Eight research groups set out to study Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs.) The preliminary results of the campaign confirm the importance of the study area as sensitive, biologically productive and highly biodiverse marine environments.

ICEFAN is the name of the oceanographic campaign that brought together a multidisciplinary team of scientists with the aim of studying Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs,) commonly known as “red tide,” a natural phenomenon that produces the exponential increase of microalgae and causes reddish, green or brown discoloration in oceans.

Aboard the Chilean Navy’s Cape Horn scientific ship, 20 researchers set sail from Punta Arenas to enter the fjords and channels of the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic region, which have historically been considered highly vulnerable to the effects of the “red tide.”

The expedition, financed through the National Research and Development Agency (ANID) with the support and collaboration of the Chilean Navy, was led by the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) in conjunction with the Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) and the University of Magallanes (UMAG.) Likewise, professionals from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC,) the San Sebastián University (USS) and the Patagonian Ecosystem Research Center (CIEP) participated.

During seven days of navigation, the scientists carried out ten oceanographic sampling stations in a depth range of 200 to 800 meters, in an extensive study area that included the Francisco Coloane Marine Park and the Kawésqar National Reserve. The expedition was led by oceanographer Dr. José Luis Iriarte, chief scientist, academic at the UACh Aquaculture Institute and principal researcher at the IDEAL Center.

The campaign had eight interdisciplinary working groups that addressed various topics and methodologies: Analysis of virus communities, cetacean sightings, biogeochemical analysis, extraction of marine sediments, study of potential new marine toxins and associated harmful species, physical and bio-optical characteristics of the water column and presence of microplastics in these systems.

“The preliminary results confirm the importance of channels and fjords as highly productive systems in biological terms and with great marine biodiversity during spring conditions. This area is environmentally sensitive, due to the influence of the melting of coastal edge glaciers, and its condition of relatively low oxygen at depth, therefore, it is key to consider them a priority in terms of protection against anthropogenic disturbances from different sources,” concluded Dr. Iriarte.