The Kaweskar are indigenous people that inhabited the Patagonian canals. They lived on their rafts and navigated in search of sea lion colonies and shellfish for survival. This culture developed in an area known as Katalalixar, which today is a National Reserve covering 1,256,300 hectares. The area’s ocean depths have been explored by Oceana’s scientific team in order set forth a conservation plan and protect it from the constant threat of the salmon farming industry in Patagonia.
What makes Katalalixar such an important marine ecosystem is the blend of glaciers, river and marine waters. Here, a natural barrier or breaking point occurs in the composition of marine fauna; many invertebrate species distributed from the great island of Chiloé down to the southern area of the Taitao Peninsula, limit to the south with the Gulf of Penas. On the contrary, species that frequent the cold waters around the Antarctic Peninsula reach the islands that skirt along the Gulf of Penas.
Katalalixar, Patagonia’s natural barrier, presented itself as an area whose marine ecosystems deserved to be researched in depth. This is how Oceana, Conaf and Universidad de Magallanes agreed to work together on scientific expeditions to collect the necessary information that would provide the foundation for its protection.
With the unique dexterity of Patagonian sailors, the expedition explored the canals’ shorelines and bottoms, studying land and marine ecosystems, touring inaccessible areas while facing severe weather conditions.
With the help of an audiovisual team, scientists of various disciplines confirmed the ecosystemic diversity of Katalalixar and that it effectively allows the presence of species that are common in areas further south, such as Antarctica, in addition to other species from warmer waters. Species that usually inhabit deep sea water were also found at shallow depths, such as the brown kelp that up until then had only been registered up to Chiloé. In addition, the expedition counted 80 species of macroalgae and over 40 invertebrates related to them.
Ambition ran high during the second expedition and the course was set toward unexplored places only navigated by a few number of people. Oceana’s scientific team embarked into shallow canals with surfacing rocks, becoming probably the first research vessel to approach the islands adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, west of the Katalalixar National Reserve.
A cook’s rattail was documented for the first time during this expedition; this species had been seen before in waters near New Zealand. Experts also noted a great abundance of squat lobster, the perfect food for dolphins and sea lions. With the evidence collected, the team was able to contribute to the records of the large amounts of species that are related to the presence of macroalgae forests, and the first ecophysiological studies were carried out to learn the ecological roles of certain animals in these ecosystems.
The last journey led us towards the marine ecosystems closest to the glaciers, between the Baker and Martínez canals, where the presence of sweet water and diluted sediments increases. There, it was possible to observe how the change in salinity of surface waters made the macroalgae forests disappear, and be replaced by extensive fields of filamentous algae, a food source for young fish in the area such as nothenid fishes a small but abundant Patagonian fish which is a food source for mammals and sea birds.
The three expeditions to Katalalixar were just the starting point for future work in this area. Both voyages confirmed that this reserve’s ocean must be protected. With this in mind, Oceana will continue the necessary expeditions to provide scientific documentation to designate this location as a new marine protected area.
Deep in the fjords of Katalalixar reserve, vessel “Mary Paz 2” searches for a shoreline protected from the winds and swells to spend the night. The afternoon’s aerial view allows us to appreciate the height of the islands that comprise these fjords.
Documentalist Lucas Zañartu, and Ángel Miranda from CONAF come back to the boat after spending the afternoon working on land. Weather can quickly change in this area, which is why the team must be alert to conditions and prepared to withstand heavy rains.
During an audiovisual exploratory audiovisual dive, a family of curious Peale’s dolphins swam close to the divers, lingering alongside them for several minutes. This species is distributed in the Southern Cone, in two large habitats: the open sea, exposing them to swells over the continental platforms; and deep bays in the south, where they are protected.
North of the reserve, near the Gulf of Penas, several small islets form a spectacular landscape that can be viewed in aerial images.
During journeys, scientists use every minute on the boat to work on their computers. Planning and data organization are also part of an expedition’s day-to-day activities.
Scientists Germán Zapata and Dr. Américo Montiel dive to collect subtidal samples. Underwater, the use of sign language is essential to coordinate tasks.
Aboard the vessel, Fabio Méndez, a scientist from Universidad de Magallanes, processes, analyzes and stores recently collected macroalgae samples to learn about the behavior of the photosynthetic process using a PAM fluorometer.
This anemone species generally lives exposed portions of rocky substrate. Its strong orange color makes it stand out in underwater Patagonian landscape.
Dr. Claudia Andrade, a scientist from Universidad de Magallanes, and biologist Raúl Pereda from CONAF, process and select recently collected samples on the deck of vessel “Exploradores Patagonia 2”.
This bright colored crustacean measures up to 96 millimeters. It lives in rocky pools and cracks located at a depth range of up to 320 meters.
These can be found in rocky, sandy ocean bottoms, using rocks or mussels to place their egg capsules. This snail is carnivorous and feeds off other mollusks, bivalves or sea urchins, though in particular situations it is also a scavenger.
Once the last work day is completed, all the people that participated in the second expedition, including the captain and crew of “Exploradores Patagonia 2” take a picture, celebrating the end of a very successful expedition.
The bright colors of these two species contrast with the green waters of the fjord, both are characteristic species of this habitat.
Beautiful twilight at sea, in Castillo channel, one of the most inaccessible areas of the reserve. The tides and winds were peaceful that day, allowing the vessel to reach an area that is very difficult to enter. Behind the last hills is the Pacific Ocean.