Stephan Halloy, Science Coordinator for Southern Andes, has been with The Nature Conservancy for four years. He is an expert in climate change adaptation and is in charge of monitoring biodiversity for the Southern Andes Conservation Program. As such, he supports the Patagonian grasslands sustainable grazing project in Argentina, the fishery and marine conservation projects in Peru and Chile, and conservation work in Bolivia, the Chilean Mediterranean and the Valdivian temperate rainforest. He has a doctorate in biology from Argentina’s National University of Tucumán.
It was a bright sunny June weekend –winter here in Chile-- when I left the city of Santiago and headed off for an excursion to Vilcuya, located in central Chile’s Mediterranean. Along with the Chile Conservation Manager, Maryann Ramírez, and a group of specialized scientists, we were about to launch a conservation action plan (CAP) for a 110,000 acre property in Mediterranean Chile known as El Sauce.
As we traveled by car from Santiago to Valparaíso, the beautiful weather held. However, by the time we reached our final destination a couple of hours later the sun had given way to heavy rain. This was a weird and amazing occurrence in Vilcuya, which lies in a zone characterized by low rainfalls. Despite the rain we decided to go ahead with our excursion.
At Vilcuya we were met by a group of young scientists from CIEM Aconcagua, a well-known local organization that works with the community to develop economic, social, environmental and cultural projects. We are sharing the Conservancy’s CAP methodology with members of CIEM, showing them how to identify threats to conservation objects, and creating a baseline for conservation to create conservation strategies for a specific territory, in this case Vilcuya.
This trip was part of a series of visits that these young scientists will carry out to explore and study the five watersheds that exist in this property of Mediterranean Chile. This was the only one in which the Conservancy participated.
We were several specialists that weekend in the field. CIEM’s scientists were experts in carrying out fast surveys of fauna, flora, archeology, anthropology and geography-geomorphology of the place, carrying out a study of different species of beetles for instance. Mariana Musicante, from Argentina’s National Chilecito University was also with us, and focused on studying other insect types and the health indicators of water systems.
Our group also included Erwin Ovando, one of the rangers from the Conservancy’s Valdivian Coastal Reserve. Erwin traveled hundreds of miles from southern Chile and some of the world’s last temperate rainforests to be in Vilcuya with us. Despite his close and constant contact with nature, Erwin had never been in a Mediterranean ecosystem so this trip allowed him to acquire fresh experiences in what he described as a “new world”. One of the highlights was that he saw a condor for the first time in his life!
The excursion delivered some unexpected results. We found a lot of species that we had never seen before, including 120 vascular plants. We also saw several endemic plants such as the beautiful Guayacán (Porlieria chilensis).
As we explored this striking scenery, the threats to this globally significant habitat became increasingly evident. An example of this was the amount of livestock and other grazing animals in the place, including cows, horses and other exotic species such as the European rabbit. This leads to significant vegetation degradation and soil erosion, which have a negative impact on water regulation. We measured a flow rate of 100 liters/second, but also signs of river bank erosion and flooding. However, the water at this time was clear and there are still some good water quality indicators, such as the existence of small numbers of freshwater limpets, toads such as the Rhinella and native fish (Trichomycteridae).
This excursion also offered us a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other. Once more I confirmed that we never stop learning. Each member of the group shared at least one bit of information that was new to the others. All in all, this trip was a great way to boost our conservation work in Mediterranean Chile and to foster learning and sharing best experiences for conservation across boundaries.