The Beacon

Last Hope For Chilean Wildlife?

Cormorants in Chilean Patagonia. Oceana/Emily Fisher

Editor Note: This is the last update from Oceana online editor Emily Fisher in Patagonia. She returns to Santiago today. For more photos, visit our Flickr page.

On my last day in Patagonia, I joined a group of about 25 travelers, including Italians, Argentinians, Spaniards, Mexicans and one Brit, on a boat cruise into one of Chile's most picturesque waterways.

The boat took us into the Seno Ultima Esperanza (“Last Hope Sound”), which was so-named because its European discoverers were nearly dead when they finally found it, searching for the western entrance to the Magellan Strait.

But now Ultima Esperanza, which happens to also be the name of this region of Patagonia, has taken on a new significance, as the salmon farming industry is also looking to these clean waters to salvage their business. The industry has submitted requests for hundreds of new salmon farms in the waters of Ultima Esperanza, and as I saw today, these are waters that are rich with wildlife and peeping tourists.

Our first stop was at a cormorant colony, which at first glance appeared to be a giant rock face covered with tiny black dots. Upon closer inspection, the dots were hundreds of the black and white sea birds, breeding and nesting for the summer. At the next stop we spotted a colony of curious sea lions, and soaring above them, several condors.

Another highlight was the glaciers: the stunning crystal blue of the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers, both of which have receded significantly in the past few decades, according to the guides aboard the boat. (But that’s a story for another time…)

But en route to see the cormorants, condors and sea lions, we passed by another site that wasn’t printed on our itinerary: the salmon farm Bahia Perales. The infectious salmon anemia virus was detected in this farm just a few weeks ago, and the company, Salmon Magallanes, was ordered to either harvest or dispose of the fish.

Hardly anyone commented on the salmon farm as we sailed past it – but I imagine that if there were dozens of farms – rather than just one – people would certainly take pause.

Our final stop was visible from the salmon farm, and even shared its name: Estancia Perales (Perales Ranch), a lovely spot where horses frolicked against a backdrop of magnificent peaks. We ate a delicious lunch there - and no, salmon was not on the menu.


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