Researchers working in southern Chile to raise climate awareness

By Javier Martin

Tierra del Fuego, Chile, Nov 8 (EFE).- Stretching from the Chilean city of Puerto Montt, the territory that extends to the southernmost point in the Americas resembles the beak of a condor, curving to cross the 56th parallel at the edge of the inhabited world.

The region is characterized by a beautiful and uneven landscape filled with mighty rivers, magical islands, deep fjords, white mountains, pristine glaciers and lush forests, all of which are barely fending off the climate emergency but an area which is establishing itself as the laboratory of a crucial change for the future of humanity.

Just as past centuries of “theocentrism” during the Middle Ages gave way to “humanism,” in far southern Chile, in particular in the Magallanes region, researchers and other experts are working to overcome the current age’s “developmental anthropocentrism” which has undermined the health of the planet, and to foster the dawn of a new era: that of “nature-centrism.”

“Today, we’re experiencing an opportunity for self-discovery, like people living together in a natural laboratory that is not only conceived as a strategic zone and mecca for scientific development but also as a living refuge for the world,” said Juan Oyarzo, the dean of Magallanes University.

“It’s an eco-region that’s not a resource and doesn’t belong to anyone, and so it requires high-minded human behavior, where the decisions are made on top quality information and with respect for all existing biodiversity,” he emphasized.

Expressing himself along the same lines is researcher Ricardo Rozzi, who warned that amid the death caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the destruction of natural habitats, massive pollution and precipitous global social-environmental change that brings with it the loss of biological and cultural diversity, southern Chile “is emerging as a natural laboratory that provides hope.”

The current geography of far southern South America, including the Strait of Magellan, was created some 9,000 years ago after the gradual receding of the blanket of ice that covered the region and the appearance of islands and channels that permitted the development of the original peoples of Patagonia: the Kawesqar, Ainikenk Selknam and the Yamana.

That was mankind’s first discovery of the region. The second was with the arrival of European sailing vessels and, especially, the 1519-1522 Ferdinand Magellan expedition that circled the world and discovered the strait connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

If the first discovery barely transformed the environmental structure of the region, the second was the origin of a decline that – due to man’s direct activities – has transformed this former paradise of biodiversity, impoverishing it at an unprecedented rate, resulting in the loss of local flora, fauna and ice.

Fifty-something Marcelo Poblete is a guide, explorer, conservation researcher and one of the residents of the Magallanes region who is most familiar with the strait and the different islands, where he has been sailing and exploring for more than 20 years.

In the past two decades, he has seen the local wildlife diminish along with the plant life, the glaciers recede or disappear and new threats emerge. Some of them are due to global warming – like the disappearance of the algae forests, the first link in the food chain, or the spread of the poisonous red tide – and others are due to the invasive activities of man, such as salmon farming.

“We’ve been able to gain an appreciation for how, during these years that we’ve been focused on the science, there’s been a modification in the behavior of the wildlife and also very rapid (changes) in the glacial environment. How in 20 years, glaciers like the Tinta … no longer exist,” Poblete told EFE.

“The past here is super alive and it makes the local population super aware of what’s going on. Unfortunately, we’re just 1 percent of (the population of) Chile, but yeah, Magallanes is a great awareness-raiser. We believe in the point of view of sustainability,” emphasized Poblete, who is working with a private sanctuary to preserve humpback whales.

He said that it’s his opinion that development and conservation are not mutually exclusive concepts. They can coexist if the neoliberal economic and social model is modified and extractive growth is replaced by sustainable industrial activities.

“You have to look higher, beyond economic earnings. Conserving our generators of air, of oxygen. The more pristine they are, the more species we’ll have and we’ll be able to preserve a food chain and development that’s at a good level,” he said.

“If we keep expanding that (detrimental economic) model, what we’re going to accomplish is that our great-grandchildren – and perhaps our children and our children’s children – will not be able to see what we’re seeing,” he warned from his lab at the edge of the world where he and others are trying to help defend nature.

EFE jm/mmm/enb/bp

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