BUENOS AIRES – As if it were a piece of ground that had escaped from Argentina, the “Isla de los Estados,” also known as Staten Island, rises from the South Atlantic, a vision of forests and cliffs above the waves, a southern Alcatraz and the location of the last light – or lighthouse – at the end of the world that, recently, has been declared a national nature preserve.
Apart from its history interwoven with legends, the island is home to large colonies of vulnerable animal species, including Magellanic penguins, seals, the blackish cinclodes, a type of passarine bird, and others.
“It’s a typical sub-Antarctic island, with steep cliffs, with two well-differentiated zones,” Andrea Raya Rey, a researcher with the state-run Southern Center for Scientific Research, or CADIC, told EFE.
Separated by 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Tierra del Fuego across the Le Maire Strait, there are pastures or meadows on the island’s eastern coast and the rest is comprised of dense low forests of southern beech that come down “right to the ocean’s edge,” the expert said.
Although the area enjoyed various levels of protection during the 20th century, in August Argentine President Mauricio Macri ordered it to be accorded the highest status, thus converting it into a national preserve.
Along with the Isla de los Estados, other smaller nearby islets will also be protected under the national preserve order.
“The island’s main problem is the animals (that have been) introduced” into the area, due to the resulting “loss of habitat” for native species, Raya Rey said.
“There have been goats and deer on the island for many years ... The goats were brought in when there was seal and penguin exploitation. The deer, apparently, were brought in by the (government) in the 1970s, when there was still no awareness of the impact the introduced animals would have,” she said.
CADIC is seeking to make people aware of the importance of protecting the nearby waters, where birds and marine mammals feed, and Raya Rey said that “the greatest dangers for these species are at sea.”
Author Jules Verne set his 1905 novel “The Lighthouse at the End of the World” on the island, although he never set foot there and the San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse there was no longer in operation at the time. The remains of the original lighthouse are on display in the city of Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego province.