Why not make the Falklands a nature park?

The dispute over the Falkland Islands could be solved by turning them into an International Nature Park under joint British-Argentine control, or, if that cannot be agreed upon, under United Nations auspices.

The Islands qualify for such a designation. The penguins, widely seen on television and movie programs, are the best known feature of the wildlife. Five different species, some of them in the millions, breed there. The harbor facilities, air strips, and human settlements make the Falklands the only easily accessible place for the viewing of penguins. Several commercial agencies have already been organizing tours to see the wildlife which, in addition to penguins , includes 60 other breeding species of birds, among them albatrosses and geese. Breeding colonies of sea lions, fur seals, and elephant seals occur on the shores, and leopard seals, porpoises, dolphins, and whales can be seen in nearby waters. Naturalists who have visited the islands are enthusiastic about the wildlife, and they have already succeeded in getting some areas set aside as nature preserves.

The climate is not as miserable as is often pictured. The Falklands are at the same latitude south as London is north. The temperature has never been known to fall below 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average daily sunshine is 41/2 hours (50 percent higher than that in the north of Scotland). Winds are strong, but storm-force winds are almost unknown. The average annual rainfall is 25 inches.

West Falkland is half the size of Yellowstone National Park. East Falkland is a little larger, but these two main islands, together with their adjacent small islands, comprise less than one-quarter the area of the largest US national park in Alaska. So there is precedent for a park of this size. Furthermore, because sheep farming apparently does not interfere seriously with the wildlife, and may even be needed to control the exotic grasses introduced, much of the acreage could be left as inholdings controlled only by minimum regulations to protect the wildlife.

Details for the operation of a park can be worked out. In general, the pattern developed for the Galapagos Islands might be followed. The Galapagos Islands, which are larger than East Falkland, are now an Ecuadorian National Park. Transport of tourists to the Galapagos is mainly by air, and touring around the islands is by small ship or yacht. Landings to visit the wildlife areas are supervised by a park-approved guide. Hotels and a museum are located near park headquarters. An attractive feature of the Falklands is that the wildlife is similar in tameness to that of the Galapagos.

What interest might the British and Argentines have in this proposal? The British, with Prince Philip as a royal example, are noted for their efforts to preserve wildlife, and the Argentines are justifiably proud of having established the first national park, Nahuel Huapi, in the southern hemisphere. The present dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina has been aptly described as a ''Catch-22 situation.'' If the two countries could come together and establish an International Peace Park, they would escape from this situation in a highly constructive manner. The preservation of a valuable wildlife area that needs protection would serve as a permanent monument to a sparkling example of rational diplomacy.

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