This article has been edited to include details about a planned airport near Machu Picchu.
On Thursday, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra announced a campaign to plant 1,000,000 trees near Machu Picchu in an effort to reforest and protect the world wonder.
“We’re here to begin the planting of a million trees in the protected zone around the Machu Picchu sanctuary,” Vizcarra said, as reported by AFP.
According to France 24, the area, the most iconic site from the Inca empire, faces increased risks of mudslides due to heavy rainfall in the winter and forest fires during the summer. For Vizcarra, reforesting the land won’t just safeguard the archeological site but would also ensure that fauna and flora native to the area won’t be lost.
Launching the effort, Vizcarra said, underlines the “commitment from the government, the region, the municipality and all the citizens who want to protect this world wonder.”
It’s also not the first effort made to preserve Machu Picchu, which means “old mountain” in the Quechua language. Last May, Peru began restricting areas of the site from tourists in an attempt to prevent degradation. Similarly, in 2017, the country started limiting the amount of people who could visit the treasured site at a time.
However, the measures taken to protect Machu Picchu have been criticized by conservationists and archaeologists, who worry that the efforts are not enough and run contradictory to other state actions that threaten the site. For instance, last year, the Peruvian government began construction of the controversial Chinchero International Airport, a multibillion-dollar airport closer to the world marvel. Defenders of the ancient site are concerned about both the impact pollution from the air terminal could have on the rural region and historic site and also fear that it will attract more tourists.
Currently, most visitors travel to the site through Cusco airport, which is about 75 miles away. Despite the limited air travel and difficult trek, the Guardian reports that about 1.5 million people visit Machu Picchu annually. The congested tourist destination has faced damages due to visitors climbing on the walls, littering and even defacing the structure. Many fear that with easier access to the world wonder will come a greater number of guests who pose a serious threat to the centuries-old Inca city.
“The airport planned to be built in Chinchero, Cusco, endangers the conservation of one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the world,” reads an online petition launched by art historian Natalia Majluf, and signed by more than 100,000 people, that urges President Vizcarra to terminate plans for the airport. “An airport in the surroundings of the Sacred Valley will affect the integrity of a complex Inca landscape and will cause irreparable damage due to noise, traffic and uncontrolled urbanization.”
Machu Picchu, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, has stood in what is now known as South America since the 15th century, 100 years before Spanish colonization.