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Presidenta la Republica

Señora Michelle Bachelet J.

Palacio de Moneda s/n

Santiago de Chile



Social and ecological threats in the communities La Higuera and Freirina


Dear Madame President,

The environments of the sea and coastal areas of the communities of La Higuera and Freirina in Northern Chile are particularly rich in species and of global importance.
That is why in 2010, the NGO Oceana applied to expand the already-existing protection area, in order to be able to more permanently protect this biodiversity (1). Nevertheless, despite its preeminent meaning, this area is continually threatened by the plans of corporations.  First, they wanted to build a hotel on the Island of Gaviota, in the immediate vicinity of “The National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin”; then, three coal-fired power plants were to be built on the coast. Currently, the company “Compañia Minera del Pacifico” (CMP) wants to build a port near Chungungo, and the company “Andes Iron” wants to build a mine (Mine Dominga), as well as a port near Totoralillo Norte. The problem is not that the companies want to erect industrial sites, but that they want to do so without any consideration of the ecosystems of this area and the already-existing protection areas (Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt, Reserva Marina Islas Choros y Damas, and Reserva Marina Isla Chañaral).

Thus, from 2007 to 2010, citizens, scientists, and environmental protectionists all over the globe protested against the building of three coal-fired power plants, pointing out the therewith-connected grave ecological and public dangers (2). Even then, many government agencies had serious objections to these projects.  During the environmental compatability analyses for the current projects,  citizens and government agencies are again pointing out serious dangers. It is feared that these projects will destroy jobs in the fishing, agriculture, and tourism industries, through the release of emissions and the exhorbitantly high consumption of ground water. Environmental protectionists throughout the world share these concerns, and fear the destruction of a marine area, that due to its productivity and biodiversity, is of global importance. Just as in 2008 and 2010, they are appealing to the Chilean government to protect and safeguard this natural heritage.


The mine and the ports are planned to be built in an extremely sensitive and particularly valuable ecosystem. The building and operation of these projects will result in grave and permanent interference with the environment. There is the danger of 1. the destruction of the habitat of many endangered species, 2. the damage of the productivity of the sea through the building and operation of a desalinization plant, 3. pollution and contamination through constant ship traffic, 4. the importation of exotic, invasive species, and 5. the destruction of the water supply through the massive withdrawal of ground water. To sum up, these projects threaten the very basis of life on the coast and in the sea of this region.


The affected sea region houses 80% of the entire wild population of the Humboldt Penguin (spheniscus humboldti). This species of penguin is classified as “threatened” in the List of Endangered Species (IUCN-Red List), as well as according to Attachment I of CITES. It is also protected through the Convention on Biodiversity (convenio de biodiversidad – CBD), and through Chilean law.


In addition to its high importance for fishing, this marine area was also designated a protection area because it is the habitat for a multitude of other endemic and threatened species (IUCN/Attachment I of CITES), such as the Peruvian diving petral (Pelecanoides garnoti), the Peruvian booby (Sula variegata), the marine otter (Lontra felina), the humpback whale (Metaptera novaeanglie), and the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). This species of dolphin is here the entire year, and is thus the sole stable population residing in this marine area off the coast of chile. Other types of dolphins and whales also regularly use this region to rest and feed.


This sector also contains protected economic zones (Áreas de Manejo y Explotación de Recursos Bentónicos – AMERB), that houses species that are protected under Category IV (IUCN). These zones are of high economic importance, as 60% of the entire region's deposits of abalones (Concholepas concholepas) are harvested here.


The sea region of “La Higuera and Chañaral Island”contains two of the five marine preserve areas in Chile, and so contributes a very important part to the goal of putting 10% of the marine ecosystems in Chile under preservation, which the Chilean government committed itself to when it signed onto the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).


In 2010, due to the special meaning of this area, the civil society organization Oceana applied for an extension of the existing protection areas (Choros-Damas and Chañaral), to include additional important breeding islands. In September 2013, with the battle against invasive species on the island of Choros, the key phase of the “Conservation Measures Program” began. The goal of this program of the Chilean agencies, through cooperation from Chilean and foreign universities, is the elimination of rabbits and rats, in order to ensure the preservation of flora and fauna on the islands of Choros, Chañaral, Chungungo, and Pajaros. If the ports are allowed to be built as planned, these plans would be pointless, the goal of the biodiversity preservation would be endangered, and national as well as international laws for the protection of endangered species would be transgressed.


The realization of the Dominga mine project and both the ports would cause harm to the majority of the citizens, the fishers, those who dive for seafood, the farmers, the animal breeders, and all those that live from tourism. Once again, it is about the question of whether the region will be developed under sustainable use or at the expense of its natural abundance. The creation of a large marine preserve area is based on economic development with sustainable fishing, sustainable tourism, and environmentally-compatible businesses. Projects such as the Dominga mine promise the residents a better quality of life, jobs, and prosperity, but in truth they endanger the very basis of existence of the people who live there.


The citizens in the communities of La Higuera and Chañaral de Aceituno, in an overwhelming majority, reject the building of any business operations that threaten or possibly even destroy these sensible and vulnerable ecosystems. We also fear that the basis of life for the people and an ecosystem of global importance, is being threatened with destruction.


We therefore appeal to you, dear Madam President, to prevent the building of these projects at their intended locations, to approve the creation of the marine preserve area “La Higuera and Chañaral Island”, and to sustainably develop it. Finally, in order to more permanently protect this region of global importance, we further appeal to you to apply with UNESCO to have this area declared a World Heritage Site




Name of Person/Institution



(1)  Application “Área Marina Costera Protegida de Multiples Usos (AMCP-MU) La Higuera/Chañaral”, from Oceana (Propuesta de Oceana para la creación del Área Marina Costera Protegida de Multiples Usos (AMCP-MU) La Higuera/Chañaral).
(2)  Assessments of the Universities of Coquimbo and Valparaiso


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