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WCS’s Karukinka Reserve Celebrates 10 Years of Conservation

Ten years after Goldman Sachs and the Wildlife Conservation Society announced one of the largest gifts of private lands ever given for conservation, Chile’s Karukinka Natural Park is celebrating a decade of accomplishments, from top-notch conservation science, to wildlife and habitat protection, to public education and engagement.  This celebration is taking place as conservationists gather for the 2014 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia – a once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas.

Since the reserve’s creation in 2004, WCS, working in partnership with Goldman Sachs, the Chilean government, and an advisory council of Chilean scientists, academics and business leaders, has managed Karukinka to preserve its unique natural resources while making it accessible for the people of Chile.

Today, the Rhode-Island-sized reserve spans some 735,000 acres on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego.Karukinka protects the world’s southernmost stands of old growth forests as well as grasslands, rivers, and wetlands.  Its intact forests and peatlands are estimated to sequester more than 300 million tons of carbon annually.

Karukinka contains significant wildlife: including 60 percent of Chile’s guanacos– one of the only two indigenous species of camel in the Americas. In addition, the landscape supports Andean condors and endangered Culpeo foxes. Lying seaward of Karukinka is Admiralty Sound, which supports Chile’s only breeding colony of elephant seals, its only inland nesting colony of black-browed albatross, and often receives visits from dolphins and other marine fauna.

“Karukinka is truly one of the few remaining wild places on the planet,” said WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper. “Karukinka began with one of the largest gifts toward conservation from the private sector in history. The Goldman Sachs donation of land to WCS has since grown into a unique private-public alliance where Chileans have direct involvement in the reserve’s management. While any single park’s boundaries are limited, the scope of influence of this one is significant. Since its establishment, Karukinka has become a model for conservation action and education throughout the Patagonian coast.”

After acquiring this vast tract of land in 2004, Goldman Sachs conducted an in-depth analysis of the land and realized the area was of tremendous ecological and historical importance. Goldman Sachs quickly saw that this presented a unique opportunity to preserve this pristine land, and so decided to conserve it in perpetuity on behalf of future generations.

“We realized we could create value by turning this land into a park for the benefit of the people of Chile and the world.” said Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. “The Wildlife Conservation Society has been an outstanding partner and our work together in Tierra del Fuego can be a model for other public private partnerships.”

In 2006, a public use plan for the reserve was created. This included creating low-impact tourism infrastructure including hiking trails, kayak tours, fly fishing and tourist lodges. That same year, with funding from Goldman Sachs, WCS launched an educational program for the reserve including a fellowship for conservation research on Tierra del Fuego.  Since then, WCS has collaborated with 40 schools and more than 7,000 students – as much as the entire population of the Chilean portion of Tierra del Fuego.

Meanwhile, scientific output from the reserve has been impressive with more than 45 reports and 22 peer-reviewed articles published by WCS conservationists working in Karukinka. Nearly 50 seminars and graduate theses have been completed. Findings have included pinpointing migration patterns and population estimates of guanacos confirming Karukinka’s importance to this iconic South American species.  Other findings showed range extensions of seals, and how elephant seals connect distant, suitable habitats sometimes traveling distances of more than 28,000 kilometers each year along the Patagonian coasts of Chile and Argentina—more than a round trip flight from Santiago to Sydney.

WCS research in Karukinka has helped inform conservation policy. In 2011, WCS developed a regional conservation vision for the entire Patagonian Coast, anchored in the model of Karukinka. For these efforts, WCS received the Forjadores Ambientales (Conservation Promoters) award by the Chilean Ministry of Environment. In 2012, the Chilean government, with scientific inputs provided by WCS, announced a landmark decision to ban salmon farming in Tierra del Fuego’s coastal waters.  That same year, WCS launched a Business and Biodiversity Program in Chile, advising the Ministry of Environment on extractive industry compensation for biodiversity impacts.

To conserve Karukinka, WCS has formed close collaborations at many levels—local, national, regional, and international—and across sectors. Collectively, WCS partners with more than 50 private and public institutions to help manage the reserve.

Over the next 10 years, WCS will further its strong base of applied conservation research and collaboration. WCS envisions using the model of Karukinka to create a vast network of terrestrial and marine protected areas in Chile. This will begin with formal protection of the Admiralty Sound on Karukinka’s southern shore and expand across Patagonia to complement conservation and management strategies already in place or expanding in Argentina.  WCS is working to ensure projects like mining and fisheries near Karukinka are sustainably managed.

Reflecting upon the significance of Karukinka’s 10th anniversary, Dr. Julie Kunen, Executive Director of WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean program said: “We seek a clear commitment by the private sector to no-net-loss of biodiversity throughout the region. And we ultimately aim to ensure this landscape can continue providing value to local economies and generations of Chileans to come, while serving as a model that can be replicated globally. With proper stewardship, Karukinka’s natural capital and local people can thrive for decades to come.”

Since the early 1960s, WCS has been committed to conserving wildlife and wild lands of the Southern Cone of South America.  In that time WCS has helped create protected areas to safeguard populations of Magellanic penguins, South American sea lions, southern elephant seals and southern right whales.


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