Greenpeace calls attention to the Patagonian seas

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By Zoe Baillargeon
 
“Would you like the salmon?” Not at the expense of the health of the Chilean seas, says Greenpeace, which is turning its attention to better understanding and protecting the vulnerable marine environments of Chilean Patagonia with a new campaign and research mission aboard their ship, the Arctic Sunrise.
 
A 50-meter (162-foot) icebreaker the environmental group bought in 1995, the Arctic Sunrise set sail this week from Punta Arenas on a two-week research mission off the coast of the Magallanes region in southern Chile. The trip is part of a conservation campaign that aims to highlight the beauty of the Patagonian seas as well as gather information and raise awareness of how these fragile ocean ecosystems are in jeopardy from Chile’s highly lucrative salmon farming sector, the world’s second-largest salmon exporter.
 
“This landscape is one of the most pristine wildernesses on Earth,” said campaign director Amanda Starbuck in a phone interview with Patagon Journal from the Arctic Sunrise. “We need to better understand these ecosystems so we can work toward conserving them.”
 
The campaign first started in May 2016 following the disastrous red tide in Chiloe, where toxic algal blooms suspected to have originated from fish farms along the Chiloe coast killed off tons of fish and other marine life. Now, long-held plans to expand the industry to the country’s southernmost waters are picking up speed, with proposed salmon farms near Puerto Natales in Last Hope Sound drawing fierce opposition.
 
“Right now, there are 50 salmon farms in this area, with proposals for more than 300 more,” says Starbuck. “We have to stop that from happening, to halt this toxic development.”
 
 
Greenpeace activists arrive in zodiacs to the salmon pens of Cermaq in Seno Skyring, Magallanes. Greenpeace activists arrive in zodiacs to the salmon pens of Cermaq in Seno Skyring, Magallanes.
 
 
The ship’s research crew is headed up by Chilean oceanographer Ernesto Molina. Since the ship will be navigating difficult-to-reach areas and waterways, Molina and his crew will be using what Starbuck described as an “underwater drone” to help with their research into how local marine life, like whales, sea otters, and dolphins, live and behave in these waters.
 
The campaign also seeks to shine a light on the need for better marine protection in the Magallanes region, an area that is crucial to safeguard given its importance to migratory whales, local tourism and its comparatively low representation among the nation’s marine protected area system.
 
With the information gleaned from this mission, Greenpeace hopes to push the Chilean government into expanding the borders of Kaweskar National Park to include the surrounding oceans. The park is currently at the forefront of a conflict between the salmon farming industry, locals, and environmentalists, where salmon aquaculture there is seen as not only harmful to this area’s extraordinarily valuable marine environment but also encroaching on ancestral territory belonging to the Kaweskar indigenous community.
 
“For us it’s a clear moral choice,” says Starbuck.
 
While at port in Punta Arenas, and at the ship’s final destination, Puerto Natales, people are encouraged to come visit the Arctic Sunrise, learn more about their mission, and sign up to become “Guardians of the Sea.”
 
To find out more, or to sign up to become a Guardian of the Sea, visit www.greenpeace.cl