The Fight For Chile’s Environment Is Not Over

The country’s coastline and Patagonia region are constantly under threat from proposed industrial projects

The Chilean government’s decision in June to scrap plans to build the HidroAysén mega-dam project on two of Patagonia’s wildest rivers, is definitely cause for celebration, but the battle to protect Chile’s rich natural world is far from over. The country’s coast and Patagonia region are constantly under threat from all sorts of extractive industries and lack effective legal protections, even though Chile is among the most developed countries in South America.

Though there has been a recent increase in protected areas in Chile, this does not ensure that there are any active conservation efforts to sustain them. For example, the Punta de Choros and Chañaral Marine Reserves are currently under threat due to the Dominga project, which which is currently awaiting government approval. The Dominga project comprises in several mines (iron ore and copper) and new port at Totoralillo Norte that would be capable of shipping millions of tons of ore every year. Two enormous open-cast pits would create a giant mound of toxic tailings. This same place was under threat in 2010 because of three coal power plant projects, but citizens managed to halt the construction of these, forming part of a large citizen movement called Save Punta de Choros (Salvemos Punta de Choros). And plans are advancing in Chile to dig what might become the biggest hole in the world – a title currently claimed by the Chuquicamata copper mine, 1,000 kilometres to the north in the Atacama Desert.

A Chilean filmmakers’ collective, MVMT (or Movimiento), is documenting threats to the environment in different parts of Chile and people’s efforts to fight these threats. MVMT lends its creativity to causes that need attention in order to help build a society that lives in harmony with the environment. With this goal in mind we have created two short videos documenting environmental mismanagement in an increasingly exploited country.

The film Chiloé Saliendo A Flote (Chiloé Coming Afloat) shows how the rich biodiversity of the island of Chiloé, which is home to several endemic plant and animal species, is now gravely threatened due to lack of regulation on how its resources are used. Salmon farming, introduced in the 1970s, as well as large commercial fishing trawlers have been especially devastating for marine life around the island. Machas, or razor clams –part of a classic seafood diet in Chile – have nearly disappeared from Chiloé due to unsustainable bivalve harvesting practices. The loss of these resources has a direct impact on the local economy and culture.

Curacautín Bajo el Agua (Curacautín Under Water) shows how Chile’s current energy policy is allowing for the construction of dam projects in areas with the highest potential for tourism. Local citizens are rarely informed about these projects, nor are Indigenous people consulted about plans to build dams or raze forests on their ancestral lands. This short film tells of the Chilean government’s plans to build a dam on the Cautin River in Curacautín, a city in the Araucanía region, and shows how the citizens of Curacautín united to protect their sacred, pristine land, which also happens to be a UNSECO designated priority site for conservation.

These are just three examples of the many threats that face Chile’s environment. The lack of a strong public policy that protects the environment is driving the destruction of a country with abundant natural resources, which if used responsibly, would ensure that some of the last pristine environments left on the planet remain unharmed.

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