Karukinka Landscape, Chile

A Trip to the Southern Tip of the World Slideshow
Sailing the islands of Tierra del Fuego, WCS staff encounter rare albatrosses, penguins, seals & more. While humans may shy away from this lonely, windswept place, wildlife populations clearly do not.
Canaux Australis Photo
In December 2010, a WCS expedition crossed rough and icy seas to survey seal and bird populations on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, which forms the windswept tip of South America.
©WCS
Penguins Photo
The conservationists came across more than 100 southern rockhopper penguins. Further east on Argentina’s Falkland Islands, this species has declined 90 percent in the last 70 years.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Glacier Photo
A leopard seal naps on an ice floe in front of a glacier in Parry’s Fjord. Antarctica is the usual home for these penguin-loving seals.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Seal Mattress Photo
A southern elephant seal gets comfortable on a “mattress of its own kind” on a beach off Jackson Bay on the Karukinka Coast. 
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Cliff Hanger Photo
WCS researchers Alejandro Vila and Jorge Acevedo scale a cliff over frigid whitecaps to reach a nesting colony of black-browed albatrosses.
Ricardo Matus
Bird Head Photo
The smallest colony of black-browed albatross lives within Admiralty Sound. This group of only 48 nesting pairs is also this bird’s only landlocked colony on record.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Man & Bird Photo
The conservationists checked the health of the adult black-browed albatrosses, and placed identification bands on their legs. They also marked all of the birds’ nests during the survey.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Grey headed albatross Photo
A grey-headed albatross gave the researchers a pleasant surprise, since this rare species has never been recorded in the Chilean channels.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Team Seal Photo
The expedition team named the first male elephant seal they tagged “Koy,” which means “sea” in the language of the Selk’nam, the now extinct native people of Patagonia. Researchers affixed satellite tags on seals in order to track their movement patterns.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Seal Tag Photo
A juvenile, female elephant seal, like this one here, once swam more than 5,000 miles in 228 days. Her journey illustrates why WCS conservationists are working across the Patagonian seascape to ensure the safety of these animals throughout their travels.
Alejandro Vila/WCS
Karukinka Landscape, Chile Photo
The guanaco is one of several unique species that inhabit the Karukinka Landscape, located on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Jackson Photo
In 2011, WCS tracked the epic journey of “Jackson,” a young male elephant seal. Elephant seals are potential indicators of marine ecosystem health and may show how climate change influences the distribution of prey species in Patagonia’s oceans.
Wildlife Conservation Society

Spanning 1160 square miles, this protected area on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego in the Patagonia region of Chile is a bountiful reserve of sub-Antarctic woodlands, peat bogs, windswept steppes, and snow-covered mountain ranges. Boasting some of the only high-latitude forests in the Southern Hemisphere, this landscape is rich in plant species, including southern beech, Chilean fire bush, white dog orchid, and sundew, a small carnivorous plant that devours insects. Karukinka is also a showcase for the unique wildlife of Patagonia, sheltering guanaco (a wild relative of the llama), the endangered culpeo fox, the Andean condor, and the Magellanic woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in the Americas.

Established in 2004 through a gift from the global investment bank Goldman Sachs, the Karukinka reserve is one of the largest donations ever made for conservation. Goldman Sachs has helped WCS design financial mechanisms to underwrite the costs of protecting the landscape in the long term. Karukinka serves as a model of how the private sector can get involved in conservation activities worldwide.

Fast Facts

  • Selk’nam, the now extinct native people of Tierra del Fuego, called their land Karukinka.
  • This landscape has a very low human population and is one of the last wild places in the hemisphere.
  • Karukinka is home to many marine mammals, such as sea lions and elephant seals.

Challenges

The biggest threat to this wild place is the proliferation of invasive species introduced by earlier colonists, including foxes and mink. The exotic beaver is particularly harmful to the landscape. With plenty of resources and no predators, beavers have colonized almost every single watershed in Tierra del Fuego and their dam-building damages the forest and contaminates running water, endangering native plants and animals. Other challenges to the landscape include climate change and the threat of fire, as well as peat bog mining. Karukinka’s peat bogs are among the reserve’s most valuable ecosystems thanks to their ability to trap greenhouse gases, but a steady demand for peat as ornamental horticulture and organic soil enrichment has put this landscape at risk.

WCS Responds

The establishment of the Karukinka reserve is a major accomplishment for the conservation of Patagonia as a whole, establishing a model for combating invasive species, protecting unique terrestrial and marine landscapes, and running successful private-public partnerships. WCS works with the Chilean government on beaver eradication in the region, which will help preserve the landscape’s native plant and animal species. In addition, plans are afoot to build trails and visitors’ centers and promote ecotourism in southern Tierra del Fuego. This will make a wider audience passionate about conserving Karukinka and the surrounding land, as well as provide economic alternatives to local residents, who can develop sustainable businesses around our conservation work. Local residents have gotten involved with us in successful education programs, and become active partners in the efforts to preserve Karukinka and promote conservation activities in Chilean Patagonia.

WCS Projects

Karukinka’s Carbon Markets

While peat lands represent a tiny portion of the earth compared to forests, they store double the amount of carbon. WCS is working to safeguard the peat bogs of Chile's Karukinka, and to sell carbon offsets to help guarantee their preservation.

From the Newsroom

Vote for KarukinkaMarch 25, 2014

The guanaco is one of several unique species that inhabit the Karukinka Landscape, located on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. 

Tiny Hatchlings Released in IndonesiaMarch 18, 2014

On a remote and protected Indonesian beach, strange birds and sea turtle hatchlings were recently released into the wild – over thirty olive ridely sea turtles and two maleos, their adult counterparts shown here. 

Directions to KarukinkaApril 20, 2012

WCS President and CEO Dr. Steven E. Sanderson recounts his recent expedition to one of the greatest wild places left on Earth: Karukinka, Chile. The trip was part of an effort to preserve this landscape and make it sustainable for generations to come.

Expedition to Tierra del Fuego’s Admiralty SoundFebruary 29, 2012

WCS conservationists Alejandro Vila, Marcela Uhart and Daniela Droguett chronicle their latest journey to the remote lands and seascape at the tip of South America.

Elephant Seal Tracked by WCS Travels 18,000 MilesDecember 9, 2011

WCS track the epic journey of “Jackson,” a young male elephant seal. Elephant seals are potential indicators of marine ecosystem health and may show how climate change influences the distribution of prey species in Patagonia’s oceans.

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