Puerto Madryn and its surroundings are a natural paradise and offer a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The Chaco forest and Patagonia steppe in Patagonia are home to interesting species such as guanacos, a camelid native to South America, hairy armadillos, which have inhabited the Patagonian steppe for over 60 million years, and the South American gray fox, amongst others. 10,000 southern right whales are home to the Southern part of the Southern Hemisphere along with orcas, which frequently appear at Punta Norte, Caleta Valdés and Golfo San José on the la península Valdés, Magellanic Penguins, which spend the majority of their time in the ocean where they even sleep, as well as sea elephants, South American sea lions and birds such as cormorants, seagulls and Antarctic doves.
Overgrazing and desertification
In Chubut, the landscape is characterized by a harsh Patagonian steppe in which dry air, violent winds, water scarcity, sandy and rocky soils and low temperatures are the perfect conditions for the growth of plants such as Magellan Barberry, cat's claw, "neneo" shrubs and coiron grasslands. They are part of the scrub steppes, shrub steppes, dry grassy steppes and xerophilous steppes. Major threats to the Patagonian nature are overgrazing and desertification. In the past, many wild herbivores fed on the native grasses and scrubs. Humans, however, introduced sheep and cattle in the early 20th century and rapidly destroyed the environment. Stock rates exceeded 60% of the land carrying capacity. Sheep are far more damaging to the Patagonian environment as their grazing habits cannot be supported by it. As native species have developed along with the environment for thousands of years, they have become adapted to each other. Introducing a new species to a new environment usually has bitter consequences. As grasslands are damaged, less moisture can be retained which leads to the ground breaking up and prevents the growth of native plants. As the vegetation is reduced, desertification sets in. Less plant growth means there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and less oxygen which contributes to global warming. Extensive areas of Patagonia have already turned to desert, which means changing environmental conditions for native species and in the worst case, their death. Desertification has led to much abandonment of estancias, as they can no longer be profitable. More than 90% of Patagonia suffers from degraded soils. Argentina recognizes this phenomenon as a crucial ecological problem.
Influence on the fauna
Many native animals such as the tiger, the aguará-guazú, the pampas deer and the peccary were displaced by species brought in by colonizers. Nevertheless, some species were able to keep inhabiting the area such as pumas and guanacos, which were able to compete with sheep and goats, as well as foxes, wild cats and skunks, the Patagonia hare, maras, the Patagonia ostrich and martinetas. Poisonous species are rather rare, such as a snake called "escolopendra grande" and a spider called "viudita" whose sting can be fatal. The "chicken spider", however, is not dangerous at all.
"If geography is the manifestation of a society in the physical space, a deteriorated physical space is the reflection of a deteriorated society"
"In Patagonia, the magnitude of the problem is so wide to the point that the general public has become aware of it. Few people ignore the problem and only a few have the chance or the knowledge to take action. The problem of desertification in Patagonia overcomes the plans that have been elaborated to fight it. That is why efforts shouldn't be shy, nor limit the imagination to come up with alternative solutions. 'If geography is the manifestation of a society in the physical space,a deteriorated physical space is the reflection of a deteriorated society', say Valle and Coronato (researchers from the National Center of Patagonia)."
The INTA (The Argentinean National Institute of Agricultural Technology) has been working for nearly 30 years in the area of the prevention and control of desertification in this region. In 1989, the INTA financed a project called the prevention and control of desertification in Patagonia in the framework of which awareness was to be raised of desertification and its severity and technology was to be improved for its prevention and control.
In another project called the "Combat of Desertification in Patagonia", which was an agreement between the INTA and the German Society for International Cooperation (GTZ), the focus was on the monitoring of the desertification process.
Currently, there a project is being implemented called "Sustainable Management of Arid and Semiarid Systems for the Control of Desertification in Patagonia". Within this framework, environmental training and tools are being developed and promoted in order to tackle the problem. Proposals were made to support public and private institutions and non-profit organizations in order for them to be able to implement sustainable development techniques. Evaluation, planning, control and administration of natural resources are to be improved. Another proposal consists of the support of local producers to implement a sustainable development in their production processes and to adopt conservation strategies for the biodiversity. Last but not least, it is planned to monitor natural resources and their conditions more closely in order to be able to evaluate objectively the long-term tendencies of environmental changes.