On Saturday, March 18, the National Geographic Channel in Latin America will air the documentary “Canoeros: Memoria Viva,” filmed in southern Chile by National Geographic Society’s marine conservation program Pristine Seas. Through spectacular imagery, the documentary highlights the great ecological and cultural value of the Kawésqar National Reserve, located in southern Chile, and the struggle that Kawésqar Indigenous communities are going through to defend their territory threatened by the salmon farming industry.
“This is one of the most beautiful documentaries we have made, both for the unique natural beauty and for the moving story of the Kawésqar people who have so many times overcome adversity. It is a strong call to Chile’s government to protect this place from salmon farming which has never been a sustainable business in Chile,” said Alex Muñoz Wilson, director of National Geographic Pristine Seas for Latin America.
The film follows National Geographic Pristine Seas as they conduct an expedition with members of the Kawésqar and Yagán peoples in the Kawésqar National Reserve. Together they explore some of the most unique and least studied marine regions on the planet.
“Due to the serious threat posed by the advance of salmon farming in our territory, it is necessary for the Kawésqar reserve to be reclassified as a National Park. It is the only way to effectively protect both nature and the living culture that is contained in this territory that is part of the Kawésqar Wæs” said the Kawésqar Communities for the Defense of the Sea, a prominent Indigenous-led group for ocean protection.
In January 2019, Chile created the Kawésqar National Park to protect 2,842,329 hectares (7,023,537 acres) of terrain, but the marine areas made up of winding canals and fjords were excluded. Instead, the marine areas were designated as a National Reserve, which grants a lower level of protection than a National Park and can allow economic activities such as salmon farming. Despite being listed today as a protected area under the reserve designation, the Kawésqar National Reserve currently has 67 salmon farms, with several fish pens each, and another 80 farms in process of being granted.
In July 2022, the Kawésqar communities made a formal request to the government of Chilean President Gabriel Boric that these waters be declared a national park, with the same protections as the connected forests and terrain, without salmon farms.
A study made by National Geographic Pristine Seas on the Kawésqar national reserve was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal PLOS ONE. This paper, led by Pristine Seas Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Friedlander, describes how the remote, rugged region is a top priority area for conservation.
“The kelp forests, deep fjords, and other nearshore habitats of the KNR are some of the healthiest on Earth and represent a unique ecosystem with minimal human impacts at present,” said Dr. Friedlander. “This region is amongst the highest global conservation priority areas due to its high degree of endemism, its significance for numerous threatened and endangered species, and its importance for valuable fisheries species. It is also important to the Kawésqar people in helping to perpetuate their cultural identity, as well as their traditional and local natural resource knowledge through customary uses of the land and sea, which they view as inseparable and thus the need to protect the entire ecosystem from the high mountains and glaciers to the kelp forests and deep ocean.”
Last week, a fish farm belonging to AquaChile located inside the Kawésqar National Reserve tested positive for the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) according to Chile’s National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca). ISA is a highly contagious, untreatable virus that can cause up to 100 percent mortality of fish stocks in affected farms with potential for spillover into vulnerable connected ecosystems. In 2009, a massive outbreak of the ISA virus hit the Chilean salmon farming industry, resulting in over 26,000 layoffs and $5 billion dollars (U.S.) in economic loss.
Among the most serious impacts of salmon farming documented in Chilean Patagonia are the massive use of antibiotics and antiparasitics, the destruction of the seabed, the death of whales, dolphins and sea lions that get caught in their farms, and the massive escapes of salmon, which are an invasive and carnivorous species.
The Kawésqar Communities for the Defense of the Sea are composed of the communities Ata’p, Aswal lajep, Renchi Navarino Family Group, Residents in Rio Primero, Inés Caro, and Nómades del Mar Family Groups.
“Canoeros: Memoria Viva” premiers this March 18th, on the National Geographic Channel in Latin America.
Chile/Argentina: 9:00 PM
Colombia/Perú/Panamá/Ecuador: 7:00 PM
Venezuela/Bolivia: 8:00 PM
Guatemala: 6:00 PM
ABOUT PRISTINE SEAS
National Geographic Pristine Seas is an exploration, research and media project founded and led by National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala. The Pristine Seas team is comprised of determined scientists, policy experts and filmmakers who work to inspire the creation of protected areas where marine life can thrive—while ensuring effective management for years to come. Pristine Seas has helped to inspire the creation of 26 marine reserves, an area totalling over 6.5M square kilometers. Learn more at nationalgeographic.org/pristineseas.