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Invasive algae threatens Patagonia biodiversity and tourism

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The Didymo algae is often mistaken for toilet paper or other waste. (photo by Sebastián Alvarez, of Expediciones Chile)

An invasive algae species previously found in parts of New Zealand and North America has been discovered in Futaleufu River, in Chile’s Patagonia Region. Didymosphenia, which looks like paper waste or toilet paper in the water, can have deleriotous effects on the local ecosystem if left untreated because it kills bottom-dwelling insects in the water that fish feed on to survive.  The species was likely tracked into the region on affected outdoors gear from other parts of the world, and threatens Patagonia’s tourism community, as well as other ecosystems and industries, such as hydropower.

Chris Spelius, owner of the adventure travel company Expediciones Chile, says “Patagonia has a world-wide reputation for fly fishing. The potential damage is awful.”

Bill Horvath, a chemist who has been studying the appearance of Didymosphenia in the river, urges that the spread of the algae must be controlled by changes in the local travel industry, and points out that proactive regulations could potentially spur the industry, in the form of rental business, rather than harm it.


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