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     The National Protection Area of the Humboldt 
     Penguin must not die!






Once again, corporate projects are threatening valuable ecosystems in Northern Chile. Threatened are 1. the habitat of many highly-endangered species, 2. the productivity of the sea through damage from the creation of a water desalinization plant, 3. environmental contamination through permanent ship traffic, 4. importation of exotic, invasive species, 5. the destruction of the water supply through the massive extraction of ground water. As a result, many agencies are raising objections and many citizens are refusing to accept these projects, because they threaten the livelihood and jobs of those in the areas of fishing, agriculture, and tourism. It is about the question of whether the area will be developed with natural abundance in mind, or to its detriment. The efforts to create a large marine preserve area are based on environmental development. The planned mine and port projects promise the citizens a better quality of life, jobs, and prosperity, but in reality they threaten the people's very means of existence.

We therefore appeal to the Chilean Government to acknowledge its responsibility, and approve the Marine Preserve Area “La Higuera and Chañaral Island”, as well be active in its sustainable development. In order to do justice to the meaning of this unique marine area and protect it long-term, we further appeal to the government to apply through UNESCO for this area to be declared a World Heritage site. 

YES to the Protection of the Marine Area “La Higuera and Chañaral Island”!
YES to the Preservation of Biodiversity in an Area of Global Importance!
YES to the Rights of the Citizens to Water!
YES to Sustainable and Socially Compatible Companies!
YES to Jobs in Fisheries, Agriculture, and Tourism

The environments of the sea and coastal areas of the communities of La Higuera and Freirina in Northern Chile (1, 6) are particularly rich in species and of global importance. That is why, in 2010, the civil society organization Oceana applied to expand the already-existing marine protection area, so that it can truly fulfill its purpose and sustainably protect the biodiversity of the species of this sector (2). Despite its outstanding meaning, this region has time and time again been threatened by industrial projects. 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).

As early as 2007 and until 2010, the Chilean citizen's movement  “Movimiento en defensa del medio ambiente” (MODEMA), 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. Even then, many government agencies spoke out for a long time against these projects.  As a result of the protests, the companies Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco) and Compañia Minera del Pacifico retracted their applications to build the power plants. The application for the building of a power plant by the company Suez Energy (incorporated in Europe under the name Veolia) was however, approved by Corema (3), the decision-making authority of the regional government. It was only through a personal agreement between then-President Piñera and Suez Energy, that the project was not realized. The President's public statement at the time was, “We do not want to destroy such a beautiful area, let us savor it!” The approval of Corema was nevertheless not overturned. It is still valid through August, 2015. Despite the intervention of the President, his federal government designated Chungungo (1) as a suitable location to build a power plant.

New Projects with Old Dangers and Risks

Now the sensitive ecosystems and means of existence for the population in the communities of La Higuera and Freirina are again in danger (1,6). The company Andes Iron wants to build and operate a mine in the area, and in order to remove the iron ore (byproduct: copper), wants to build a port near Totoralillo Norte. The company Compañia Minera del Pacifico (CMP) is planning another port in the neighboring village of Chungungo, not three kilometers away. During the environmental compatibility analysis, many affected citizens,  as well as responsible agencies have again voiced their strong objections. It is feared that both projects  would destroy many jobs in the fishery, agriculture, and tourism industries through pollution induced by emissions and through  the exhorbitantly high consumption of fresh 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.

In the last few years, while reviewing applied-for projects, Chilean scientists and regional agencies have repeatedly spoken up on the special meaning of this marine and coastal area. The Universities of Coquimbo and Valparaiso have even presented detailed, expert assessments on the issue (4). If one evaluates the currently applied-for projects in light of these analyses and scientific data, then the following correlations and impact can be determined:

Marine Area “La Higuera and Chañaral”

Both ports are to be constructed in the region of Coquimbo, in a sector that has the highest productivity of the sea, with respect to flora and fauna. 60% of the entire regional distribution of abalones (Concholepas concholepas) is located in this coastal area. The high productivity of this area is contingent upon two factors. The first is that there is an upwelling of cold water in this region, which generates a high primary productivity. Second, due to the topographical position, eggs and larva of fish and other marine animals converge at this one location. Both factors bring about a marine area of particular primary productivity that results in a rich abundance of fish and other marine animals.

Both ports are to be built and operated in the immediate vicinity of two marine protection areas: the Marine Preserve Area of “Choros and Damas Islands”, and the Marine Preserve Area of Chañaral Island (Reserva Marina Islas Choros y Damas, and Reserva Marina Isla Chañaral, respectively); the three islands in these marine protection areas build the National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin (Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt), where 16,000 breeding pairs, approximately 80% of the entire wild population of the Humboldt Penguin (spheniscus humboldti) lives. This species of penguin is classified as “threatened”  in the List of Endangered Species (IUCN Red-List), as well as in Attachment 1 of CITES. It is also protected through the International Convention on Biodiversity (convenio de biodiversidad – CBD), as well as through Chilean law.

This sea region is not only important for fishing, but was also declared as a natural reserve because it is the habitat of many other endemic and threatened species (IUCN/Attachment 1 of CITES), such as the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnoti), the Peruvian booby (Sula variegata), the marine otter (Lontra felina), the humpback whale (Metaptera novaeanglie), and the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). A group of   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 regularly use this region to rest and feed, such as Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), the dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), the killer whale (Orcinus orca), the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), the long-finned pilot whale (Globecephala melas), the finback whale (Baleaenoptera physalus), the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis), and the common minke whale (Baleaenoptera acutorostrata).

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).  

Impact on the Marine Area

During the process of determining the environmental sustainability (5), the company Andes Iron openly admits that through the building and operation of the port in Totoralillo Norte, breeding sites of the Humboldt Penguin on the islands of Tilgo and Chungungo would be wiped out, that the habitat of the critically endangered marine otter will be lost, and that the habitat and feeding areas of dolphins and whales will be destroyed. This loss and destruction is being treated as self-evident, and further, that collisions between marine animals and large ships [Dead Weight Tonnage (DWT) of up to 400,000 tons] are being willingly taken into account. Possible damage to the protected marine areas and natural reserve are thus simply being ignored. And although, due to the ocean currents, the emissions from the ports would reach these protected areas within 24 hours, neither are the damaging effects clearly named, nor suitable protection measures suggested. As in all ports, it is to be expected that there will be leaking fuel (diesel and heavy oil). A very specific danger comes however, from the planned desalinization plant. In addition to the extraction of large amounts of sea water, that of course contains living creatures that make up part of the marine area's abundance, the recirculation of the salt brine into the sea (including the chemicals that are needed as part of the maintenance of the piping system), would result in incalculable changes in the sea water and the organisms living therein. These changes, and the dangers that would result from the infiltration of exotic, invasive species through ship traffic, threaten the particular abundance of those organisms that make up the basis of life for the animals and humans of this area. As a direct consequence of these planned projects, numerous already-endangered species of mammals would be even more threatened with extinction, as well as the area's eco-tourism. Annually, 40,000 tourists from within and outside of the country visit the area, and the therewith-connected businesses (e.g., overnight stays, restaurants, boat and bus transfers) have built up a meaningful economic importance. The planned projects also threaten the local fisheries, as well as the harvesting of benthos (such as abalones, clams, oysters, etc.) in the Areas of Management [AMERB-managed zones, where species also live, that are protected under Category IV (IUCN)].

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 (2). In September 2013, with the battle against invasive species on the island of Choros, the key phase of the “Conservation Measures Program” (protective 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.

Impact on Land

The project “Dominga” from the company Andes Iron would lead to direct consequences on land. We need only mention two striking examples. Just as with the marine habitat, it is self-evident that  species would be displaced, in this case guanacos, whose local population has been painstakingly stabilized in the last few years. The second example is that that Andes Iron would literally cut the water off from under the residents' feet. In an area where the continual advance of the desert is a reality – this company actually wants to lay claim to the remaining ground water reserves for the operation of their mine. In their statement to the application, the governmental water agency displayed its deep alarm and warned against the further withdrawal of ground water used for operation of the mine. The agency stated that the current consumption, among other things for the watering of the olive groves, is within the tolerable, sustainable scope, but that any further use beyond that is to be rejected, because it would lead to a massive shortage in the future.

Social Impact

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. They demand their right to live in an intact environment, an environment that for them is their basis of existence. It is the duty of the State to ensure that this right is not infringed upon, and that the environment is protected (Art. 19, Par. 8 of the Chilean Constitution).

Therefore, we appeal to the Chilean Government to embrace its responsibility, to approve the marine preserve area “La Higuera and the Island of Chañaral”, and to develop it in a sustainable fashion. In order to do justice to this unique marine region, and in order to permanently preserve it, we further appeal to the Chilean Government to apply with UNESCO to have this area recognized as a World Heritage Site.

Gabriele Knauf

Sphenisco e.V. - Protecting the Humboldt Penguins



(1)  The community of La Higuera lies in the north of the Coquimbo Region, approximately 100 kilometers north of La Serena.  Along its coast lie the villages of Caleta Los Hornos, Totoralillo Norte, Chungungo, Los Choros, and Punta de Choros. The community of Freirina, along with the village Chañaral de Aceituno, as well as the Island of Chañaral, border on the north of La Higuera and belong to Atacama Region.

(2)  Link to the Oceana's application “Árena Marina y  Costera Protegida La Higuera – Isla Chañaral”: 

(3)  Comisón Regional del Medio Ambiente

(4)  Assessment of the Universities of Coquimbo and Valparaiso

(4.1) Assessment of the University of Valparaiso, Center of Investigation EUTROPIA “Observaciones EIA Termoeléctricas – Farellones”, from October 26, 2007

(4.2) Assessment of the University Católica del Norte Coquimbo, Center of Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), “Observaciones al Estudio Ambiental (EIA)  emitido por la Empresa Termoeléctrica Farellones”, from November 28, 2007

(4.3) Assessment of the University Católica del Norte Coquimbo, Department of Marine  Biology, “Análisis de los Potenciales Efectos Ambientales de la Operación de Proyectos Termoeléctricas en Ambientes Marinos de la Cuarta Región. Informe Final, from November, 2008.

(4.4) Assessment of the Center of Investigation EUTROPIA, University of Valparaiso “Observaciones. Informe: ' Análisis de los Potenciales Efectos Ambientales de la Operación de Proyectos Termoeléctricas en Ambientes Marinos de la Cuarta Región'. Informe Final. Nov. 2008”, from January 26, 2009.

5)  Link to the Environmental Impact Statement “Seia”

(6) Map of the Region and the Marine Protection Area




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