Campaign against the power plants

Between Repression and Reform

Landau, La Serena 5. November 2019.

RepressionEveryone is surprised: the government, the political parties, the non-parliamentary opposition, and probably even more so the Chlilean citizens. Since the middle of October they have demonstrated in masses, and demanded comprehensive reforms. The grassroots movement has not (until now) been represented by any leader or particular organization. And although many protests have proceeded peacefully, it nevertheless comes again and again to physical disputes between security personnel and those protesters with a high propensity to violence. As previously during earthquakes and tsunamis, criminals have used the protests as an opportunity to plunder.

Actually, Sphensico wanted to report here in detail about the conference ‟Áreas Marinas Costeras Protegidas a dos años del IMPAC IV (the status of the marine protection area two years after the Global Conference on Marine Protection Areas – IMPAC IV). Nancy Duman and her staff (Paola Vargas and Valeria Portus) had prepared for the seminar for months, and conducted it on October 3rd. Philipp Robert (a French specialist from the IUCN on Marine Protection Areas), Chilean scientists and environmental protectionists reported to the 150 participants and discussed with them the further developments relating to the Humboldt Archipelago. In impressive fashion, the meaning of a marine protection area in this valuable coastal and marine region was again identified and perspectives regarding sustainable use were presented. The conference was also live streamed. Simultaneously, there was an exhibition at de Armas Square. Sphenisco had invited local action groups to report on their concerns, and provided them a place to offer their products. After the conference, Nancy Duman´s small team was exhausted, and busy with making sure to politically and publically make use of the positive energy of the event.

The COVID Pandemic Dictatorship 

Landau, 25. April 2020.

COVID-19 changes everything.  Even though the zoological gardens in Neuwied and Landau were re-opened since this week, their planned events for World Penguin Day (around the 25th of April) could not take place. The planned events in Belgium (Planckendael Mechelen Zoo), in Scotland (Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, near Stirling), at the Bochum Zoo, the Frankfurt Zoo and the Spreewelten Spa in Lübbenau have also been canceled. 


The government in Chile has declared a state of emergency and transferred the responsibility for public safety to the military. Schools and universities are closed, the winter vacations have been pulled forward and many teachers are currently teaching online. This leads also to criticism, because many children at home have no internet, or even a computer. In seven quarters of Santiago there is a complete ban on going outside. The government’s measures for containing the pandemic are being criticised as insufficient, reluctant and not social. As a result, mayors and citizens at a local level are campaigning for better health-related preventative measures. In rural regions, roadside inspections have been organized, in order to prevent the arrival and passage through of residents from the capital city. The citizens are calling for a national quarantine, free testing and a ban on layoffs. Under these conditions it is not possible to continue the planning of an environmental education project at the schools of the La Higuera community (near the “Humboldt Archipelago” marine area, the main breeding area of the Humboldt Penguin), and the planned “Penguin March” on April 25th in La Serena, in northern Chile, cannot be carried out. Sphenisco’s executive board is in contact via Skype with its employee in Chile, Nancy Duman, in order to discuss and newly orient itself to the current situation. At the moment, we are considering whether, and if so how Sphenisco can help support the self-help of the general public, and in so doing connect this support to natural and environmental protection.                                                                                                                                                        


The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency on March 16th. Since then, everyone is under quarantine. Apartments are only allowed to be left for special reasons, such as to purchase food, go to the bank or the pharmacy, or to the doctor. Everyone must wear an oronasal mask in public. Further, health checks with temperature measuring and currently about 10,000 daily corona tests are being carried out. In this situation, it is not possible for our partner in Peru, Acorema, to continue to carry out its environmental education program “Strengthening of Measurements for the Improvement of the Humboldt Penguin’s Protection Status in the Ica Region of Peru” (Dec. 2019 – Nov. 2021). This is also the case for the demonstrations that were planned for World Penguin Day in the context of local holidays (in Pisco-Paracas, Marcona, Chincha, San Fernando, all of southern Peru). As soon as the quarantine is lifted, Acorema will make up for the canceled educational measurements and events, and extend the project’s time period accordingly. 

New Projects 

Thanks to many donations and commitments to several years of support, it appeared possible that the species protection work from Sphenisco would be able to be expanded. Since December therefore, the executive board has reviewed options for new, additional projects. In discussion were

  1. The development of a scientifically-based management plan, or the concept for the creation of a “Humboldt Archipelago” marine protection area (the main breeding area of the Humboldt Penguin). 
  2. The prevention of by-catch of Humboldt Penguins via warning devices (in cooperation with Professor Boris Culik, from Kiel, Germany, 
  3. The systematic survey of the current numbers of Humboldt Penguins in the five most important Chilean breeding areas (in cooperation with Professor A. Simeone, Andrés Bello University, Santiago, Chile, Professor G. Luna, Católica del Norte University, Coquimbo, Chile). The research should be expanded through telemetric examinations of foraging behavior (in cooperation with the marine biologists Dr. T. Mattern, NZ Penguin Initiative, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand). 
  4. The previously-mentioned environmental education at the schools of the La Higuera community (near the “Humboldt Archipelago” marine protection area, the main breeding area of the Humboldt Penguin). 

The COVID pandemic has stopped all these plans, because it is unknown whether the intended projects can be carried out at all, and if so, when. It is also unclear whether the promised aid can be provided, considering the conditions of the current crisis. The executive board will await further developments. The current assets should be utilized for the long-term safeguarding of ongoing projects in Chile (representation of interests for the protection of the main breeding area) and Peru (environmental education).

Encouraging Messages 

The COVID pandemic does not only destroy, it also inspires creativity. Thus, has Nicole Bertram initiated the “penguintastic” campaign “Encouraging Messages”. All over the world children and many adults have to stay home because of Covid-19. Sphenisco asks all penguin friends to send each other encouraging penguin greetings, in order to say, “Things are going for us as they are for you; together, we will not let it get us down!” ( The website page “Sphenisco Hope Pingus” shows the greetings:  painted pictures, photos, texts, short audios and movies relating to penguins. A highlight on the Padlet is the song “Make our Planet Great Again”, from the musicians Heiner Pfaff, Klaus Lenz and Jochem Paul, from Landau, Germany. Many thanks for the wonderful song and your support!

This exceptional situation shows again that we humans are a part of nature. When we destroy habitats, we destroy ourselves. In this crisis, we see that nature recovers when humans give way. The canals in Venice are suddenly crystal clear, dolphins cavort in Italian ports because the ships are not sailing. Our environment is sighing with relief, while we humans are in a deep crisis.

“We chop down the trees, we kill animals or lock them in cages and sell them at markets. We destroy ecosystems and we shake the viruses off of their natural hosts. When that happens, the viruses need a new host; often, that is us.” – David Quammen

The WWF points out that financial packages are being strung together all over the world. It requests that we advocate for a future worth living:  an emission-free community that lives in harmony with the resources of the Earth, is not utopian. It is the only scenario that ensures a life worth living for future generations. Children and adolescents remind us regularly of our responsibility.

Distance is the new closeness! - respect for and regard for other people, respect and regard for fauna and flora.

Take care of yourself, your families, your neighbors and your friends! Take care of the penguins and other forms of life! Stay healthy!


Humboldt-Pinguin juvenil Mundschutz Screenshot 2020

Situation of the Archipiélago de Humboldt

Landau, 24 June 2020.

Since its foundation in 2008, SPHENISCO has been supporting the protection of the "Archipiélago de Humboldt" near La Serena, northern Chile. Together with Chilean nature and species conservationists - the action groups MODEMA and Defensa Ambiental IV Región, the large alliance Alianza Humboldt as well as the NGO Oceana - the association has been organizing and shaping information and projects in the region Coquimbo / La Serena since then.

In the video documentation "Situation of the Archipiélago de Humboldt", Nancy Duman, employee of SPHENISCO, gives an overview of last year’s species protection work on the occasion of an interview with Gabriele and Werner Knauf (Chairperson and CEO of the Penguin Association).

Nancy Duman starts with the international conference "Áreas marinas costeras protegidas" in La Serena on 3 October and then gives a summary of the actions during the period of citizen protests - from October 2019 - and since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Nancy Duman describes how the forms of nature and species protection work have - within a few months - been adapted to completely altered conditions due to the historical crises (see also News).

Her contribution is part of the reporting, more specifically the preparation of the general meeting of SPHENISCO on 27 June 2020, which is organised as a video conference.



translated by Angelika Velken

Situation Archipel Situation Archipel Situation Archipel

Quarantine Stops Family Gardens

- Self-Help Project Convinces and Inspires -

Landau 1. August 2020.

On the initiative of the mayors of Coquimbo and La Serena, as of Thursday (30 July), there is an additional preventative quarantine measure beyond the nightly curfew. As a result, the citizens are now only allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons (work, purchasing, or doctor visits). The spread of the pandemic in Chile (18.3 million inhabitants) is dramatic: the number of confirmed infections currently is 355,667. Germany (82.91 million inhabitants) currently has 210,399 confirmed infections. The number of new infections in Chile is daily 2,131 (Germany 864). The total deaths to date in Chile is 9,457 (Germany 9,147) (status as of August 1st). The quarantine does not only continue to cripple social life, but also has initially stopped the very successful campaign “Huertos familiares”, which we call the “Small Garden” campaign. Since the end of April, the Humboldt Alliance (an alliance for the protection of the environment, of which Sphenisco is also a member) has brought interested citizens foodstuffs as well as salad and vegetable plants to the coastal villages of the La Higuera community (1). Local authorities have supported this campaign and even helped in the organization. In a short period of time, “Huertos familiares” was the main topic of conversation and managed to release unexpected energies: the helpers from the Alliance were expected in the villages, the “new” gardeners thanked them with pictures of their growing plants, and began to consult and support each other with the cultivation. Fish scraps were composted, independent previously-started garden initiatives were reactivated. The Alliance even managed to win new members from the villages themselves.

Numerous media that normally would hush up the activities of the Alliance, have nevertheless reported about this sustainable self-help project (s.

The current dynamic and developments make it clear that “Huertos familiares” is not only seen as a charitable and solidary campaign, but also as an environmental campaign in the best sense of the word. The executive board from Sphenisco has therefore classified the “Small Garden” campaign (but not the foodstuff donations) as worthy of support according to the statutes of the organization.

W. K.


translated by Erich Greiner


(1) Caleta Los Hornos, Chungungo, Totoralillo Norte, La Higuera, Punta Colorada, Los Choros, Punta de Choros, El Llano de Los Choros, Chañaral de Aceituno


Quarantine Stops Family Gardens Quarantine Stops Family Gardenswidth=
Quarantine Stops Family Gardens Quarantine Stops Family Gardens

Chile - Protest in Lockdown

- Defensa Ambiental and Alianza Humboldt very active -

Landau 23 October 2020.

Numbers and measures speak a clear language. The number of known infections in Peru is 6.4 and in Chile 6.5 times higher than in Germany. The number of people who died in the context of the pandemic is 9.2 times higher in Peru and 6.4 times higher in Chile than in the Federal Republic of Germany (as of 16 October 2020). In both countries there are currently nightly curfews, in some provinces and localities a preventive quarantine applies. This means that only one person per household may leave their home with permission in emergencies, e.g. to visit the doctor and to go grocery shopping. Masks are largely compulsory in public.

Under these conditions, Acorema, SPHENISCO's partner in Peru, was unfortunately unable to continue its educational work in the provinces of Ica and Nazca. Only a very limited communication in the social media was possible. How and when it can continue is unfortunately at anybody’s guess at the moment.

In Chile, Defensa Ambiental IV Region and Alianza Humboldt (SPHENISCO is part of this alliance) have performed a small miracle. Three days before the start of the preemptive quarantine in the region of Coquimbo / La Serena, at the end of July, environmentalists protested once again in public against the mining and harbour project Dominga (see also Sphenisco news flash July). Afterwards, they organized the resistance against the megaproject virtually.

In July, Alianza Humboldt started the relief action "little gardens". Interested citizens of the coastal villages in the municipality of La Higuera were offered lettuce and vegetable plants, among other things, so that they can lay out small gardens. Due to the preemptive quarantine in Coquimbo / La Serena, the delivery of the plants had to be temporarily interrupted. In the meantime, however, Nancy Duman and her allies can deliver plants again, since they have received an exit permit. So it was possible to deliver plants to Pt. de Choros, Caletta Los Hornos, La Higuera, Carrizalillo and other places. This campaign has not only attracted a lot of attention in the Chilean media, it is being talked of all over the coastal villages. Residents send photos of their plants, report on progress, share experiences and repeatedly say how important this kind of support is to them. With this campaign, the Alianza was even able to gain new members.

At the beginning of August, the topic "How we picture the future" was discussed in video conferences with residents of all coastal villages. At the end of August, short videos appeared with statements from citizens of the community of La Higuera, in which they take a stand against Dominga.

By means of livestreaming, four seminars lasting several hours were held, some with quite prominent speakers. The topics were "Archipelago Humboldt - Hope for Sustainable Development in Chile" on 22 August, "Sea and Land" on 12 September, "Environment and the New Constitution" on 3 October , and "Constitution and Original Inhabitants" on 17 October.

(for "little gardens", "statements" and "seminars" see also www. Alianza Humboldt youtube as well as www.facebook Defensa Ambiental IV Region "Videos").

A group of fishermen from La Higuera documented their resistance against the destruction of the Humboldt Archipelago with the image of a whale on the beach. They had formed the image out of shells and filmed with a drone. Very creative and gorgeous!

The group Victor Jara from Los Choros and Pt. de Choros were dancing against Dominga in the desert. Another creative action that is worth seeing.

Defensa Ambiental IV Region and Alianza Humboldt managed to initiate and organize lively and creative protests in the lockdown. SPHENISCO would like to thank everyone who relentlessly are working and have been working on these projects , but especially Nancy Duman for her tireless commitment.


translated by Angelika Veelken

Lockdown Lockdown Lockdown
Lockdown Lockdown Lockdown

Waiting for a Decision


Landau 25 April 2021.

You don't know if you should laugh or cry. The April 16th, 2021 decision of the Antofagasta Environmental Court on the “Dominga” mining and port project is reminiscent of absurd theater. In 2017, the Regional Government of Coquimbo and the Committee of Ministers (1) rejected the "Dominga" project. Andes Iron appealed against the decisions to the Antofagasta Environmental Court. The company Andes Iron filed a complaint against the decisions with the Antofagasta Environmental Court and was proven right. Environmentalists successfully challenged this ruling before the Supreme Court in Santiago at the end of February, beginning of March 2019. In its explanatory statement at the time, the Supreme Court stated that most of the arguments put forward by the critics of the project were valid. The Court then referred the case back to the Environmental Court in Antofagasta, asking it to consider the actual conditions of the project and the technical counterarguments. In March 2020, the dispute was again heard and decided in Antofagasta. However, the court has only now published its verdict on April 16, 2021. A whole year later!!?? Once again, the court ruled in favor of Andes Iron and ordered a new vote in the Coquimbo Regional Environmental Assessment Commission. In a statement, Alianza Humboldt (2), of which SPHENISCO is a member, criticized the decision and shed light on the prospects of the lawsuit.


Declaration of 21 April 2021

La Serena 21 April 2021. The ALIANZA HUMBOLDT Coquimbo-Atacama will continue to defend the Humboldt Archipelago against threats from megaprojects.

The Alianza Humboldt of the Atacama and Coquimbo region urges all citizens of civil society, individuals, organizations and institutions to join it in defending the Humboldt Archipelago and its surroundings against the dangers posed by such projects.

On Friday, April 16th, the Antofagasta Environmental Court upheld the suit brought by Andes Iron on the "Dominga" mining and port project. In its decision, the court ordered a new vote in the Coquimbo Environmental Assessment Commission. At the same time, the Court acknowledged that the envisaged project had serious problems and that the explanations were insufficient. However, according to the court, these shortcomings could be resolved by the Committee of Ministers. With this proposal, the Court of First Instance exceeded its authority. It is not empowered to propose to the Committee of Ministers that it fix the problems of the "Dominga" project. Its mission is to enforce compliance with environmental laws and to ensure that projects are properly evaluated, and that evaluations are not influenced by private interests.

The judgment of April 16th is once again a reminder that legal and institutional measures in Chile are inadequate, especially when it is a case involving President Piñera himself. In 2010, he rejected the Barrancones Project (construction of coal-fired power plants) and promised to protect the Humboldt Archipelago, a nature reserve of global importance. Soon after, it was announced that up until December of the same year, he was the majority shareholder of Andes Iron, the same company pushing the Dominga project. The owner of the company was Carlos Délano, a childhood friend of Sebastian Piñera. Mr. Délano was sentenced to 99 hours of ethics lessons for illegal political party financing. It is clear to us that in this context of the current deep crisis, in the context of corruption and manipulation, we cannot enforce the law against interests that advocate the exploitation of natural resources. It is therefore necessary to mobilize the environmental movement and to consolidate its networks in order to:

  1. make visible the real extent of the social and environmental damage that would be associated with the realization of the 'Dominga' megaproject.
  2. understand the shortcomings and major errors that would have been made in the environmental assessment process, and
  3. ensure the protection of the environment in the Constitution.

It is worrying that the Antofagasta Environmental Court is grossly neglecting its central task, namely the protection of the natural heritage, and, with its judgment in this case, placing particular interests above the collective interest. The Court thus damages institutions and even the legal system in Chile in this matter by depriving the SEIA (Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental), i.e., the system of environmental impact assessment, of its task. All this is happening in the context of the climate crisis and the health crisis triggered by the pandemic, and without taking into account the myriad calls from science and various international organizations to give priority to protecting and caring for the remaining ecosystems over an economy geared toward the exploitation of natural resources, thus causing so much damage to communities, the area and the local economy in general. This is especially true in the case of this globally UNIQUE ECOSYSTEM.


About the Verdict

The ruling does not mean that the project has been approved. Environmental courts have neither the power nor the competence to approve or reject a project. This is exclusively the task of other institutions responsible for the environment, such as the regional commission in charge of the environmental impact assessment.

The court accepted the complaint of Andes Iron on the megaproject "Dominga" and has now ordered that the procedure be referred back to the regional commission for re-voting. In this way, the Court opens up the possibility of irreversibly damaging the environment of this region and of creating a new 'victim zone'.

In complete contradiction to this decision, the Court of First Instance acknowledges in its judgment that the project is flawed, that it has informational deficits and concludes that the Environment Agency should have been pushing harder for improvements to the project in order to avoid rejection. For example, the Court acknowledges that the compensation measure submitted by the company with regard to the Humboldt Penguin is not appropriate and sees weaknesses in the environmental assessment procedure with regard to the impairment of the Humboldt Penguin on the island of Totoralillo Norte. However, despite the apparent lack of information and the problematic compensatory measures, it has been ordered to vote again on the project.


Impact on the Local Economy

In the area of the Humboldt Archipelago are the most productive  Áreas de Manejo y Explotación de Recursos Bentónicos (AMERB) of the entire northern central zone (protected zones sustainably harvested by local fishermen) located. When this economic activity began in the 1990s, about 90 thousand units were harvested; today, with sustainable management of the areas, it is 800 thousand units.

If the megaproject were to be implemented, it would have serious consequences for the local economy, for sustainable economic activities such as local fishing, the production of olives and olive oil, family gardens, livestock farming and tourism. It should be noted that tourism has developed the strongest dynamism in recent decades and has become an important engine for the economy.

It is a very bad sign that a project aimed at exploiting natural resources is being pursued while Chile is in the process of creating a new constitution; a constitution aimed at ensuring the transition to a society with an economy that centers on the well-being of the people, the protection of the environment and not on commercial benefits. Apparently, in the interests of large corporations, those responsible want to secure everything quickly before the country's constitution and vision change.

As Alianza, we reaffirm our commitment to take all necessary measures and to use all institutional channels, nationally and internationally, to achieve the protection of the Humboldt Archipelago without mega-projects, thereby protecting this world heritage in the long term.

For all these reasons, and in view of the fact that pressure and manipulation in favor of the Dominga project are extremely strong, we reiterate the call to join the Alianza Humboldt in order to create a strong national movement to defend this national protected area.


The Alianza Humboldt was wide awake, and reacted immediately in the difficult conditions of the pandemic going on the offensive in the days after the verdict. The "Declaration of April 21" was published at press conferences in La Serena and Coquimbo, as well as on social media. A motorcade in Punta de Choros and Choros was organized. As spokeswoman for Alianza Humboldt and as an independent candidate for the Constituent Assembly, Nancy Duman conducted several daily discussions and interviews with opinion leaders on the internet. Members such as Oceana, FIMA (an environmental attorneys’ group in Chile) and the fishermen of La Higuera were also critical on social media and posted their own statements. The Medical Association of La Serena and the National Board of the Changos (Indigenous Group) also went public. Several internet newspapers took critical positions. The local newspaper, El Dia – as expected– one-sidedly presented only the view of the company Andes Iron and the project "Dominga".


On May 3rd, the Alianza Humboldt is planning a protest rally from Chañaral to La Serena via the (coastal) villages of Punta de Choros, Los Choros, and Caleta Hornos. On May 4th, the Alliance, represented by Oceana, will apply to the Corte Suprema (Supreme Court) in Santiago for the court's decision to be overturned.



translated by Erich Greiner


(1) Minister for Mining, Health, Agriculture, Environment and Economy

(2) The Alianza Humboldt members comprise 20 "major" organizations, among others: Oceana, Greenpeace, Ocean Blue, Sea Shepherd, Fundación Terram, FIMA, Defensa Ambiental IV Region, Modema, Turismo Caleta Hornos and Sphenisco. In addition to these organizations, there are 67 regional and other 8 supra-regional civil society organizations.



Protest Protest Protest
Protest Protest Protest

A further Stage Win and a Huge Question Mark

Landau, 9 February 2020.

On 7 February we published the text "A further Stage Win“ here: „Five years ago, on 30 January 2015, the Cruz Grande Port Project of the company CMP (Compania Minera del Pacífico S.A.) was approved. At that time Sphenisco, together with Chilean environmentalists, called attention of President Michelle Bachelet and relevant authorities to the dangers for the sensitive maritime region and to serious shortcomings in the environmental impact assessment. Without any success.

For unknown reasons the company CMP has not started the construction of the Cruz Grande Port in the last few years. The approval was limited to five years and expired end of last month. Therefore, the NGO Oceana is requesting an official confirmation from the Ministry of the Environment of the Coquimbo region that the deadline for the construction project has expired and thus also the approval is no longer valid. Sphenisco rejoices with the inhabitants of the coastal villages in the municipality of La Higuera and their fellow campaigners in Chile.“

All facts are correct and yet, unfortunately, there is a significant snag in the good news, as we have learned in further research. The company CMP (Compania Minera del Pacífico S.A) could not or did not want to start building the port. Instead, they intend to start planting trees, a compensatory measure to which the company was committed when the port was approved. They applied for planting trees to CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal) in Coquimbo in January, which was within the deadline. However, the plot which has been chosen to be planted is too small for the required number of trees. So far CONAF has not decided on the application. CMP now takes the view that the construction of the port began with the application and that therefore the licence has not expired. Given the current orientation of government policy, it is unfortunately not impossible that CMP will get away with this "trick" at CONAF and the Ministry of the Environment. Oceana and the environmental movement view things differently. They are considering legal action and want to provide clarity with the initiative at the Ministry of the Environment..

CMP's (unsettled) hesitation has improved the prospects of saving the precious ecosystem, so it is already a stage win. To preserve it, however, a lot of work and commitment are still required in the future.


translated by Angelika Veelken

Etappensieg Etappensieg Etappensieg



Partial Victory! Chilean High Court Rejects the ‟Dominga”Project.

Santiago, Landau, 27. September 2019.
Penguins, nature and environmental protectionists have again prevailed. The Chilean High Court in Santiago sustained the environmental protectionists’ lawsuit against the environmental court’s verdict in Antofagasta. The environmental court in Antofagasta had agreed with Andes Iron Corporation that the Coquimbo Regional Government and the Committee of Ministers had incorrectly disallowed the ‟Dominga”project. The High Court  however, came to a different conclusion, and in the sound reasoning for its decision, stated that most of the critics’ arguments against the project were in fact, well-founded. The court therefore referred the case back to the environmental court in Antofagasta, with the specific requirement that the court address the professional and technical arguments against the project.
translated by Erich Greiner
Jubel Jubel Jubel

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