Adapting to Glacier Retreat in Peru’s Huascarán National Park

The quickly receding Pastoruri glacier may not have too many years left at the rate it’s melting (Source: Joao Diniz/Flickr).

Environmental anthropologist Jessica O’Reilly stated in her 2017 book on science and policy, “While scientists usually act as spokespeople for ‘data,’ some materials may speak for themselves.” Melting glaciers, including the ones in the high Andes, are examples of materials that speak for themselves, acting as compelling visualizations of the concept of climate change.

A recent article in Regional Environmental Change by Mattias Borg Rasmussen explores the nexus of climate change, retreating glaciers, and conservation landscapes in the context of Pastoruri Glacier in Peru’s Huascarán National Park. As one of the most threatened tropical glaciers in the high Andes, Pastoruri has generated significant media coverage for its rapid retreat, which has involved the glacier losing over half of its size over a period of twenty years, according to reports from The Guardian and Reuters. As Pastoruri Glacier has been reduced to two quickly vanishing patches of ice, tourism in Huascarán National Park has also dwindled from over 100,000 visitors a year in its heyday of the 1990s to only 34,000 reported in 2012.

In response to both the deterioration of the physical landscape and paying visitors, park administrators developed a tourist and educational facility in 2013 known as the Route of Climate Change. The initiative, which includes a “Climate Change Trail,” highlights the dangers of climate change in an effort to boost declining tourist numbers. By presenting the glacier as an endangered species of the growing market of last-chance tourism, the park showcases Pastoruri’s decline as a public spectacle to generate conservation outcomes in other parts of the park. However, like similar conservation initiatives, the project in Huascarán National Park was launched without intensive community engagement.

To explore this issue, Rasmussen collected 48 interviews in Peru during ethnographic fieldwork that began in 2014. These interviews add an anthropological framework to his research in order to understand the unique, often tense relationship between the local communities and protected areas. One community Rasmussen visited extensively during his fieldwork was Catac, located just inside the park boundaries. Rasmussen shared with GlacierHub how his article “contributes to enhancing our understanding of these rather unstable arrangements of consent and contestation in conservation encounters.” In the article, he highlights three issues as complicating conservation efforts in the national park: livestock, infrastructure, and tourism revenues. Because park officials considered the refurbishing project to be purely infrastructural, it did not require community engagement.

Environmental historian Mark Carey told GlacierHub that Rasmussen’s article shows “the economic aspects of glacier loss, when tourists stop visiting a place once the ice is gone or where locals and park administrators subsequently develop incentives for tourists to come back and see the marked impacts of glacier retreat.” He added that “glacier retreat generates challenging policy problems that confound conservation objectives and force changes in tourist experiences and local livelihoods that depend on that tourism.”

Regarding the role of conservation in the Anthropocene, Rasmussen said, “I think conservation is good to think about when we want to try to understand the ways in which climate change acts both as a force which changes the physical appearance of landscapes and as an idea which challenges our understanding of the future.”

Image of Pastoruri Glacier with tourists (Source: Guillaume Weill/Flickr).

The concept of protected area management, and conservation initiatives in general, is heavily imbued with power dynamics and colonialism. Rasmussen states in the article, “Because they are the outcomes of Westernized visions of the relationship between nature and culture, protected areas are important sites for understanding how notions of the Anthropocene come to reshape ideas about the future of glaciated landscapes.”

The historical production of protected areas came from the constructed sharp distinction between human and nature as well as civilization and wilderness, also a product of Western conception that often forgets or ignores voices of the local.

In the Anthropocene, protected areas, particularly those with glaciers, can no longer represent a fixed time and space created by scientists for conservation purposes. Glaciers, like Pastoruri, disrupt the social imagination of an unchanging locale untainted by human intervention. In this modern era signaling progression, climate change presents a destructive alternative, filled with irreversible changes and a future of uncertainty.

The initiative in Huascarán National Park represents a new global consciousness that is forming around the role that humans will play in shaping the future of the planet and around the importance that protected areas will take on in new arrangements in a new era. “Rasmussen demonstrates how glacier loss is more than just about ice, or even water.  Managing a dynamic glacierized landscape rapidly changing under climate change — and ensuring water supplies for irrigation and livestock pastures in downstream communities — all involve politics, social relations, economics and livelihoods, and cultural values,” Carey told GlacierHub. “We must turn our attention beyond the ice, in other words, to study and understand the challenges that communities, conservationists, policy makers, and tourists all face.”

Conservation is still linked to modern social imaginations, but the creation of the Climate Change Route on the Pastoruri Glacier in Peru’s Huascarán National Park implies a shift in the social imagination that reconsiders the presentation and construction of protected areas. With glaciers visually symbolizing the interconnectedness of humans and the rest of the environment, this step forward may better include the often neglected voices of the local communities in shaping their lives.

Roundup: Seals, Flood Mitigation, and Freezing Levels

Seal Whiskers Detect Ecosystem Change

From Polar Biology: “Warm Atlantic water in west Spitsbergen have led to an influx of more fish species. The most abundant marine mammal species in these fjords is the ringed seal. In this study, we used isotopic data from whiskers of two cohorts of adult ringed seals to determine whether signals of ecosystem changes were detectable in this top marine predator.”

Find out more about ringed seals here.

A ringed seal in Kongsfjorden, North West Spitsbergen (Source: The Might Fine Company/Google Images).

 

Flood Mitigation Strategies in Pakistan

From Natural Hazards: “The frequency and severity of flood events have been increased and have affected the livelihood and well-being of millions of people in Pakistan. Effective mitigation policies require an understanding of the impacts and local responses to extreme events, which is limited in Pakistan. This study revealed the adaptation measures adopted in Pakistan, and that the local policies on disaster management need to be improved to address the barriers to the adoption of advanced level adaptation measures.”

Find out more about flood risk mitigation in Pakistan here.

Pakistani villagers leaving their homes after a flood in Muridke (Source: DAWN/Google Images).

 

Rising Freezing Levels in Tropical Andes

From AGU Publications: “The mass balance of tropical glaciers in Peru is highly sensitive to a rise in the freezing level height (FLH). Knowledge of future changes in the FLH is crucial to estimating changes in glacier extents. Glaciers may continue shrinking considerably, and the consequences of vanishing glaciers are especially severe where people have only limited capacity to adapt to changes in the water availability due to, for instance, lack of financial resources.”

Find out more about freezing levels in Peru here.

Evidence of melting at Pastoruri glacier in Northern Peru (Source: Inyucho/Creative Commons).

 

Traces of tourism at the Peru glacier are more than footprints

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It’s not a landfill, but Peru’s Huascarán National Park. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

Pastoruri Glacier in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has gone through many different cycles. In the 1980s and well into the 1990s, in was a prime spot for tourism. Easily accessible in spite of its altitude above 5,000 meters, groups of skiers, backpackers, and high school spring breakers flocked to the icefields. In 2001, the glacier at Pastoruri gained nationwide attention when the peasant community, claiming ownership of the surrounding territories, seized control over the national park entrance. And this year, as it has been explained elsewhere on GlacierHub, whatever’s left of the dwindling glacier became central to the Huascarán National Park’s Route of Climate Change initiative. Anyone traveling here can see the newest cycle, one not dominated by people but of their trash.

We leave early from the community headquarters. Our vehicle is the community truck, which on other occasions may be used as transportation for people, animals, heavy gear, tools, and construction materials. But on this day its wooden truck body is destined to carry the leftovers from tourists: plastic bottles, napkins, candy-bar wrappings, banana peels, and all sorts of unimaginable stuff that was only of temporary use to the visitors.

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Collection of garbage near the Pastoruri glacier and roads occurs about once a week. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

The presence of garbage, the plastic bags used by people to slide down the glacier, and the general wear and tear of the ice by the visitors combined with the global warming trends to produce heavy retreat of the Pastoruri glacier. It is no longer permitted to step onto the glacier as it once was. Even though tourism has been mostly reduced since its heydays some thirty years ago, tourists still bring items of plastic and other non-recyclable materials to the altitudes. Part of the compromise that followed the legal settlement between the Catac peasant community and the Huascarán National Park is the maintenance of the touristic services at Pastoruri. Central to this is the collection of garbage at the site and along the road. Ideally, this happens once every week.

After a short stop at the community petrol station we follow the paved road for a few miles before reaching the junction, where the dirt road will gradually ascend towards Pastoruri. The old truck struggles a bit, but moves steady as we climb. We pick up another man who will help us on the way. He makes his living here in the altitudes herding animals, making cheese, and combining these activities with salaried labor in the main town.

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Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has been a popular tourist spot since the 1980s. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

After a two hour drive we reach the desolate parking lot at Pastoruri. We have come before the tourists will arrive. Outside the main tourism days round Easter and on Peru’s July 28 national holiday, only two or three minibuses with tourists will come here each day. After a brief talk with the locals staying here who make a living by providing services and food for the visitors, we begin our task. One by one, the old oil barrels now serving as garbage bins are emptied onto the truck. Some of the barrels seem to have been here for as long as tourists have come, leaking questionable juices from the rusty bottoms.

We then descend, making stops by tourist sites along the way: the ancient cave paintings, Pumapashimin lake, Pumapampa mountain, and the park entrance at Carpa. On our way we pick up a few people, filling up the last spots in our vehicle. One last passenger jumps into the truck body, but this is preferable to the long walk to the town.

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Peasant communities and the government of Peru have been in a legal dispute over who owns the area. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

Back in Catac we have ascend once more, as the winding dirt road leads us past the old headquarters of the large estate whose owners, before the agrarian reforms, used to claim ownership over land and people. The truck drives past cultivated fields of cereals and potatoes before we reach our final destination. And thus, with a view to some of the most iconic peaks in the Andes ends the journey of touristic trash, tying the vanishing glaciers to flows of goods and people.

This guest post was written by Danish anthropologist Mattias Borg Rasmussen.  If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

See it while you can: A Peruvian national park capitalizes on glacier melt

https://www.flickr.com/photos/inyucho/8059915843/
Tourists are flocking to Peru’s Pastoruri to see it before it melts. (Taco Witte/Flickr)

Ecotourists want to experience the power, beauty, and wonder of nature. But do they also want to be exposed to its fragility?

Not long ago Peru’s Pastoruri glacier attracted around 100,000 visitors per year, but the number of tourists has dwindled as the glacier has shrunk. As it shrank, it divided into two smaller glaciers in 2007 and into three in 2012. So what are the businesses and local guides who depend on the tourism economy to do?

Huascaran National Park is opening a “Climate Change Route” to showcase firsthand the impacts of climate change on these centuries-old glaciers, in what could be seen as part climate change adaptation and part savvy public relations maneuver.  The project began in 2010, will be 35 km long, will have an interpretive center, feature mineral springs with drinking water and unusual native plants including the world’s largest bromeliad (a relative of pineapple) which grows over 12 feet tall. The plan is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Commerce, total of over $1.5M.

In part because of Peru’s diversity of species and its vulnerability to climate change, the country was chosen to host the 20th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December. The goal of the conference is to advance towards developing a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2020. A stronger version of the international agreement will help Peru’s glacier tourism, if it’s not too late, that is.

Local businesses and guides near Peru’s Pastoruri glacier are hoping that tourists will pay to visit the vanishing glacier, just as some ecotourists trek to see vanishing animal species. A three-day route through several villages in the Andes is open for the first time during the tourist season. When the season ends in September, there will likely be an assessment of the success of the first year.

Though it’s too early to tell if strategies like this one work, glacier communities who look to tourists to support the local economy, such as those in Switzerland, New Zealand, and Nepal, will have to weigh their options. They could shift away from glacier-based tourism towards other activities or convince tourists to spend their vacations witnessing the impacts of global climate change firsthand.