Chilean Patagonia should be a World Heritage Site

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The idea for a "Patagonia World Heritage" came about in January 2001, when leaders of PeaceBoat and leaders of CODEFF (National Committee for the Defense of Fauna and Flora) decided to work toward making it happen. From there it became a concrete proposal, and later signed on to by the chairmen of the Senate Environment Committee, Antonio Horvath, and the Chamber of Deputies Environment Committee, Alejandro Navarro.

The proposed World Heritage for Patagonia was subsequently supported by the Aysen Regional government and the entire Chilean Senate. Finally, with the consent of the National Monuments Council, it was decided that the National Forestry Corporation, CONAF, would prepare the technical dossier for official submission to UNESCO (United Nations Education and Science Organization) for the creation of a World Natural Heritage site.

The site will be called "Patagonian Ice and Archipelagos,” which includes an area that encompasses the national parks of Torres del Paine, Bernardo O'Higgins, and Laguna San Rafael; the Katalalixar National Reserve; and parts of the national reserves Alacalufes and Guaitecas of respectively the Magallanes and Aysen regions.

That proposal, which has the backing of the Environment Minister, was completed and delivered in early 2007 to the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs for presentation to UNESCO. Since then, however, the Directorate of Borders and Boundaries (DIFROL) has been hindering this initiative.

The Argentine side of the Southern Ice Field, whose borders concern DIFROL, was already declared a World Heritage site in 1981, so their apprehensions are groundless. The promotion of international status of this huge territory is of great national importance, for among other reasons, the mysteries that will be saved for science and the challenges it will mean for exploration and conservation. This territory also has superb scenery that make it a growing destination for adventure tourism from worldwide. It is a natural, unique and relevant sample at the planetary level of temperate rainforest and peatlands. It is the third-largest ice covered area on the planet, and a virtually unknown and unique ecosystem.

It is for all this that we make a public appeal to the Chilean government: submit once and for all to UNESCO the proposal for the Patagonian Ice and Archipelagos site and demonstrate in practice your commitment to having it as the first World Natural Heritage site of Chile. It would signify that the country is making a substantive contribution to the stewardship of the third glacial area, or "third pole," of the Earth, which is in sharp decline, as well as give a clear signal to the world about our concern for climate change, and by extension, the national and global environment. This would be the best contribution and environmental signal that President Bachelet could give for the national bicentennial.




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