Press Release

Kawésqar Communities Request a Ban on Salmon Farms in National Reserve in Patagonia

Photo Credit: Manu San Felix, Pristine Seas

Photograph by Photo Credit: Manu San Felix, Pristine Seas

New report highlights measures needed to safeguard the Kawésqar National Park and Reserve

A new report recommends that the Government of Chile not approve any new applications for salmon farming within the newly created Kawésqar national reserve in the Magallanes region, Chilean Patagonia, and also the removal of those salmon farms currently operating in this protected area.

The report written by the Kawésqar communities for the Defense of the Sea in conjunction with National Geographic Pristine Seas initiative combined scientific and biocultural knowledge collected from two expeditions throughout the Patagonian fjords, which is the Kawésqar people’s ancestral territory or Kawésqar Wæs. The first expedition in February and March 2020 included a team of scientists and filmmakers from National Geographic Pristine Seas, the Kawésqar Communities for the Defense of the Sea and the Yagán people. Various scientific studies were conducted using scuba diving and deep-sea cameras that recorded down to 600 m to examine the unique and largely unexplored ecosystem. The Kawésqar Communities for the Defense of the Sea carried out the second expedition between July and September 2020, exploring and gathering information from their people in a portion of their vast territory, applying a biocultural approach.

“Salmon farming is a serious threat to Kawésqar ancestral territory where we have lived for more than 6000 years. We are part of the land and the sea, but above all of the sea, because it gives us food to live, it allows us to navigate and also because there are the remains and memories of our ancients that are sacred to us. Salmon farms, with all the damage they cause, once again threaten our subsistence," said the Kawésqar Communities for the Defense of the Sea and co-authors of the report.

Key recommendations from the report to safeguard the unique and irreplaceable nature of the Kawésqar National Park and Reserve and the biocultural integrity of the Kawésqar people include:

  • Prohibition of all activities with high environmental impact, especially the installation of new salmon farming centers within the Kawésqar National Reserve.
  • Plan and schedule for the closure and withdrawal of current salmon farming that is operating within the reserve.
  • Conservation measures in this area respect the unity of the ancestral territory that does not recognize the divisions between the sea and the land.
  • The implementation of a co-management system for these protected areas, where management is co-designed together with the Kawésqar people, incorporating and recognizing their ancestral knowledge.

Alex Muñoz, Director of National Geographic Pristine Seas for Latin America affirmed that “the Kawésqar national reserve has enormous and irreplaceable ecological and cultural value, but that today it is at risk because it allows activities such as salmon farming that have severe and well-known impacts in the ecosystem. Banning salmon aquaculture inside this national reserve is the only way to secure a future to this natural and human treasure of global importance.”

In addition, a new study based on the same National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal PLOS ONE. This paper describes how the remote, rugged region is a top priority area for conservation due to its high degree of endemism, unspoiled fjords, glaciers, temperate rain forest, oceanic habitats, and the largest ice field outside of the polar regions. The major near-term threats are salmon farming and climate change. The study also highlights how diverse the existing habitats are, from the protected waters fed by extensive glacier systems to the most exposed areas of the Pacific Ocean. The traditional knowledge of the indigenous Kawésqar people, including the importance of the land-sea connection in structuring marine communities is strongly supported by the scientific findings.

The study points out that effective protection of this region is not only of local importance, but also global. It is the third largest freshwater reservoir on the planet after Antarctica and Greenland, respectively. It provides one of the most extensive interconnected systems known of underwater forests of brown macroalgae, in addition to being key in the storage of CO2, helping to mitigate the impact of climate change. The protected area is important for the existence of migratory and resident species including whales, orcas, dolphins, elephant seals, sea lions, birds, fish and marine invertebrates. It is also home to the most productive habitats in the region, due to its high incorporation of nutrients from the mountain system, glaciers, and sub-Antarctic ocean currents. As an important climatic refuge, it supports the ecological balance in the southern hemisphere, and represents, in turn, a key area for safeguarding our food security.

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