For the past 10 years, conservation efforts in the Karukinka Reserve on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego in the Patagonia region of Chile have stabilized globally important wildlife populations and addressed ecological challenges.
A generous land donation to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2004 by Goldman Sachs, enabled the 1,160-square-mile Karukinka Reserve to become a model for large-scale protected-area creation and for the conservation of Patagonia as a whole. Opening its doors to students, artists, researchers and intrepid visitors, Karukinka has brought multiple stakeholders into a participatory conservation forum.
Visitors to the area have observed secured populations of guanacos, elephant seals and sea lions, as well as the protection of the world’s rarest southern beech forests and peat lands from logging and peat mining. They also have seen how
ecological challenges, including invasive species like beavers that have wrought havoc in the region, are being addressed.
Yet as Chile marks the 10th anniversary of Karukinka’s establishment, it is now understood that no single park, no matter how well managed, can achieve the conservation goals to which the world has committed and which are necessary for wildlife, habitat and ecosystem function.
To reap the full rewards of Karukinka’s conservation, a way must be found to scale up its success across the region.
What does scaled-up conservation look like? It starts with a regional vision that brings Chile and Argentina together across the Andes with shared objectives of protecting not only these high mountains — famous for their glacier-gilded vistas — but also the remote and dry Patagonian steppe, the rugged Austral coasts and shared sea that rounds Cape Horn at the southern end of the earth.
Better-protected area management systems are required, with adequate training, budgets and continuous technical support for staff. It involves monitoring of shared conservation targets and common adaptive management tools like Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, known as SMART. This is a free, open-source software to help patrol management of the region and the use of best practices, such as the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, to better management of individual parks and ultimately better systems of protected areas.
Scaled-up conservation often requires cooperation across national boundaries. One example is the work promoted by Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea, a group of civil society organizations working to protect this vast area, its wildlife and human livelihoods. The forum has sought to identify a network of coastal and marine protected areas that span the waters of the southeast Pacific and southwest Atlantic Oceans off Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
Bi-national cooperation is an effective, often essential, means of managing shared natural resources and ecological challenges like invasive species, whose movements across national borders remain largely unrestricted.
For example, using satellite tags, WCS researchers have documented migration patterns of southern elephant seals over 2,000 miles in their hunt for food — from coastal breeding grounds in Península Valdes, Argentina to offshore feeding areas in deep, productive waters off the continental shelf, and on to Chile around Cape Horn to access Chile’s innumerable fjords.
An important opportunity for scaling up conservation in Patagonia is through cooperation to form networks of protected areas that can include national parks, regional reserves and private reserves alike.
Ways also must be found to extend terrestrial parks into the ocean to protect colonial species such as penguins and sea lions when they move out to sea to hunt for food.
These efforts require the cooperation and involvement of reserves beyond Karukinka and the support of the Chilean and Argentine governments. It is a shared challenge for these governments to address such critical issues as the impacts of tourism on fragile coasts, the location and intensity of offshore oil drilling, the impacts of industrial fishing on animal species that rely upon these food sources and the affects on the environment of industries such as mining and aquaculture.
In real estate, value is often reduced to the mantra of “location, location, location.” In protected area management, a slightly different mantra is suggested: “integration, integration, integration.” This means integration of conservation actors; integration of a caring public into the mission of conservation; integration of landscapes and seascapes, and integrated management of natural resources shared among nations.
For a decade now, the Karukinka reserve has been documenting what can be achieved in one extraordinary biodiverse landscape. By building outward from that success, just imagine what we can achieve in another 10 years.
Dr. Julie Kunen is director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society.