The summer Céline Cousteau visited us in Patagonia

The summer Céline Cousteau visited us in Patagonia

Since February 2012 we expected the visit of Céline Cousteau to our project located “at the foot” of the Melimoyu volcano in Chilean Patagonia. Her visit was delayed for a year, due to the great news of her pregnancy. It was in March 2013, that she came to visit us with her husband Çapkin and son Félix (then thirteen months old), to learn about the work of the Melimoyu Ecosystem Research Institute (MERI) and the challenges of biodiversity conservation in the Aysén region, Chile.

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My name is Rafaela Landea, I’m Chilean, a passionate diver and founder of MERI. I studied Ecotourism Administration to explore three important aspects of my life: nature, people, and the transfomative experiencies that we can only get when inmersed in nature. During my life I found my great passion, something we share with Céline: the conservation of the sea and all its big and small inhabitants. With this enthusiasm, I moved south at the end of 2009, to live in Chilean Patagonia and work  for a conservation project.

My story takes us to the South Pacific fjords, facing the Chilean coast of the Aysén region. In this area we can find the Corcovado Gulf with its rough waters, some great peaks of the Andes, and the 16,000 hectares that make up the Melimoyu Natural Reserve (MNR), located near the Melimoyu volcano. This almost unexplored land is surrounded by ancient forest and rivers, connected by remote channels and very close to the feeding areas of the magnificent blue whales.

In 2012, with the support of SNP Patagonia Sur and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, we created the MERI Foundation, that is actually supported by a Chilean family with a long experience in alternative education programs.

MERI’s objectives are to generate knowledge about marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems under a rigorous scientific approach with the goal of supporting conservation efforts. The challenges of the Foundation and Natural Reserve are to link the research and education programs, learn about species and the natural processes that are part of this territory, and look for effective methods of environmental management and conservation actions for these diverse ecosystems and the endangered species inhabiting them, such as the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Darwin Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) and Guaitecas Cypress (Pilgerodendron uviferum). And all of this is possible by working with the local community and through collaborative projects between relevant national and international participants.

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MERI`s work currently focuses on two areas. First we support and run scientific research programs inside and outside the MNR. This research is focused on the collection and study of field data of terrestrial and marine species, with special emphasis on cetaceans, particulary the blue whale. Second, we support the sustainable development of the local town. MERI is strengthening educational programs in the Rural School of Melimoyu, advising the development of sustainable tourism, and creating supporting networks with other organizations, focusing on the conservation of this territory.

The MNR and MERI not only protect the vast rea of native forest and the species that inhabit it, but are developing an monitoring program of the marine area located between Melimoyu Bay, Locos Islets and Raúl Marín Balmaceda Port. MERI is collecting information realtive to blue whales and the places they frequently visit to feed and socialize with other cetacean species. Blue whales feed in the waters of the Corcovado Gulf because they find abundant krill, a small crustacean that is the main element of the diet of baleen whales.

With this tremendous challenge at hand, we invited Céline Cousteau to Melimoyu to start the underwater explorations of the area and develop an audiovisual project on MNR that showed the work we are doing. This would allow us to present an important initiative, a priority for the world, such as the conservation of the Blue whale. We also hope that this effort will strengthen the challenge of reaching more people with a message from the depths of the sea, from the songs and calls of the great whales.

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The opportunity to meet Céline, Çapkin and Felix and share with them the work we are doing in MERI, was tremendously valuable and inspiring for me and for the team who shared with them. Céline and her family motivated us to continue working and advancing in this conservation challenge of land and sea. Over the course of 13 days we shared underwater explorations on the Melimoyu Bay and its surrounding channels; performed many dives for underwater photographic and audiovisual record; we completed several hours hiking in the forests of Guaitecas cypress and looking for the little Darwin frog. Céline also took time of her schedule to share her work with the local community; conducted several interviews with scientists and visitors of the RNM; and lived a memorable snorkeling session with sea lions. It was an enriching experience that left many lessons for all of us.

A very important part of our work is to generate good working partnerships with other organizations or individuals and provid funding to implement scientific projects, allowing us to generate positive impacts on our conservation objectives. We also seek to share the story of terrestrial and marine conservation in this area, beyond the geographical boundaries of the Melimoyu Natural Reserve; with its inhabitants, settlers, fishermen’s unions, NGOs , businesses, foundations, public and private sector, united through a real and effective conservation project, despite ulterior interests and economic pressures that exist in the area.

Céline, we really appreciate you coming to the end of South America to share this experience with us and I’m sure the work you have done is helping us to bring the message of connection and respect that we need to strengthen with nature and its inhabitants. I’m know we have time to recreate that connection in people, and generate the positive changes that we all desire in order to preserve nature and our planet in good condition for future generations.

I hope you enjoy and spread the beautiful message that CauseCentric Productions has prepared with great care and professionalism for all of us.

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Watch CauseCentric Production’s two-part film series, “Exploring Eden in Patagonia”: Part 1 “From Glacier to Bay” and Part 2 “Dive In”, which highlight Rafaela’s work!

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