National Geographic : 2010 Feb
• C H I A N D E S 45°S 75°W Wager Island Byron Island Chiloé Island LAGUNA SAN RAFAEL N.P. LAS GUAITECAS NATIONAL RESERVE ISLA MAGDALENA N.P. QUEULAT NATIONAL PARK KATALALIXAR NATIONAL RESERVE BAKER 2 BAKER 1 PASCUA DAMS Coihaique Puerto Montt Cochrane Chaitén P A C I F I C Gulf of Penas Corcovado Gulf Northern Ice Field Baker R. Pascua R. PROMISE AND PERIL With more than 30 million acres in national parks and reserves, Chilean Patagonia remains one of the world's great wildernesses. But the region faces an uncertain future. Fish farms are proliferat- ing, and plans call for a series of dams to help power the country. Agostini, an Italian missionary and explorer who in 1931 was the rst person to cross the Southern Ice Field. e town of Cochrane---just on the edge of the proposed United Nations reserve and now a center of controversial hydro- power development---was founded in 1954 but was reached by road (a rough gravel track) only in 1988. When the rst charts based on aerial surveys of Chilean Patagonia were published in 1954, one scientist called them "the biggest map revision in the Earth's geography to be made in modern times." Yet even in 2007 the authors of a survey of glaciological studies felt compelled to point out a "serious gap in the observation of South Amer- ican glaciers." It's safe to say that the interior regions of most of the protected areas along the ords of Chilean Patagonia---Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, Katalalixar National Reserve, Las Guaitecas National Reserve, Laguna San Rafael National Park---are still utterly unknown. e forests are impassable, the footing knee-deep in moss and other low plants growing on a dense weave of branches and roots. ey conform all too well to the experience of one observer who said in 1904, "The general wetness of these half-submerged islands quite surpasses all ordi- nary experience." Change is invading by water. A few small cruise ships from Puerto Natales now make a run to the faces of several glaciers, where they gather ice for cocktails from small bergs dri ing in the shadow of ice cli s. e Navimag ferry churns its way from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt---a four-day, one-way trip---stopping to exchange propane, produce, and a few passengers in Puerto Edén. e Chilean Navy patrols these waters. CONAF---the Chilean version of the U.S. Forest Service---has assumed responsibility for protecting as well as exploiting the region. Over the past century the indigenous inhab- itants have dwindled. e rookery of seals that early explorers found at the entrance to Eyre Fjord, where Pío XI terminates, is long gone. e whales of many species that frequented these fjords now barely make up a biological quo- rum. A red tide plagues the mussels that once sustained the fishing economy. The Alacaluf Indians, who once hunted and shed here, have dwindled to a handful of disconsolate souls in Puerto Edén, a place whose only Edenic quality is its distance from the rest of the world. Distance is no protection these days. A er Norway, Chile is the world's largest producer of farmed salmon, which are grown in podlike cages anchored offshore in Las Guaitecas National Reserve near the Northern Ice Field. (What is legally preserved in Guaitecas and other parks is the land, not the water.) e Norwegian com- panies that began salmon farming in Chile came Verlyn Klinkenborg last wrote about Finland's Oulanka National Park. is is photographer Maria Stenzel's 25th assignment for National Geographic.