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Patagonian Fjords

At Sea: February to March 2020

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The Place

Kawésqar National Park is one of the largest parks in the world and the second-largest terrestrial park in Chile. It includes large swaths of the archipelagos in the provinces of Magallanes and Última Esperanza, as well as half of Isla Riesco. Its landscapes are a mosaic of mountain ranges, forests, glaciers, fjords, lakes, wetlands, and valleys—virgin ecosystems of unmatched beauty—and are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. The region’s unique land-based wildlife include the huemul, puma, gato montés, culpeo, and chilla.

In the ocean off of the park’s coast, the kelp forests of southern Chile are some of the healthiest on Earth. The Kawésqar National Reserve is home to extensive areas of giant kelp as well as shallow water colonies of cold-water corals. The seafloor communities associated with the region’s channels and continental fjords form a unique ecosystem, one that is extremely important to the functioning of the entire region.

Map by Sam Guilford, NGS staff

The Mission

In partnership with the indigenous Yagan and Kawéskar communities, the Pristine Seas team documented the natural diversity of the region and its species. During the expedition, the team assessed the impacts of salmon farming and the ecosystem’s resilience to climate change.

In an effort to accurately measure the health of the ecosystem over time, the team also revisited a selection of some of the stations surveyed by marine ecologist Paul Dayton in 1972. In-situ quantitative surveys by divers will be paired with analysis of satellite imagery to evaluate how giant kelp forest coverage has changed through time under the present climate crisis.

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