In Bolivia, a fight for a disappearing glacier

STORY: This is Bolivia’s ‘dying glacier’

It's been retreating fast, losing some 5 feet in thickness each year.

Scientists and climbers are fighting for its future as the glacier faces the threats of increasing tourism and climate change.

[Bernardo Guarachi, Mountain climber]

"We have to look after this place, take care of it. We need to stop thinking about money and business, we need to take care of the mountains, that's what other countries are aiming to."

The Charquini Glacier sits in the Andean mountains, just 12 miles from the capital La Paz.

In recent years it has started to attract tourists with local governments opening it up to visitors for a fee.

Some have snowboarded down the glacier, worrying scientists who say increased activity will accelerate the glacier's decline.

Bernardo Guarachi has been climbing the mountains since he was 18 years old.

"I know the Charquini. The glacier used to start down there, where you can see a wall. But where are we now? Look how much it has retreated, it's tremendous. And it's not only Charquini, the rest of the mountains are in the same conditions, they've been affected."

Guarachi believes all Bolivians have a responsibility to take care of the glaciers.

"It's sad to see the mountain this way, look how it is, half of it has already disappeared. It won't last much longer."

Glaciers in the Cordillera Real began to lose mass at the end of the small ice age in the 17th century, but, scientists say, this process has accelerated with global warming.

Analysis of satellite data shows how the glaciers have receded in recent decades.

Snowfall has declined, hindering the glaciers ability to build up mass as well as seeing water reservoirs decline.

Edson Ramirez is a doctor in glaciology at UMSA.

[Edson Ramirez, Glaciologist, Universidad Mayor de San Andres]

“There are two opposing aspects, on one hand, it's important that our mountains become known, that people understand what these ecosystems are about, but on the other hand we need to develop sustainable tourism since we are facing a very sensitive, unbalanced glacier that is practically doomed to disappear.”

Other climbers, like the famed indigenous 'cholita' Ivette Gonzales, welcome the tourists.

Gonzales took part in a ceremony to kick off the tourism season, and says the glacier should be enjoyed and explored by all Bolivians.

[Ivette Gonzales, Cholita mountain climber]

"What is happening regarding global warming is affecting us, but as long as we have our mountains, our riches, I'd like for people to come. Let's take advantage of our mountains and Bolivia's natural riches. (Natural riches are) not only abroad, but here in Bolivia as well. Come visit us and witness how wonderful it is here."

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