Blue whales threatened by coastal wind farm on Chiloe Island?

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On a recent visit to the Canelo de Nos office in Ancud, Chiloe, I was greeted by a packed room of local residents angry about the prospects of a wind farm in their backyard. They were there to express their concerns about noise from turbines, disturbance of an ancient indigenous burial ground, contamination to wetlands, and threats to migratory birds. Many tourist business owners talked of the potential negative impacts for nearby Punihuil, a launching pad to visit a rare colony of both Magallanic and Humboldt penguins that is one of Chiloe Island’s top tourism attractions. A local indigenous leader was emphatic in his rejection of a wind farm at Cocotue Bay on the northwest coast of Chiloe: “This company has not taken our opinions into account -- not indigenous communities nor anyone else in the sector. There was no consultation process.”
 
I went with a few of the local opposition leaders to tour the proposed wind farm site. Walking along Mar Brava beach you get a better idea of what the fuss is all about. One after another, white shells from 5,000-year-old remains of early indigenous inhabitants of the island are forged into small dune-like mounds along the beach. And the coastline merges with wetlands here that local ecologist Jorge Valenzuela tells me are habitat for more than 3000 migratory birds. But Valenzuela says the Ecopower company, co-owned by Julio Albarran, a native of Chiloe, mis-represented the terrain in their environmental declaration statement. He believes authorities in turn must not have viewed the site with their own eyes before approving the project in August. “If there is an accident here [involving potentially hydraulic liquids, anti-fouling substances, or waste from the structures], it will go right into the water and into the bay.
 
The road from Mar Brava to nearby tourist attraction Punihuil has incredible vistas of the threatened coastline. At Punihuil, eco-tourism has become a major source of money for locals, who worry tourists will not continue to come if the wind farm is built due to the visual and noise pollution that 56 wind turbines as tall as 40-story-buildings could bring to this picturesque scene.
 
But I am here on assignment for National Geographic News mostly to find out about what could happen to the world’s largest mammal, the great blue whale, which makes this bay its favorite habitat in the Southern Hemisphere. I am curious to explore how wind turbines on land could affect whales at sea and why some environmental groups, normally in favor of wind power, are fighting this project. Barbara Galletti, a longtime researcher with the Center for Conservation of Cetaceans, is my guide. She says they are not against wind power, but want to see more care into planning for where wind farms are located.
 
Indeed, some whales may be at risk from the construction of wind farms offshore and on coasts, as you will read at this link to my recent article for National Geographic. 
 
 
 
Photos by Elsa Cabrera and Jimmy Langman for Patagon Journal
 

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