A multidisciplinary team of professionals from CONAF, the IDEAL Center and the DGA found debris that increases the deterioration of vegetation and contamination of the coastline, when they were heading to the Fjord of the Mountains to carry out various scientific works.

The White Channel is a narrow passage located in the province of Última Esperanza, Magallanes Region. In that place and while they were heading to the Fjord of the Mountains —located 100 kilometers northeast of Puerto Natales in the Kawésqar National Reserve,— an oceanographic expedition detected a micro-garbage dump.

The campaign, organized by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) in collaboration with the Dynamic Research Center for High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) and the General Directorate of Waters (DGA) of the Ministry of Public Works found evidence of different types of waste at a White Channel landfall site.

The professionals spotted food wrappers, glass and plastic bottles, remains of fishing gear, nylon bags, as well as remains of clothing, plastic cloth, and plastic tubes, among others. Likewise, garbage could be observed on the coast and on the seabed of the sector.

“A large volume of trash was found being deposited in the White Channel water source. The worrying thing is that this is a place where water is frequently obtained to supply the smaller vessels that enter the Kawésqar National Reserve and National Park, turning the place into an illegal dump,” said Jovito González, CONAF administrator in the park.

This is the first expedition in which an analysis of the conditions of the Fjord of the Mountains is carried out.

First campaign

On board CONAF’s institutional boat, “Yepayek,” the interdisciplinary group of professionals monitored the water conditions of the Fjord of the Mountains. For three days, the team carried out an oceanographic and limnological characterization of the water, concentrating the work on the area of influence of the five main glaciers in the area. Records of temperature and salinity of the water column, phytoplankton and water samples for nutrient analysis were obtained. In addition, physicochemical parameters of some freshwater bodies belonging to the fjord were recorded, and phytoplankton samples were collected to detect the presence of the invasive algae Didymo.

“This type of cooperative activities is of great importance for the effective management of protected areas in the region, especially in those that contain aquatic ecosystems and where technical complexity often makes it difficult to monitor conservation objects and their threats,” commented the marine biologist and professional of Protected Wilderness Areas of CONAF, Jorge González.

This is the first expedition in which an analysis of the conditions of the Fjord of the Mountains is carried out. Its main objective was to monitor the influence of glacial melting on oceanographic and biological features throughout the site. “In the coming months, the phytoplankton present in the water column will be analyzed to find out the types of organisms that come from the glacier with a seasonal frequency,” explained Marjorie Araya, a marine biologist at the IDEAL Center and a member of the campaign.

“The place is close to the Kirke passage, which is the only navigation route to connect Puerto Natales. It is a sector that is not affected by industrial activities except for tourism. This fjord is important because it meets the conditions to analyze different variables and is not intervened in a considerable way,” added Araya, who participated in the expedition together with Fernando Fritz, a student at the IDEAL Center.

In addition to the studies carried out on the site, the DGA carried out maintenance on the meteorological station located on the Bernal glacier. This system is part of the monitoring network of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and provides atmospheric information about precipitation, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction in the area.

“The meteorological and oceanographic information collected on a seasonal scale will be key in understanding the atmospheric, hydrological and oceanographic processes in remote fjords and with a strong influence of glaciers, environments that are in a regime of climate change,” commented the oceanographer Dr. José Luis Iriarte, researcher at the IDEAL Center.