Torres del Paine, Patagonia

The Nature Conservancy: Conservation in Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia

At over 2,500 miles long – roughly half the length of South America and spanning a broad range of climates – Chile is a rich and diverse country. The far north is home to some of the driest places on earth, while the far south is a land of snow and glaciers (and the gateway to Antarctica). With such a range of natural environments, Chile is a prime destination for ecotourism and conservation .

Chile wildflowers

From touring the arid Atacama Desert to visiting lush coastal areas, from exploring the wine regions near the capital of Santiago to walking among towering peaks in Patagonia, there’s plenty to do in Chile for the nature-loving adventurer. But the country has not gone without struggles in the last few decades. Deforestation and climate change are major threats, and work is continuously carried out to help protect the nation’s unique natural environments.

Chile Atacama

The Nature Conservancy
 has worked extensively on a project known as the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. This restoration of one of Chile’s most beautiful patches of shoreline has proven successful since its inception in 2003. Now, the Conservancy is applying the lessons they learned there to other conservation projects around the country…

Maipo Valley

Conservation of Critical Lands

Chile is home to several fragile environments, a number of which are extremely rare. Central Chile’s Mediterranean habitat, which spreads around 560 km from north to south between the Pacific and the Andes, is only found here and in Australia, California, South Africa, and the Mediterranean basin. 

Some palm species, the Kodkod (or güiña cat), and various other flora and fauna species can only be found in this part of Chile, making this an incredibly important region of South America. Deforestation is the greatest threat to the Mediterranean forest ecosystem in Chile, as land is cleared to make way for growth of high export items such as vines and olive trees. 

The Nature Conservancy is currently working with local land owners to protect this region and create public conservation areas that locals and visitors alike can enjoy.

Chile otter

Water Security

This central region also has issues with its water supply. The area around the cities of Santiago and Valparaiso is the most densely populated in the country, which puts incredible strains on natural water sources. Agriculture and human consumption are the most common drains, so the Conservancy is working with local NGOs to develop a sustainable strategy for conserving this vital resource.

The Aconcagua and Maipo basins are the two areas currently being prioritized by these groups. If consumption continues as it is now, it’s believed that the water supply in these parts could decrease by 14% each year. Drastic measures must be undertaken to ensure this doesn’t happen. 

The Nature Conservancy has proposed creating a water fund for this region. Public and private donations will be added to the fund, and then spent on reforestation, riverside defenses, and other measures that will protect the local water supply and help it thrive for generations to come.

Chile dolphins

Protection of the Coast & Oceans

If you’ve visited Chile’s coastal regions, chances are you’ve tried some delicious fresh fish and seafood. Chile boasts one of the world’s most lucrative fishing industries. But with no regulations in place, over-fishing became a huge problem in the 1990s. This led to a crisis that saw some species’ populations reduced to extremely low levels. 

The Conservancy is currently working with various organizations in Chile to create management programs and fishing zones where fishermen can sustainably carry out their work. Having transformed the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, the Conservancy found that they can apply the same practices to other over-fished regions of Chile. 

Furthermore, they plan to create more marine reserves where aquatic species can thrive, which could help draw in more international visitors looking to explore Chile’s colorful marine life.
Darwin's fox

Mitigating the Impacts of Climate Change

Many of the current projects outlined above were directly influenced by The Nature Conservancy’s work on the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. One of the main objectives of this project was to create an area that was protected from deforestation, which is one of the main causes of climate change.

With so much of the planet’s crucial rainforests disappearing at an increasingly alarming rate, the Valdivian Coastal Reserve has become one of the most important projects in South America, not to mention a shining example of carbon emission compensation. 

The creation of this reserve has also greatly benefited the region’s ecotourism industry. Key species of fox, otter, woodpeckers, deer, and more have been allowed to flourish because of the Conservancy’s vital work in the region. Between 2006 and 2009, visitor numbers to the Valdivian Coastal Reserve increased by 30%, providing essential revenue to the local communities and breathing new life into the region.

Travel to Chile with International Expeditions

International Expeditions offers a variety of Chile tours designed to expose you to the wealth of wildlife and landscapes across the country’s most biodiverse regions. Encompassing rugged coastlines, fjords, glaciers and forests which play host to a menagerie of whales, pudu and distinct birdlife, Northern Patagonia is also home to the fiercely independent people and astonishingly beautiful island of Chiloé. International Expeditions’ Chiloe Island & Northern Patagonia cruise allows you to walk among penguins before locals spin mythic tales of ghost ships and forest gnomes. There’s plenty on offer if you’re particularly interested in birding, as IE runs birdwatching trips in northern, central and southern Chile, introducing you to the large variety of species that can be found there.

Photos by Expeditions Leader Claudio Vidal/Far South Expeditions

British travel writer Emma Higgins has been traveling solo for over three years and has lived in Spain, Canada and Thailand, collecting tales along the way and sharing them on her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’.