Country Profiles

Uruguay - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Uruguay is located in a biogeographic transition zone in the southern part of the South American continent. The confluence of biogeographic regions gives rise to natural fields interspersed with wetlands, different types of native forests, landscapes and important bodies of water, including coastal lagoons. Noteworthy biodiversity exists at the ecoregional, ecosystem, species and genetic levels. Furthermore, habitat diversity reveals a variety of interesting species, many of which are globally significant in ecological, economic and social terms.

The national economy is based primarily on the export of products, mainly agricultural. Livestock is the main export sector and has historically played a key role in the country’s economy and landscapes, although soybean production has gained ground. In addition, Uruguay’s long-term energy policy and investment in renewable energy sources have placed the country second overall in South America in terms of environmental sustainability. Furthermore, a recent increase in the number of foreign tourists, coupled with growth in domestic tourism, has positioned tourism as one of the country’s key production sectors, representing 7% of the GDP in 2013. While tourism has in the past been mostly of the "sun and beach" variety, the demand for nature tourism and ecotourism has increased in recent years.

Natural temperate grasslands (Pampas) cover about 60% of the national territory and are significantly affected by intensified land use practices. Between 1998 and 2011, a significant increase in extensive crop cultivation was primarily linked to soybean production. Remnants of Uruguayan grasslands are in good condition, covering sizable surface area and as such considered “valuable grassland areas”. Uruguay’s extensive river system comprises six main basins: Río Uruguay, Río de la Plata, Atlantic Ocean, Laguna Merín, Río Negro and Río Santa Lucía. Its coasts and national waters are characterized by high productivity in biological terms, with a marked increase in productivity occurring in a west-east trajectory (towards the Atlantic Ocean), resulting from the confluence of mainland and oceanic waters.

Native Forest areas in Uruguay have grown steadily over the past 25 years (from 3.5% coverage to 6%). The forestry sector (forest plantations based on introduced species) has recently experienced dynamic growth, with significant investment occurring as a result of opportunities offered for developing new projects, such as sawmills, power plants and pulp mills. Between 2009 and 2012, exports in this sector grew at an average annual rate of 15% and accounted for 12% of the total exports in 2012.

Uruguay is home to several bird species considered globally threatened, such as the yellow cardinal, the black-and-white monjita (Heteroxolmis dominicanus) and the marsh seedeater. Several tree species located in Uruguay are at their southern and eastern natural range limits, implying genetic variability of populations important for breeding programmes. Other native species are known for their medicinal or aromatic characteristics, for timber or as ornamentals. Many landraces have evolved from introduced species, such as wheat, during the colonial era. Also, although not native to the country, maize (corn) was a common culture in the late eighteenth century, with varieties of maize having been developed since this time.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

An analysis of sources of pressure highlighted the relationship between development strategies and lack of environmental planning at the territorial level. Another analysis conducted of future scenarios based on trends revealed that intensified production would negatively affect biodiversity.

Sources of pressure include energy and mining production, urban and tourism development (mainly on the coast), invasive alien species, development of transportation and service corridors, forestation, pollution and climate change. Grasslands are particularly affected by land use intensification, primarily linked to soybean production. Wetlands are affected by habitat degradation for the most part, and the marine and coastal environment by overfishing during some periods.

An analysis of a future scenario based on livestock trends revealed that greater livestock production could generate permanent overgrazing and consequent genetic erosion of plant genetic resources in natural fields, soil erosion and water pollution.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The main achievements of Uruguay’s first NBSAP adopted in 1999 include, among others: the adoption of the Law on the National Protected Areas System (2000); preparation of a list of ecosystems and species prioritized for conservation; biodiversity integration in the curricula of primary, secondary and technical (professional) education; development of a regulatory framework for land use planning, including environmental and biodiversity variables.

Uruguay has completed its updated NBSAP on the understanding that it is a dynamic process in the context of the CBD 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. To date, progress has been achieved in developing national goals (through participatory consultation) and the national Clearing-house Mechanism (CHM). Work is currently being carried out on agreeing national targets, integrating biodiversity considerations in development frameworks and sectoral plans, ecosystem services valuation and promoting adaptation and ecosystem-based resilience. The Action Plan will focus on the National System of Protected Areas, invasive alien species, resource mobilization and a roadmap to advance the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS. Other actions will address reporting to related conventions, developing mechanisms for exchanging biodiversity information management (through initiatives such as GBIF) and for ensuring implementation and monitoring of activities.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Seven eco-regions were defined under the PPR project (Proyecto de Producción Responsable) carried out in 2010 which aimed to develop a responsible production model. Plans for these eco-regions were prepared based on environmental characteristics, assessed conservation values, pressures and threats.

A set of environmental indicators to support environmental management, based on the Pressure-State-Response model, has been developed.

The Committee on Invasive Alien Species is responsible for developing guidelines and specific actions in this area. In 2009, the Committee published the first preliminary list of invasive alien species and in 2010 published the Guidelines for the National Management of Invasive Alien Species. A workshop held in 2011 identified national priorities for the development of an action plan on invasive alien species. A database on invasive alien species has also been established.

A project is underway which aims to promote the sustainable use of natural resources to achieve greater variability and adaptation to climate change. Moreover, the Ministerio de Vivienda Ordenamiento Territorial y Medio Ambiente (MVOTMA) and the Ministerio de Ganaderia, Agriculturay Pesca (MGAP) are beginning to implement a REDD+ project with support from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, with the objective of developing a conservation strategy for native forests in relation to climate change.

An Action Plan will be developed to facilitate the participation of local communities and organizations representing indigenous peoples and Afro descendants in the implementation of the NBSAP, as called for under Article 8 (j) of the Convention.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Uruguay became a Party to the Nagoya Protocol on ABS on 12 October 2014.

In 2013, Uruguay adopted the Law on Responsible Fisheries and Promotion of Aquaculture, as well as the Law on Mining (Ley de Minería de Gran Porte). Adopted in 2008, the Law on Land Management and Sustainable Development has resulted in the adoption of 9 documents containing guidelines for Departments (Administrative Divisions), with another 10 documents in preparation. A draft Law on Biosafety has been developed and is currently being elaborated.

The creation of the National System of Protected Natural Areas was established by law in 2000 and regulated by Executive Decree in 2005. Protected areas currently comprise almost 1.24% of the continental territory and 0.68% of the marine territory. However, a recently-approved GEF project aims to strengthen the effectiveness of the national protected areas system, through the application of the landscape management approach, maintaining connectivity between ecosystems (inside and outside of protected areas). Marine protected areas and Rio de la Plata (including islands) currently comprise 16% of the total protected areas system. Uruguay has 2 Ramsar sites and 2 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and 22 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). In 2013, Uruguay adopted a law designating its territorial waters as a “sanctuary for whales and dolphins” (the law also applies to the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone). Uruguay adopted in 2015 its Strategic Plan for the National System of Protected Areas for 2015-2020 in coordination with the updated NBSAP.

Uruguay published its First National Red List for Birds in 2012 and updated its List of Species Prioritized for Conservation in 2013 and the National Red List of Amphibians and Reptiles in 2015. A publication on the contributions of the Uruguayan Ecoregions to the National Biodiversity Strategy was presented during the celebrations for the International Day for Biodiversity in 2015. Uruguay also possesses a National Forest Inventory.

Biodiversity considerations have been mainstreamed in various sectoral plans, including, among others, the Manual on Best Agricultural Practices for Rainfed Agricultural Systems and the Sustainable Tourism Plan (2009-2020).

Progress has been achieved in the development of incentives for the conservation of natural grasslands in the Southern Cone, through a regional project implemented by the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

A comprehensive mechanism for monitoring and reviewing NBSAP implementation does not yet exist however this issue will be addressed in Uruguay’s revised NBSAP.