3 Reasons to Strengthen Conservation in Chilean Patagonia

Action would benefit species, ecosystems, and communities near protected areas

3 Reasons to Strengthen Conservation in Chilean Patagonia
trees
Trees line Patagonia’s Los Lagos region.
Vicente Peréz Rosales MarcaChile

While Chile maintains its status as a world leader in conservation—21 percent of its land and 42 percent of its waters are covered by some level of protection—the country’s leaders must still ensure that existing safeguards are enforced and build on this legacy.

The region with the greatest need for attention is Chilean Patagonia, one of the last massive, pristine areas in the world. Here are three reasons Chile’s government should act to strengthen conservation there:

1. Give real protection to ‘paper parks’

Most Chilean protected areas are recognized by legislation but lack meaningful conservation management—the budget, oversight plans, infrastructure, personnel, and local community support needed to prevent environmental degradation. That’s why many of these areas are called “paper parks.”

Effective conservation of an area requires regular monitoring, active management, appropriate financing, local involvement, and the prevention of negative impacts from activities such as industrial-scale resource extraction.

2. Expand conservation to coastal waters

Marine protected areas are designated to safeguard habitat for oceanic flora and fauna, which in turn often spread beyond the areas’ borders and help ensure sustainability in neighboring waters.

With 1.6 million square kilometers (618,000 square miles) of protected marine territory, Chile ranks in the top five countries worldwide on the percentage of its exclusive economic zone under conservation. In Chile’s case, 97 percent of those waters are located around islands, far from the continental coasts. The result is that less than 3 percent of the country’s coastal and inland sea is protected, and those safeguards are not evenly distributed. In some parts of Patagonia, for example, less than 1 percent of nearshore waters are protected.

To improve conservation of these marine waters, policymakers must view coastal areas as interconnected ecosystems that span land and sea and therefore merit holistic protection. By treating coastal land and sea territory separately, especially in a country with such an extensive coastline, Chile will spend more for less-effective management while missing opportunities for ecological and social benefits that could be achieved with integrated management.

3. Jobs, income, and other benefits for local communities

Numerous studies show that protected areas globally boost local and national economies and have far-ranging benefits for residents of communities outside of parks. In one study in Costa Rica, researchers compared communities surrounding protected areas with those far from such regions and found significantly greater reductions in poverty in the gateway communities due to tourism and other economic activities associated with natural parks; the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another study by the Conservation Strategy Fund found that tourism and other activities in Peruvian gateway communities created 36,000 jobs in 2017 and returned profits of over 40 times what the government invested to protect the areas studied.

The exponential growth of tourism to parks in Patagonia, such as in Los Lagos, Aysén, and Magallanes, makes it urgent that the government strengthen conservation in these areas.

With its wealth of stunning and biodiverse natural treasures—on land and in the sea—Chile is well-positioned to expand its world leadership in conservation and help residents benefit from the creation and effective management of protected areas. The Pew Charitable Trusts is committed to supporting the government of Chile in this effort.

Francisco Solis Germani directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conservation work in Chilean Patagonia.

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