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Scientific Expedition to Discover a Patagonian Island
Botanical Adventure and Exploration of Isla Magdalena 2010-11
Starting in the Chilean summer of January 2011, a group of explorers will set out on an extraordinary expedition. They will be trail blazing into the unexplored interior of a 790-square mile Patagonian island. Based upon total lack of evidence of previous habitation, they may be the first humans ever to enter this rugged interior in recorded history! Do you want to be part of this history in the making, like Lewis and Clark?
We are looking for explorers interested in being part of a scientific expedition and botanical adventure of a lifetime. We will journey into the center of an apparently never explored island, cataloging plants and animal life. We will view volcanic landscapes and vertical cliffs that very recently (geologically speaking) erupted from the ocean. The volcanic landscape combined with one of the few remaining untouched large-scale temperate rainforests makes this expedition a living adventure. We will be the first to document the plant and animal life in the interior of the island!
Your guide for this botanical adventure will be the botanist Howie Brounstein, who was part of the original international team of scientists participating in the rapid biological assessment of the Isla Magdalena Ecological Reserve in 1995.
In collaboration with the Chilean government, we’ll survey and document the island’s interior and open the area up for further research, respect, and protection by other members of the international scientific community.
This fjordal island, situated at 44 1/2 degrees south latitude, is one of Chile’s largest islands and an important surviving remnant of the region’s once extensive, high biomass, archipelagic temperate rainforest. It is of ecological, geomorphological, and socio-economic importance.
Geologically, Magdalena is a fjord-incised, uplifting crustal fragment separated from the continent by a narrow channel. Because of active faulting there are several thermal springs on the shore and perhaps in the interior as well. In the center of the peninsula is a broad, high sub-alpine plateau with small lakes and marshes. We will attempt to explore this area. This plateau may be a major bird habitat. The island in general may have a large Pudu (miniature deer) population. The rich marine environment of the island hosts the archipelago’s largest sea lion colonies as well as penguins and various cetaceous species.
Few primary forests today extend from the mountains to the sea. In terms of low-elevation, high-biomass forest, Isla Magdalena is ecologically priceless. Extensive primary forest, the island ecosystem is truly an ancient habitat with exemplary stands of giant cypress, manio and southern beeches, with canelo, ulmo, tepu, and luma growing in various associations within the pristine and unexplored interior. Isla Magdalena is one of the last intact habitats of the relict Guaiteca Cypress.
The nutritious and oxygen-rich surrounding seawaters are of economic importance to the region, which has the best fishing in the area. Shellfish projects show a growth rate twice that of normal, explained by the fact that the warm Peru-Chile Current meets the colder, nutrient-laden Magellan Current around Isla Magdalena’s latitude.
Forest ecologists now realize the importance of whole landscapes in understanding forest ecosystems. Isla Magdalena is one of the few remaining large-scale temperate rainforest tracts where landscape-level study of intact systems remains possible. The maintenance and study of large intact areas like Isla Magdalena are essential.
This area is very similar to the northwest coast of North America, only without the large population and environmental damage. The similar climate has led to a similar environment. Many plants have almost the same leaves and size, and grow in a similar habitat as their North American counterparts, but the flowers are completely different, and the plants are botanically unrelated. This is called convergent evolution, where unrelated plants evolve into the similar shapes.
The initial research will include a botanical survey. The island’s coastal regions have only been slightly botanized, and the interior completely unexplored. We have hopes to extend the known ranges of some species and get baseline botanical data for the islands interior ecosystems. We may discover new species of plants found only in the isolated sections of the island! We will collect and press unidentified plants and take them back to the herbarium in Santiago for later identification. We will collect DNA samples of selected plant specimens.
Participants will catalog their experiences through critical observation and a personal journal of the expedition.
Future research of the interior of the island could include surveys of birds, animals, amphibians, and other life forms. This could potentially open the island to globally significant research, i.e., past climate change, comparison of temperate rainforests to North American counterparts, and a reference point for global warming research.
Day 1: Reception will be at the Balmaceda Airport the first week of January 2011. If you are flying directly to Balmaceda, remember to plan enough time in Santiago to clear international customs. Sky Airline flights (www.skyairline.cl) from Santiago will arrive in Balmaceda by 1:35 P.M. (13:35 Chilean time).
Our journey begins by crossing 45 minutes of Patagonian grasslands with a brief stop at Coyhaique, then continues on the Carretara Austral. This 5 hour journey on dirt roads traverses a rugged remote area through mountainous regions only recently opened to vehicles. Populated with both recent settlers and gauchos that have lived there for generations, this road seems to travel through a different time.
This still unfinished road seems to travel through time, as Nick Reding put it, "A last, undetected, and unexplored outpost of gauchos so isolated that many of them, some of whom are boys as young as thirteen, still live completely alone with their herds, hours on horseback from the nearest neighbors." In Last Cowboys at the End of the World, he traveled up this very same road "to witness what happens when time catches up to a people whom history has forgotten."
At dusk we will arrive at Queulat National Park to camp the night near the famous Hanging Glacier.
Day 2: In the morning we will start the day with a 9 mile walk to board a boat south down the Puyuhuapi fjord to the island (1 hour). We may stop on our way down the fjord to visit the hundreds of sea lions that inhabit it. Dolphins may swim and appear to play around our boat on this journey as well. And, if the tides and weather allow, we will start the day on the island in natural hot springs before arriving at our base camp.
Exploring the Island:
We have cleared an area on a high ledge overlooking the ocean, above a white sand beach, next to a thundering waterfall. We will set up our base camp and have an orientation to Isla Magdalena here, enjoying meals of fresh salmon caught off shore. Even at base camp, most of the area is botanically unexplored untouched wilderness. Workshops over the next week will include island ecology, creating a personal nature journal for the expedition, basic plant identification, plant pressing and DNA sampling techniques for plant specimens. We will make an effort to provide lectures on edible and medicinal plants of the island; however, due to the numerous unknowns of the expedition, we will tailor our workshops to the experiences that present themselves.
Expedition to Middle Elevation toward the Center of the Island:
Days 3-6: For four days and three nights, we will be in the heart of one of the least-explored, remaining wilderness areas left on the planet! We are currently working on cutting a path through the dense temperate rainforest and very rugged terrain. With the help of Chilean trailblazers, we plan to attempt to clear this trail to middle elevation. Even with a trail, the travel will be physically strenuous, with many downed obstacles and elevation gain. We will conduct plant and animal surveys, and collect specimens and DNA samples of unknown plants for later identification.
Day 7: Our last day at base camp includes time for resting and personal exploration, packing and debriefing. Our chartered expedition boat carries us to Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa for much needed showers and thermal pools followed by a sumptuous dinner. The full facilities and thermal springs will wash away the journey’s weariness and prepare us for our own personal expeditions beyond and home.
Return to Balmaceda:
Day 8: At 7:30 A.M., our boat crosses the fjord where our van awaits to drive us to Balmaceda Airport for afternoon or evening flights. For those who wish to explore further, we will be stopping in Coyhaique on the way. This is an ideal point for trips to San Rafael Glacier or for extreme adventure, a journey to Antarctica.
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. . . Adventure is waiting . . .