Advising the Development of a Strategic Ecosystem Research Institute in Patagonia

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Andrew PershingBy Andrew Pershing, GMRI/UMaine

Last year, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) began a consulting project to help the Patagonia Sur Foundation develop a strategy for conducting ecosystem research at their facility at Melimoyu in Chilean Patagonia.

This fall, we met at GMRI to discuss strategy with Patagonia Sur’s founder, an advisor, and Rafa Landea, the head of their conservation activities at Melimoyu. We gave them a tour of our lab, and organized visits to the College of the Atlantic and the New England Aquarium.

GMRI Scientist Graham Sherwood then spent 10 days in Patagonia in December, meeting with Patagonia Sur staff and Centro de Investigacion en Ecosystemas de la Patagonia, who are doing interesting work in fisheries, oceanography, convening, and ecotourism. He spent three days at Patagonia Sur’s Melimoyu property where he was able to get a good sense of research potential, and scout out the place for GMRI Research Assistant Pete Stetson’s upcoming three-month stay.

PatagoniaPete and I, along with GMRI President Don Perkins then left for Chile on January 10, with Don and I returning 10 days later. Pete will be staying for three months. It was a great trip. We had a unique opportunity to see a huge swath of the country, all with Rafa as our guide.

We started in Coyhaique, a young city in the southern part of the country.  This is where the foundation has its headquarters and it is the hub of the fly fishing/hiking/mountain biking/horseback riding ecotourism in Chilean Patagonia.

We were supposed to meet with a marine biologist from another foundation and some folks from Patagonia Sur before driving to the coast. Instead, we were pulled out of the first meeting and told that the weather was turning to heck, the boat from Melimoyu wouldn’t be able to meet us, so there was a plane standing by. We landed at Melimoyu airport, which is a single runway, with no lights, no tower, and no bathroom. On the plus side, the airstrip is surrounded by lush vegetation, including  bamboo and a ubiquitous, prehistoric-looking plant with leaves the size of truck tires.

We spent four days in Melimoyu, the site of the Patagonia Sur lodge. The place is beautiful – rugged mountains, thick forest, fjords and islands. We spent two days on the water working out a sampling plan for Pete (a combination of regular stations and occasional CTD transects). We were hoping to get into the open water to look for blue whales, but the seas were too rough.  We had to settle for sea lions, Magellanic penguins, and albatrosses.  I managed to get a few underwater pics while wading in the intertidal.

Andrew Pershing and Don PerkinsUnderwater in Patagonia

We also went on a couple of hikes in the woods. The forest is incredibly dense. Everything is covered with green and every available square foot of forest floor is taken up by a tree or stand of bamboo.  Apparently, it takes 10 days of hard work to clear 1km of trail. Don and I then said goodbye to Pete and flew up north, where we met with several scientists and foundation folks in Puerto Vares, Valdivia, and Concepcion.

You can keep tabs on Pete’s research in Patagonia at our Seascape Modeling blog, and find out why he is officially the least popular person at GMRI.

Pete StetsonPatagonia

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