5 years of the Kawésqar National Reserve: pending issues for its protection
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30 January 2024
Local communities denounce that the area is highly affected by salmon farming, which is failing to comply with environmental regulations.
On January 30, 2019, the Official Gazette published the decree creating the Kawésqar National Reserve in Magallanes, which extends over 2,842 hectares between fjords and Patagonian peninsulas. The purpose of this classification was to guarantee the protection of the area, its territory and biodiversity, as well as to establish that it is the duty of the State to ensure its conservation. This year, 2024, marks the fifth anniversary of this milestone, which begs the question: is the reserve's objective being achieved?
The community's claims
With the qualification of National Reserve, this area was separated from the Kawéskar National Park, which offers broader protection. In the opinion of the local communities, this administrative division determines in a whimsical way what to prioritize and separates the land from the sea, as if they were independent elements, which causes "divisions and confusion to grow at all levels," says Eric Huaiquil Caro, a member of the Kawésqar Communities Kawésqar Family Groups Nomads of the Sea. He also says that the "agreements that were made in the indigenous consultation have not been responded to."
Finally, Caro asks that the conservation of this reserve be done "without salmon farms and we hope that this will be established in the Management Plan that will be submitted for consultation in March 2024."
An overstressed area
Within the Kawésqar National Reserve lie the richest kelp forests in the country, an ecosystem considered key to combating climate change, as they can absorb high levels of carbon dioxide and regenerate marine systems. Although the State must guarantee their protection, the area is experiencing great pressure from the salmon farming industry.
For example, there are 133 approved concessions in the entire Magallanes Region and 85 in process, of which 68 approved and 57 in process are in the Kawésqar National Reserve, "which seems unusual to us because it has been proven that the salmon farming industry is neither sustainable nor compatible with the ecosystemic care of the reserve. This is fundamental to the creation of the Reserve's Management Plan, which is currently being designed and which should establish the incompatibility of the industry within the zone's protection mandate, as documented in the report we have prepared together with the communities," says Cristina Lux, an attorney with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA).
"Forty-three percent of the concessions approved within the Kawésqar National Reserve have presented anaerobic conditions within the framework of their operations, according to information obtained from the Environmental Reports for Aquaculture. This means that they suffer or have suffered total or partial loss of oxygen, which affects the living conditions of all of the area's biodiversity," adds Estefanía González, Campaigns subdirector at Greenpeace Chile.
The impact, explains Sofía Barrera , an attorney for FIMA, is "enormous and highly destructive."
"To begin with, these farming centers are concentrated in just seven sectors (Staines Peninsula, Taraba Sound, Poca Esperanza Strait and Vlados Channel, Glacier Sound, Skyring Sound, Desolation Island and Xaltegua Gulf), which also concentrates their synergistic effects. Some of these are the impact of boat routes, the killing of sea lions to prevent them from attacking the salmon cages, the overproduction of salmon, the presence of garbage outside the concession polygons and the detection of the ISA virus in the farming centers, which ends up making the rest of the marine ecosystem sick, something that has been recognized by Environmental Courts," adds Barrera.
"In addition, the dispersion of organic matter from the cultivation centers causes eutrophication and harmful algal bloom events (HAB), generating significant changes in water quality and affecting marine life," adds González.
In the opinion of the representatives of these three organizations, despite the legal prohibitions and environmental requirements, the fact that many of these projects have been submitted and approved through environmental impact statements raises legal and political questions. "Why are the authorities not ensuring the real care of this area, whose interests are being taken care of, and how is the salmon industry influencing our authorities," asks Barrera.
Unfortunately, González adds, when explanations have been requested, "we have not received answers or certainty. That is why it is urgent to advance towards a management plan that really protects this ecosystem and does not allow more centers that put biodiversity at risk."