Blogs

Dams on the Santa Cruz: Argentina’s court to decide soon the river’s fate

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Photo: Michael GaigePhoto: Michael Gaige
 
 
By Clara Ribera
 
The Santa Cruz River is born from the pureness of three glaciers in the Andes and flows unimpeded for 385 kilometers (240 miles) before merging with the Atlantic Ocean. But this magnificent turquoise river is under threat from two large-scale hydroelectric projects. And like so many other environmental conflicts, a small cadre of environmental and citizen organizations have mobilized to defend the river from the Argentinian government, three construction companies (two Argentinian and one Chinese), and the financing body, the Commercial Bank of China.
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Fishing on Navarino Island

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By Gonzalo Pavez
Translation by Patrick Nixon
 
The desire to fish in the southernmost rivers of the world is what drove us to head to Navarino Island which sits south of Tierra del Fuego. This remote island has several fishing areas. Along with Gonzalo Oliver, Giancarlo Robba and Nicolás Oliver we set off and after reaching Puerto Williams, the largest town on the island, we began hiking the Dientes de Navarino (Navarino Teeth) circuit, a trek with beautiful scenery, snow-capped mountains and pristine valleys.
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Futurismo Aysén: International sustainable tourism festival in Cerro Castillo

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By Rosario Góngora
Translation by Amy Schrader
 
Three days of activities to promote sustainable tourism in the Aysén Patagonia region.
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National parks and the takeover of Chacabuco Valley

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Photo: Nicolas AravenaPhoto: Nicolas Aravena
 

By Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysen Reserve of Life Coalition
Translation by Amy Schrader
 
While we dedicated ourselves to pacifism over the past week, we were surprised by the reclassification of Cerro Castillo National Reserve to Cerro Castillo National Park and the numerous reactions that that ensued. Meanwhile, in Chacabuco Valley, a group took over the facilities of the future Patagonia National Park.
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Interview: Marcelo Mena, Chile's Environment Minister

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Editors Note: The following is from Issue 15.
 
It’s not common to see a governmental minister bike 15 miles (24 km) to work - each way - every day.  For most people, the position’s stringent demands would likely make finding time to bike at all very difficult. But Marcelo Mena, Chile’s environment minister, tries to embody his green way of thinking. For a long time now, he fights every day to keep pedaling, in part to promote biking as a means of alternative transportation for cities like Santiago that suffer from high air pollution. Mena also owns a hybrid car and his house has photovoltaic panels to take advantage of solar power.
 
Mena unabashedly is proud to call himself an environmentalist and he walks the walk. Prior to becoming an environmental minister (he was promoted from deputy environment minister earlier this year), he earned a PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Iowa, and was the director of the Andres Bello University Center for Sustainability Research. He received the NASA’s Group Achievement Award in 2005 for his work in improving air quality forecasts in Chile.
 
Mena recalls that one of his most cherished moments leading Chile’s Ministry of the Environment occurred in March when American conservationist Kris Tompkins visited their offices. Some 200 people were there to greet Tompkins with thunderous applause when she walked through the front door of the building. Tompkins was there to iron out the details of her donation of 407,625 hectares of private parkland to form part of a new network of 17 national parks in Chilean Patagonia that will cover a total land area greater in size than Switzerland. “It is of the most ambitious land conservation projects in the world,” said Mena. “I’m really proud that I got the chance to be a part of that.”
 
In June, Mena also participated in the United Nation’s Oceans Conference in New York, where he committed to making Chile also a world leader in marine conservation by the end of the current center-left Michelle Bachelet government in March 2018. Now home to more than 950,000 square miles of protected marine area, Chile is already leading the way after last year’s creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, a 185,000 square mile expanse that protects the San Ambrosio and San Félix Islands, and is the largest marine protection area in Latin America. Moreover, in May, they Chile established a marine park at Cabo de Hornos and Diego Ramírez Islands that encompasses 6,200 square miles.
 
Patagon Journal: What is the importance for Chile of hosting IMPAC?
Mena: It gives us a lot of pride to be the first developing country to host this very important conference. It caps off a four year stint of multiple creations of marine protected areas and a very active international agenda by Chile on ocean conservation issues. We’ve been working with the U.S. with the Our Ocean conference and we’ve been pushing other countries to go forward on more protected areas. On the diplomatic level, we’ve been supporting the recognition of ocean conservation in the climate change frameworks.
 
Currently around 13% of Chile’s marine environment are in marine protection areas. Are there plans to expand on that?
Mena: What we have done up to now is focus on the big chunks in pristine locations such Juan Fernández, Cape Horn and Easter Island. Our challenge will be to create protected areas closer to where there are more activities, closer to continental Chile, and that will require a longer discussion with different extractive interests: fishermen, local coastal communities, others.
 
 
 
 
Will Chile strive to meet the World Conservation Congress recommendation of 30% of oceans to be protected in marine protection areas?
Mena: Yes, I think we should strive for that. With some of the collective actions we’re looking into an even higher number as we move past Aichi [Biodviersity Targets], because we also know, like the Kyoto Agreement for climate, that it’s not enough. We had the Paris Agreement to replace that one, same goes here. We should be looking into higher conservation goals, especially considering the high level of depletion of marine resources globally.
 
In Chile, about 60% of fisheries are overexploited right now.
Mena: For many decades we have had fishing restrictions in place, and however critical one may be of Chile’s fisheries policies, we actually have one of the more progressive systems in place. Our quotas are determined by science and based on sustainability. And that’s why we see more and more fishing communities in Chile looking at conservation as an opportunity, because they know that if you overfish it be harder for future generations to continue with fishing.
 
What else do you think needs to be done to protect marine life along the coast?
Mena: I think decreasing CO2 emissions is important to reduce the amount of ocean acidification. Also, we need to be looking into strengthening our emission standards so nutrients that are discharged into the ocean can be decreased. Finally, we need to curtail the amount of plastic bags and plastic bottles that are used and disposed of, particularly in coastal cities.
 
What can be done about plastics in Chile?
Mena: We need to look into getting rid of disposable bottles and use a returnable bottles deposit system. And we need to curtail the use of plastic bags, they are pervasive and are very efficient at making it into the ocean. Chileans use almost a bag and half per person per day, and that’s a lot of plastic bags. Finally, we don’t have the waste management practices that really prevent the trash from getting out into the ecosystems. And since we have one of the largest coasts in the world--we’re among the top 5 coastal countries in the world-- we really have a high responsibility to reduce the amount of trash that gets into ecosystems.
 
There will soon be a network of marine protection areas for Patagonia. Why is Patagonia particularly important to protect?
Mena: Before the Bachelet government, the amount of protected areas in the Magallanes region was very low compared to other regions. And if you compare the amount of terrestrial conservation versus ocean conservation, there is also a big gap within the Magallanes region. Patagonia is one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. It’s where a lot of productivity starts, where you have all these different nutrients traveling up Chile’s Pacific coast in the Humboldt Current. It is important for carbon sequestration. We have been working with private NGOs, such as Wildlife Conservation Society and National Geographic, and they have been showcasing how important these ecosystems are and have helped us with the scientific background needed to justify these conservation areas.
 
Perhaps the biggest threat to the Patagonian coast is the salmon farming sector. How will you tackle that and create more marine protection areas in the region?
Mena: There are many lessons to be learned from the salmon farming industry experience. One lesson is that we need better regulations. We have recently improved regulations in terms of the density of farming and having more resiliency to our fish kills due to algal blooms, such as early warning systems. That said, Chile is no Silicon Valley. We have a thriving renewable energy industry and are developing other new added value industries, but meanwhile we are a country with an economy that has a lot of natural resource extraction. So, we need to come up with the most sustainable ways of doing that. I think a balance between better regulations in aquaculture and higher conservation is a good way to make both work.
   
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Massive march in Puerto Varas over contamination of Lake Llanquihue

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 Photo: Mónica CarrascoPhoto: Mónica Carrasco
 
 
By Cristóbal Pérez
 
About 2000 people protested in Puerto Varas on Saturday over continuing contamination of Lake Llanquihue. Despite a severe rainstorm, protestors marched to demand a definitive solution to the illegal discharges of sewage water into the lake, the second-largest lake in Chile, and uncontrolled development in the town.
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Seventh South America Bird Fair in Puerto Varas next month

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Blue-and-yellow macaw. Photo: Deni WilliamsBlue-and-yellow macaw. Photo: Deni Williams
 
 
By Cristobal Perez
 
The seventh edition of the South America Bird Fair will be held for the first time in Chile next month, where birdwatchers and bird enthusiasts will come together for lectures, symposia, workshops, field trips and other activities about birds and their ecosystems.
 
Started in 2010, the South America Bird Fair began as a small event in San Martín de los Andes, thanks to the initiative of Argentine biologist Horacio Mataraso. He saw the need to organize an event that would bring together birdwatchers of South America, taking as an example the British Bird Fair and other bird fairs held in the United States, Australia and Europe. The fair was held annually in Argentina until 2013, in 2015 moved to Paraty, Brazil, and last year was held in Buenos Aires.
 
This year, the fair will be at Hotel Cabaña del Lago in Puerto Varas from October 26-29. Its organizers say that a main objective is to position South America - and this year Chile in particular - as one of the world’s top birdwatching destinations. Indeed, South American birds have “a diversity of shapes, habits and colors that are unique on the planet,” says Chilean ornithologist Álvaro Jaramillo in the article "Best Birdwatching Places in South America” in the current issue of Patagon Journal.
 
 
Chucao. Photo: Nicolás BinderChucao. Photo: Nicolás Binder
 
 
Raffaele Di Biase, founder of Birds Chile, the local organizer of the event, says that "it is an opportunity to show people and governmental organizations that it is an important niche, with enormous potential, that it is one of the most sustainable forms of tourism, and that it is fast growing in recent years.”  He adds that the fair aims to be a contribution to conservation. "As the natural heritage becomes a tourist attraction,” he said, “it becomes economically more profitable to conserve ecosystems rather than degrade or exploit them.”
 
The event is organized with support from the regional government, which Di Biase says is increasingly backing birdwatching activities. “Ten years ago, there was little or no interest whatsoever in birdwatching. But over the past five years we have started to see birds as a main feature in the tourism promotion materials put out by the Chilean government.”
 
The program (see below) for this year’s fair has a wealth of lectures, video documentaries, workshops, and presentations from scientists as well as authors of some of the continent’s most important birdwatching guides. There is great interest in participating in the fair: all available stands sold out already weeks ago, and in addition to a strong South American presence, experts from England, Africa and the United States will participate.
 
 
Black woodpecker. Photo: Liam QuinnBlack woodpecker. Photo: Liam Quinn
 
 
This year the fair has made environmental education a main theme, thanks to Carolina Yáñez, a conference volunteer who has been visiting schools in the province of Llanquihue (where Puerto Varas is located) the past four months teaching them about birds and birdwatching.  The first day of the fair will be dedicated exclusively to students, who will be able to view environmental education exhibits.
 
At the fair you will also find stands featuring the latest birding equipment, birdwatching companies, bird books, art galleries and governmental entities and organizations dedicated to birds and nature. Birdwatchers will have tremendous oppportunites to deepen and complement their knowledge, and tour operators will be able to connect to the leading birdwatching companies on the continent. Swarovski Optik, one of the world’s leading makers of optical equipment for birdwatching and ecotourism, for the first time will sponsor the fair and is bringing all of its products.

Below, the program for the fair. For more info, visit www.birdfair.net.
 
Program for the Seventh South America Bird FairProgram for the Seventh South America Bird Fair
 
 
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In memoriam: Elisa Corcuera 1973-2017

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By David Tecklin

Editors Note: The following is from Issue 15.
 
The movement to protect nature on private lands in Chile is now widespread and growing. Hundreds of private conservation projects of all kinds are on the march. This includes not just the monumental parks agreement between Tompkins Conservation and the Chilean government, but emblematic areas like the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, Juncal Andino Park, Karukinka Park, and Huilo Huilo. The maturation of that land conservation movement builds in large part on the work of conservationist and environmental educator, Elisa Corcuera, who died on July 14 at age forty-four.
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Celebrating Chile’s rivers

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 Photo: Salomé CandelaPhoto: Salomé Candela
 
 
By Paulo Urrutia, Patrick Lynch and Jens Benöhr, members of the Chilean Free-Flowing Rivers Network
 
Throughout Earth’s history, rivers have been essential for the survival of both humans and other species. Around these rivers, some of the oldest civilizations rose and fell. Rivers have represented life, death, obstacles, borders, transportation routes and even gods. Their very existence made them subjects of veneration and respect.
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