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Chile: Coastal Zone Management in Gulf of Ancud and Gulf of Corcovado

Partner: Fundación Pumalin, Chile

Participants: different NGOs in Chile

Ecology: Supporting the efforts for marine protection in Patagonian coastal waters

Economy: Sustainable protection of marine resources

Social: Strengthening civil society, environmental law enforcement


  • Ecological Analysis of Patagonians coastal biocoenosis
  • Studies on the effect of aquaculture on the biological communities
  • Documentation of environmental violations by the aquaculture industry
  • Documentation of the status quo
  • Build a data set for comparison of nominal and actual condition
  • Sensitization of the public administration
  • Sensitize the public

The coastal region of the Gulf of Ancud and the Gulf of Corcovado as well as the adjoining fjord landscape stretches from latitude 41 to 46 degrees south and covers a total area of approximately 35,000 square kilometres. The fjords, which mostly reach far inland with their multitude of channels, bays and islands, form a coastline that is estimated to be 90,000 km long. This region stretches around 1,500 km from the regional capital Puerto Montt in the north to Cape Horn in the south and represents one of the biggest estuary systems in the world where land and water exert great reciprocal influence.


The sea is marked by the influence of the cool Humboldt Current while the fjords and channels are shaped by the influence of numerous rivers from the Andes Cordillera. Compared with other fjord regions, its proximity to the Antarctic and geomorphological development has produced a particularly high level of biodiversity both in terms of flora and fauna. In addition to numerous species of freshwater corals and fish, 31 sea mammal species (of 124 worldwide and 51 native species found in Chile’s coastal waters) have been recorded to date, making this region a ‘hotspot’ of biodiversity and variety in sea mammal species.



The Corcovado volcano dominates the landscape on the east coast of the Gulf of Corcovado. (Photo: N. Piwonka)

Moreover, the Gulf of Ancud and that of Corcovado are among the most important feeding and rearing grounds for blue whales in the southern hemisphere. Other breeds of whales, such as the humpback whale, the finback whale, the sperm whale and the orca, use these coastal waters, rich in plankton and other food sources, in particular as feeding places on their migration to the South Pole. Other sea mammals such as sea lions and various species of dolphin as well as a wealth of sea birds, including several species of penguin use the waters as breeding and rearing grounds or as their permanent habitat.


In the 1980’s, in the wake of the global expansion in fishing and fish farming, these unpolluted waters were discovered to be the ideal area for salmon farming. This economic sector has grown 140 fold since the introduction of the aquaculture industry in Chile. The once secluded region of the Patagonia fjords has changed dramatically to become one of Chile’s most industrialised areas. Today this area is home to around 90% of Chile’s aquaculture facilities. Worldwide, Chile is the second biggest producer of salmon after Norway with a current output of around 485,000 metric tonnes of salmon per year with a turnover of over two billion dollars. The most significant export markets for Chilean salmon are Japan, the USA and the European Union.


Environmental damage and conflict

Cleaning net cages is time-consuming. Sewerage is untreated. (Photo: W. Heise)

The use of the fjord region by the salmon industry took place without a thought out manage-ment plan on the part of the Chilean state and is overwhelmingly oriented to the interests of the salmon industry. Environmental requirements are either non-existent or loosely formulated. Moreover, the state pays little attention to monitoring adherence to current provisions.


Scientific knowledge of the maritime ecosystem in this region is, even today, still very limited so that an analysis of the ecological implications of issuing aquaculture licenses or proving the damage caused by large scale fish farming is very difficult. At the same time, many of the known negative effects, seen in other fjord regions that engage in intensive salmon farming (e.g. Canada, Norway, Scotland), have already manifested themselves. This includes in particular:

  • Deterioration in water quality (particularly in the smooth coastal waters) through oxygen deficiency caused by increased amounts of excrement, uneaten foodstuffs that contain antibiotics and other chemicals as well as industrial waste from the fish farms;
  • Pollution of the sea bed through the accumulation of the aforementioned materials which leads to a reduction in the growth of cold water corals;
  • Leaching and dispersal of foodstuffs and chemical additives that enter the food chain of wild organisms and lead to their experiencing long term health problems and reduced reproduction;
  • Increased health risks for people and marine life caused by the accumulation of toxic algae blooms (‘red tides’) which is promoted by excess nutrients;
  • Loss of habitat for marine life due to the demands placed on space by the aquaculture facilities;
  • Threat to native bird and mammal populations due to hunting or being driven out of their natural habitats and breeding grounds ;
  • Threat to wild fish stocks due to the introduction of alien, exotic fish species to the local ecosystem. Consequences include the transmission of diseases (e.g. sea lice) and the decline in prey for the sea mammals;
  • Loss of traditional fishing grounds and the accompanying decline in traditional, small scale inshore fishing;
  • Loss of areas attractive to tourists due to the increasing presence of salmon farms, loading facilities, processing plants and waste sites;
  • Emergence of conflicts of interest between the salmon industry, fishermen and tourism sector.

What will the future bring?

Since the introduction of the aquaculture industry in Chile this economic sector has grown 140 fold. (Photo: W.Heise)
90 per cent of Chilean aquaculture facilities are located in Patagonia’s many fjords.
The practice of waste disposal is an extra problem in addition to direct maritime pollution.

Despite the evident problems of the increasing industrialisation of the region resulting from the operation of fish and mussel farms the state has not, as yet, produced any coherent plans for a structured and sustainable coastal zone management taking the necessary environmental considerations into account. Basic research on improving the standards of knowledge on ecology and ecosystems in the region has not been carried out and the available environmental regulations are only being gradually and partially brought up to date to deal with the current problems. Non-governmental organisations and the scientific community have failed to provide clear initiatives or proposals on the protection of the marine ecosystem in Chile’s fjord region.



The project is an essential part of a wide ranging plan to improve the integrated coastal zone management in the southern Chilean fjords. The main points are:

Environmental mapping and bio-monitoring: Essential mapping of available marine resources and habitat structures as well as identification of economic activities and areas already under threat. Production of a GIS database and mapping of the used areas and economic activities, general environmental conditions and the incidence of the most important marine flora and fauna.


Control of existing environmental legislation: Monitoring the adherence to existing environmental standards in the salmon industry including the control of illegal waste sites as well as the monitoring of adherence to fishing and hunting laws. Registration and localisation via GPS of all active aquaculture concessions, checking their actual locations as well as the production of a register on breaches of existing environmental regulations.


Environmental communication: Establishment of a network of environmental organisations as well as the education and briefing of the local population and interest groups from the fishing and tourism sectors. Setting up a network of environmental organisations active in this area as well as programmes and workshops on consciousness-raising amongst the local population and interest groups from the fishing and tourism sectors.


The project’s geographical centre is the region around Isla Magdalena and particularly covers the Puyuhuapi, Ventisquero and Jacaf (region XI) fjords. This area is especially threatened by the issuing of an estimated 2,500 new salmon farm concessions and at the same time this area also includes several declared nature reserves.



A 9 metre long research boat is being constructed and equipped in Puerto Montt and it is due to be operational in the project region from April 2007. Essential data research is simultaneously being collected on the locations of fishing and aquaculture concessions and then entered on a database. The purchase and assessment of satellite images of the project region will support and complement the research data, which is to identify and counteract illegal sites and the unlawful disposal of waste.





Project partners

Fundación Pumalin: Calle Klenner 299, Puerto Varas, X.Region, Chile

Contact: Dr Wolfram Heise, heise(ad)conservacionpatagonica.org



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Gulf of Corcovado is a large body of water separating the Chiloé Island from the mainland of Chile. Geologically it is a foreland basin that has been carved out by Quaternary glaciers.