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Uruguay - Country Profile

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Status and Trends of Biodiversity


Natural grasslands cover more than 70% of Uruguay and constitute a significant portion of one of the last extensive temperate grassland ecoregions in South America . Different types of native woodlands cover over 700,000ha. Lakes and lagoons occupy approximately 3,500km2, and a further 4,000km2 by permanent and temporary wetlands. There are two wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention: Bañados del Este (also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which comprise some of the most important freshwater and coastal ecosystems of the Neotropical Region) and Esteros de Farrapos & Islas del Río Uruguay. The marine areas of Uruguay consist of the Plata River Estuary and the adjacent shelf and slope, which form part of the Subtropical Convergence Ecosystem; they are amongst the most productive ecosystems in the world (NASA).

To date 2,750 higher plant species have been registered in 140 families. With over 553 species of grasses (native and naturalized), Uruguay is one of the richest areas in Gramineae worldwide. In terms of fauna, some 1,300 species of vertebrates have been identified, of which 668 are fish, 47 amphibians, 66 reptiles, 446 birds, and 111 mammals. About 35% of the country's bird species are migratory, with at least three different migratory routes.

Number and Extent of Protected Areas

26 areas have been afforded certain legal protection status, and have very heterogeneous characteristics and objectives. They cover about 300,000ha, approximately 1.7% of Uruguay’s total national territory. These areas do not include a complete representative sample of the country’s biodiversity, thus many elements of significant value (mainly grasslands and marine ecosystems) lie outside protected areas.

Percentage of Forest Cover

Native woodlands cover over 700,000ha, equivalent to 4% of the territory (Nebel, 2004). These forests are protected by the Forestry Law (1987).

National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan

Major features of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

The National Biodiversity Strategy (NBS) provides a general framework for the conservation and sustainable use of Uruguay’s biodiversity. It includes an assessment of current status and problems regarding: in situ and ex situ conservation; impact assessment; research and training; exchange of information; access to genetic resources; public education and awareness; integration of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity into development programs/plans/policies; and incentive measures. For each of these themes, the NBS provides policy guidelines and sets out priority actions to reach specific objectives. Since its publication in 1999, several policy changes and actions have been implemented, including the passing of the General Law of the Environment (which includes important articles regarding biodiversity and biosafety), the Law that created the National Protected Area System, and the preparation of a biodiversity strategy focusing on coastal and marine ecosystems (2005). Currently, the Ministry of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment (MVOTMA), as Operative Focal Point of the CBD in Uruguay, are working to update the NBS and to develop and implement an action plan to reach the objectives of the CBD at the national level.

Implementation of the Convention

Measures Taken to Achieve the 2010 Target

The abovementioned laws and actions advanced by Uruguay also contribute to achieving the 2010 target. The Ministry of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment is working through multisectoral and participative forums like the National Technical Advisory Commission on Environmental Issues (COTAMA) and the National Advisory Commission on Protected Areas (CNA), both created by Law, to encourage public and private sector to undertake actions for the 2010 target of the CBD.

Initiatives in Protected Areas

Uruguay approved the Law 17.234, which works to harmonize planning and management criteria for protected areas and categories, to provide a coordinated approach for their management and to develop mechanisms that support their sustainability, as well as the Decree 52/005, which established a National System of Protected Areas (NPAS), and is working to incorporate new protected areas to the system (terrestrial and marine). Also Uruguay is starting the GEF /UNDP Project Catalyzing the Implementation of Uruguay’s National Protected Area System. By building systemic, institutional and individual capacities to design and set up a National Protected Area System that effectively conserves a representative sample of Uruguay’s biodiversity, the project will make a significant contribution to the achievement of key goals of the Programme of Work for Protected Areas agreed at the CBD-COP7. Through the improved management effectiveness of existing PAs and the incorporation of new areas in the framework of the gradual implementation of the NPAS, the Project will contribute to the protection of ecosystems, habitats and other biodiversity elements of global importance, including temperate grasslands, coastal-marine ecosystems, wetlands, and forests.

Initiatives in Access and Benefit Sharing

Uruguay, in the multisectorial context of the National Genetic Resources Committee, is drafting a bill regarding genetic resources, to be submitted to Congress in 2007, including Access and Benefit Sharing in accordance with Article 15 of the CBD.

Initiatives for Article 8(j)

Several legal instruments in Uruguay, like the National Protected Areas System Law and the General Law of the Environment, include objectives, articles and specific tools that contribute to the attainment of the objective of Article 8j of the CBD, but further work will be necessary through new legislation such as the draft bill on Genetic Resources mentioned above.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme