UN Atlas highlights changing environment in Latin America
UNEP News Release 2005/27
June 5, 2005
The following is a highlight from the United Nations Environment Programme’s new Atlas, “One Planet Many People Atlas of Our Changing Environment”
The massive growth of shrimp farming is brought into sharp focus by satellite images of the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras.
Honduras is second only to Ecuador in the cultivation and export of shrimp from Latin America.
Over a period of 12 years, the images reveal how shrimp farms and ponds have mushroomed carpeting the landscape around the Gulf in blocks of blue and black shapes.
There are concerns that the shrimp farms are causing significant environmental problems. Mangroves, natural coastal defenses and nurseries for wild-living fish, have been cleared to make way for farms.
The shrimp farms are also linked with pollution and damage to the Gulf’s ecosystems. This is as a result of indiscriminate capture of marine-life during the collection of shrimp larvae to re-stock ponds.
Similar images emerge from the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Between 1984 and 2000, shrimp aquaculture grew by around 30 per cent to cover 118,000 hectares.
Around 70 per cent of Ecuador’s shrimp farms are located in and around the Gulf of Guayaquil.
The border between Mexico and Guatemala was once biologically diverse. On the Guatemalan side, partly as a result of relatively low populations and the protected status of the Sierra de Lacondon and Laguna del Tigre National Parks, the closed forest canopy remains pretty intact.
But on the Mexican side the atlas tells a different story. Between 1974 and now, huge swathes of the Chiapas forest have disappeared as a result of a rapidly growing population in need of croplands and pasture.
A similar story emerges from the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay from two astonishing images separated by just 30 years.
In 1973, the unique Paranaense tropical rain forest was largely intact. A satellite image from 2003 confirms the loss of over 90 per cent of the forest to agriculture, mainly soybeans and corn.
Most of the loss, seen as a mosaic of colours, is on the Paraguayan and Brazilian borders with far less lost in Argentina reflecting different land use priorities by the countries concerned.
Latin American Cities
Mexico City is one of the fastest growing in the world, as the satellite images clearly show.
In 1973 it had a population of about nine million rising to 14 million in 1986 and almost 18 million in 1999. The population now is likely to be over 20 million.
The city and its infrastructure, shown as gray, can be seen sweeping and sprawling in all directions causing significant deforestation in the mountains west and south.
Similar images reflect the doubling of the population to five million in Santiago, Chile.
The publication “One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment ” can be purchased at Earth Print