2.1.1 Unique and representative character126.96.36.199
This section of the coastal and sea area includes the sea area of the Paracas National
Reserve. Its characteristics make it quite unique and exceptional compared with many
areas of the Peruvian coast. It is important for its upwelling currents and its physical
and environmental conditions make it one of the most productive and diverse areas of
While from latitude 5° South, off Bayovar, Piura, the coastal region offers these
ecological characteristics, a series of factors combine in the area south of Pisco to
produce the extraordinary wealth of environments and marine species. The Peru
current brings a constant supply of inorganic nutrients, the richest in the world, to the
coast off San Juan de Marcona. These nutrients provide a high concentration of raw
materials, mainly phytoplankton, which are the basis of the rich shore and aquatic fauna
found there. This makes the coastal waters of Pisco-Paracas one of the most productive
in the world.
The first area touched by the current is the Bahía de la Independencia, where the
concentration of nutrients results in an exceptional wealth of hydrobiological life which
is reflected, among other things, in the rich harvests of molluscs. The south side of the
Peninsula of Paracas to some extent hinders the South to North flow and gives rise to an
area where the cold water from the South mixes with the local warm waters, which then
The Bay of Paracas has shallow waters which are easily heated by the sun’s rays. These
waters receive a variable but constant inflow of fresh water from the Río Pisco, greater
mainly during the summer months, which reduces their salinity.
The wealth of biological resources within the Reserve is thus supported by the
dynamics of the marine ecosystem, both in the bentonic and pelagic populations. It
concentrates both a wide diversity of species and considerable commercial volumes due
to the physical features of the coast with its many small bays and creeks, shallow open
beaches and many cliffs. The shallowness of the coastal waters encourages
photosynthetic processes or primary productivity of phytoplankton and algae which
start the trophic chain. The cold Peruvian Current and the submarine counter-currents
encourage the upwelling of masses of water from the seabed to the surface, laden with
nutrients on which phytoplankton and macroscopic algae feed in the extremely sunny
conditions. This generates an explosion of its biomass through photosynthetic activity,
starting the trophic chain which makes the sea of Paracas one of the richest in the
The bentonic population of the waters of the Paracas Reserve consists mainly of a great
biological diversity of molluscs, algae, fish and arthropods, especially mussels, winkles,
scallops, sole, cabrilla, pintadilla, chita, etc. as well as various species of marine algae.
These species form the basis of the country’s fish-farming, using techniques specific to
the area. The pelagic population consists of wild species, especially anchovies,
mackerel, sardines, silverside, machete and bonito.
The wide biological diversity of the bentonic and pelagic ecological populations of the
sea of Paracas also depends on the nature and variety of the substratum (sand, mud,
sandy mud, rock, stony, shells, etc.), tidal movements, (with species living at the lower,
middle and upper shore levels) and the physical and chemical composition of the sea
water which encourages primary growth which is the basis of the biological chain in the
Despite its tropical position, the most striking characteristic of the Peruvian Sea is its
cold waters. This coldness is the result of the vertical stream of water from deeper
layers to the surface, by the process known as the Peruvian upwelling system, which is
The coastal area of the Peruvian Sea is considered to be one of the most productive in
the world. The trade winds drive the coastal waters of Peru from south-east to northwest.
This circulation is called the Peruvian Coastal Current. The direction and
strength of the wind and the geographical shape of the west coast of the continent cause
a bend in the coastal waters at right angles to the wind direction and against the
coastline. This bend leaves a "void" which is filled by the upwelling of subsurface
waters rich in inorganic nutrients. This extra provision of nutrients and the action of
sunlight are the basis for the high phytoplanktonic and zooplanktonic productivity,
which in turn sustains the famous riches of the Peruvian Sea.
The diversity of coastal micro environments, the geographical shape of its coastline, the
variety of substrata and the high primary productivity of these waters support a wide
variety of species which offer, in practice and potentially, a large number of alternatives
for sustainable local and national development.
Invertebrates should be highlighted among the most important resources, of which
arthropods are the most varied and molluscs offer the best prospects for farming. The
most representative species include scallops, argopecten purpuratus, for its great
economic potential, and abalone (concholepas concholepas), the wedge clam
(donax sp.), the Pacific clam (gari solida), the mussel (aulacomya ater), the octopus
(octopus sp.). Other groups of invertebrates are also important, such as equinoderms,
including the sea urchin (loxechinus albus) and crustaceans such as the crab
(platyxanthus orbigny), both of which are of economic importance and constantly
Plants are another important group. Algae, for example, are a raw material in
pharmaceutical research and the pharmaceutical industry as well as a traditional source
of human food. Also noteworthy is the seasonal vegetation, basically herbaceous,
which grows on the slopes of the hills nearest the coast which rise to over 400 metres.
This "coastal hill" vegetation, is encouraged by the occurrence of winter mists. In
general, little is known of these formations which in the Paracas National Reserve at
least occur in the Lechuza hills, Morro Quemado and San Gallán Island.
The third important group consists of vertebrates. Fish are the traditional basic resource
of the local economy, not only in domestic and small-scale fishing, but also industrial.
The periodic appearance of sea turtles is a cause for concern since it leads to the hunting
of and resulting trade in these animals, despite the fact that it is a prohibited activity. In
addition, the wide diversity of migratory and resident birds, marine mammals (seals,
whales and otters) are a great attraction for students, teachers, researchers and tourists.
The terrestrial flora of the Paracas Reserve are divided between local biotopes in the
uplands called coastal hill vegetation and those growing on the shores, known as
halophytic plants. The Paracas coastal desert is characterized by high temperatures
and scant precipitation, with heights of 500 metres above sea level in the Peninsula of
Paracas and 600 metres above sea level in the Bahía de la Independencia, which
capture the humidity in the mists encouraging the presence of hill vegetation.
In the Lechuza and Lagarto hills in the Bay of Paracas and San Gallán Island there are
sandy soils with three species of tillandsia sp., xerophytic plants which grow in the
sandy substratum and capture atmospheric humidity.
In the stony soils there are fissures and crevices which collect humus, lichens and
mosses, which allow the growth of the species solanum, oxalis and spergularia.
These species dry out in summer and grow again in winter by capturing the humidity.
The hill vegetation occupies very limited areas and has been altered by the local
beachcombers known as guaqueros.
Halophytic species grow along the shorelines. In the Bay of Paracas, Playón and
Mendieta, the species sesuvium portulacastrum, distichlis spicata and cressa
truxillensis can be found.
The marine flora consists of microscopic algae and larger seaweed (Acosta, 1977).
254 species of marine algae are recorded in the area, 3 species of cyanophytas,
11 phaeophytas, 1 euglenophyta, 79 pirrophytas, 104 criysophytas and 44 rodophytas.
Of the larger seaweed, the most important are: ulva lactuca; ulva fasciata; ulva
papenfussi and ulva sp., commonly called sea lettuce; grateloupia doryphara;
chondracanthus chamissoi; chondracanthus glomerata and porphyrya columbina,
known as "yuyo" and used in cooking.
The diversity of the substratum of the shores allows the presence of micro habitats
and thus great biological diversity among the species making up the marine fauna,
birds, fish, marine mammals and molluscs. The terrestrial fauna is very scarce, with
three species of small lizard (tropidurus peruvianus, tropidurus tigris and a gecko)
and the coastal fox.
The main species of marine fauna include: mugli cephalus (striped mullet); engraulis
ringens (anchovy); dasyatis brevis (stingray); urotrigon peruvianus (ray);
paralichthys adspersus (sole); occasional visitors such as: delphinus delphinus
(dolphin); small species of whales and sperm whales; arctocephalus australis (South
American fur seal); otaria byron (sea lion); molluscs: thais chocolata (winkle);
argopecten purpuratus (scallop); octopus fontaineanus (octopus); crustaceans:
platyxanthus orbigny (purple crab); and ocypode gaudichaudi (crab).
The bird life consists of the following: condors; guanay cormorants; cormorants;
booby; pelicans; flamingo; great egret; snowy egret; blue heron; white-cheeked
pintail; turkey vulture; osprey; peregrine falcon; common oystercatcher; black
oystercatcher; snowy plover; black-bellied plover; semi-palmated plover; turnstone;
solitary sandpiper; sanderling; semi-palmated sandpiper; western sandpiper; lesser
yellowlegs; greater yellowlegs; migrating snipe; whimbrel; skimmer; elegant tern;
common tern; Peruvian tern; royal tern; band-tailed gull; kelp gull; grey gull;
grey-headed gull; Franklin’s gull; Peruvian seaside cinclodes; and grebe.
The Paracas National Reserve, as a conservation unit, contains within its shores one
of the main concentrations of seals on the entire Peruvian coast. The Reserve has
three of the largest stable colonies of South American fur seals, whose population is
recovering from the effects of the 97-98 El Niño phenomenon.
The creation of the Reserve put an end to their indiscriminate slaughter primarily for
profit since their skins fetched a good price on the market. In addition to the creation of
the Reserve, the Peruvian Government issued Ministerial Resolution No.00103-76-PE
of 9 March 1976, pursuant to Decree-Law No.18810, which prohibits seal hunting
and it is as a result of this protection that the seal populations have been recovering, as
shown by the statistics. In 1976, the total population for all colonies was 2,048 seals,
in 1982 the estimated population was 15,821 seals and now these populations have
increased so significantly that they are no longer considered to be endangered.
Seal colonies live on Morro Quemado, Islas Independencia and Santa Rosa, Mendieta,
Isla Zárate, Punta Arquillo, Punta Lechuza, Punta Lagarto, Isla San Gallán, Islas
Ballestas and Islas Chincha.
The area of the Reserve, which includes the Bay of Paracas and Bahiá de la
Independencia is the leading place on the Peruvian coast for the production and
harvesting of shellfish. In recent years, the boom in scallops, argopecten purpuratus,
as a result of the El Niño phenomenon requires greater attention from researchers into
marine ecology, especially the bentonic subsystem.
In 10 places in the Paracas National Reserve and 14 points on the lower beach
8 biotopes can be distinguished: rocky shore; muddy sand; sandy and stony and sandy
mud beds; sandy, stony and rocky.
Bentonic invertebrates of 330 types of (excluding nematodes) have been found,
305 of which identified at least to generic level. These types are grouped into
145 families, 43 orders and 15 phyla. Of the total types, 112 are mollusca (33.9%),
184 anelidae (31.5%), 75 crustacea (22.7%) and 39 belong to various other
classification groups (11.8%).
More species were found in hard substrata than in soft substrata: 119 species
exclusive to rocky seabeds and 39 on rocky shores; 79 species were found in the
remaining 6 biotopes. The numerical results obtained for the main classification
groups are still provisional because the samples have not been exhaustive, especially
in stony and muddy sand seabeds.
The total number of molluscs, worms and crustaceans recorded in the Reserve has
increased considerably from 103 to 289 species. In the case of crustaceans, species of
the orders Ostracoda, Tanaidacea, Cumacea, Isopoda and Amphipoda are being
recorded for the first time, the latter being significant, since the 18 species found are
12 amphipods and 6 isopods.
2.1.4 Natural character188.8.131.52
The coast contains two thirds of Peru’s total population. Industries of various kinds
have been established along the coast and the country’s largest towns have grown up
there. The Pisco-Paracas area is no exception. However, in its 25 years of existence,
the ecosystem of the Paracas National Reserve displays relatively natural conditions
compared with other parts of the coast, which reflect the resilience of its natural
processes such as maintenance of productive processes, persistence of breeding zones,
stability of its colonies, and resistance to drastic change, such as very strong El Niño
It is universally recognized that global populations of migratory shore birds are
declining, mainly due to the accelerating destruction of the wetlands which form their
habitat. Consequently, international efforts and commitments to protect migratory
birds and their habitats, such as the Convention on Wetlands of International
Importance (RAMSAR Convention) and the Convention on the Conservation of
Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention); commitments to which Peru
is an official party.
The situation of wetlands in Peru is no different from that found elsewhere in the
world, which is why the Peruvian State is freely and absolutely committed to
protecting wetlands and migratory birds.
Because of its importance and natural character, the Paracas National Reserve has
been included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance of the Convention
on Wetlands of International Importance (RAMSAR Convention) since 30 March 1992.
Protection of the Paracas National Reserve is all the more important because in reality
it is not a wetland but a series of wetlands, notably the Bay of Paracas wetland and the
estuary of the Río Pisco.
Thousands of birds migrate annually to the Bay of Paracas to feed and rest. These
birds mostly come from Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan in
Canada. Some of them will stay there throughout the southern summer, feeding and
storing energy to return to their breeding grounds. Others will continue their journey
to southern Chile and Argentina. For this reason, the Paracas Reserve has also been
recognized as a Regional Reserve for Migratory Birds by the Hemispheric Shorebird
Reserve Network since 28 September 1991.
The habitat suitable for thousand of migratory birds arriving in the Bay of Paracas has
shrunk to a small area. Migratory birds have characteristics which make them highly
vulnerable to anthropogenic environmental changes. Migratory shore birds are
extremely faithful to place (homeland tie), meaning that they repeat patterns of
migration and stop in the same places year after year. For this reason, the degradation
or loss of the wetland features of the shore of the Bay of Paracas and the Río Pisco
estuary will lead to the death of these creatures or will force them to move to less
suitable places. This displacement will make them spend more energy, with greater
risk of falling prey to predators and greater risk to their health.
The greater expenditure of energy for the birds may mean the possibility that they do
not breed or that individuals die. A migratory shore bird is generally a creature of low
body weight. The loss of a few grams of fat (energy) is the difference between
breeding successfully or not and even between life and death. The main harm to
migratory birds caused by the deterioration of the micro-topography of the intertidal
zone of the Paracas wetlands is the loss of available food, their only source of energy.
Although a migratory specimen has a low body weight, the considerable size of the
populations of these species (several thousand individuals) means that they require
feeding grounds of a size directly proportional to the size of the group. In this sense,
the degradation and disappearance of an optimal habitat for migratory birds has a
serious impact on the global survival of the species. This characteristic adds to the
singular importance of this site, since the Paracas National Reserve is the only place
for thousands of kilometres where migratory birds can stop.
With the disappearance or degradation of their habitat, migratory birds are forced to
go in search of alternative feeding grounds. In each place, natural predators on
migratory birds follow particular hunting patterns. The prey, in this case the
migratory birds, survive this pattern of hunting by natural selection. Thus, when they
move, the risk of depredation rises, since they encounter a different pattern of hunting.
The population movement means settling in a place with a different hunting pattern,
which makes the birds more vulnerable.
Another effect of the forced population movement is the dispersion of the birds with
the consequent decline in the size of the group, which increases the probability of
their capture. Groups of migratory birds which have been disturbed are inclined to
break up into small groups, which further increases depredation.
Important colonies of sea birds can be found in the Reserve, mainly in the islands.
Apart from guano birds, two species are of particular interest: the Humboldt penguin
(Spheniscus humboldt) and the Peruvian diving petrel, birds in danger of extinction.
In the case of the penguin, one of the three largest colonies on the Peruvian coast is
found in Bahía de la Independencia. The case of the diving petrel is even more
striking, since the entire population of this species in Peru is confined to the sea area
of the Paracas National Reserve.