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拥抱生态旅游(一)

2005-09-12 00:00

  A remote Patagonian town that's just beginning to prosper by guiding tourists through the virgin forests nearby is being shaken by the realization that it's sitting on a gold mine. Literally, more than 3,000 worried Esquel residents recently took to the streets in protests aimed at assuring that their neat community of 28,000 becomes an ecotourism center, not a gold-rush town.

  Esquel's plight is winning attention from international conservation and environmental groups such as Greenpeace. In Argentina, the town has become a national symbol in the debate over exploitation vs. preservation of the country's vast natural resources.

  About 3.2 million acres already are under contract for mineral exploration in poor and sparsely settled Chubut Province, where Esquel is, near the southern tip of South America. Whether Meridian Gold Corp. gets its open-pit gold mine outside Esquel could determine the fate of mining in Patagonia, a pristine region spanning southern Argentina and Chile.

  Meridian's project, about 5 miles outside Esquel at a higher elevation, is about 20 miles from a national park that preserves rate trees known as alerces, a southern relative of California's giant sequoia. Some of them have been growing serenely in the temperate rain forest for more than 3,000 years.

  The greatest fear is that cyanide, which is used to leach gold from ore, will drain downhill and poison Esquel's and possibly the park's water supplies. The mine will use 180 tons of the deadly chemical each month. Although many townspeople and some geologists disagree, the company says any excess cyanide would drain away from Esquel.

  “We won't allow them to tear things up and leave us with the toxic aftermath,” said Felix Aguilar, 28, as he piloted a boatload of tourists through a lake in the Alerces National Park. “We take care of things here, so that the entire world can hear and see nature in its pure state. The world must help us prevent this.”

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