunchtime at Kesling’s Kitchen in Borrego Springs, and the line is out the door and down the block. It takes about 20 minutes to get inside to order food. The rush isn’t surprising: Borrego Springs is a small town that swells in size when people flock to see wildflowers around Anza-Borrego, California’s largest state park.

“Plentiful winter rain and precise conditions have led to a bonanza of spring wildflowers this season. And while that can be a great thing, it also raised fears that Borrego Springs could once again face what locals have dubbed ‘flowergeddon.’ …

“The last time the region experienced a wildflower bloom was March 2017, when some 200,000 visitors flocked to the super bloom. … Borrego Springs (population 3,000) was unprepared for the avalanche of visitors coming from nearby Los Angeles, San Diego and even farther afield. The town ran out of food, hotel rooms, gas, and money in the ATMs. Traffic backed up for 20 miles; restaurant employees quit on the spot. When bathrooms filled up, visitors began using the fields to relieve themselves. …

“This year, the town wanted to be prepared. [An] all-community committee has been meeting regularly for months, since the winter rains foretold a bountiful flower year. They established a website with downloadable maps, manned information booths, and set up port-a-potties in Borrego Springs and near the flower areas. ‘This year, we are prepared and our restaurants stocked up – as are the gas stations and ATMs,’ [says Betsy Knaak, the executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association].’ …

“The early rains made it easier to predict that the bloom was coming, and it looks set to last over a longer period, meaning that even busy weekends don’t feel as packed with people. On a recent Sunday cars lined the road but there was no crush of people on the trails or in the flowers. Still, hotel rooms in Borrego Springs and nearby Julian were fully booked for two weekends straight. …

“This year, an extraordinary proliferation of painted lady butterflies and sphinx moth caterpillars are part of the natural spectacle too. The butterflies are the result of a phenomenon known as an ‘irruption’ – the strong rains brought a population explosion, a billion strong, in northern Mexico.” Read more at the Guardian, here.

In Massachusetts, we are feeling spring in the air, but the huge snow piles in the supermarket parking lots tell us we have a way to go before seeing an array wildflowers like those in California.

 

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