Campaign against the power plants

Governmental Organizations' Failure Threatens Humboldt Penguins

- Sphenisco Meets the President of the Regional Government -

La Serena, 02. February, 2016

Nancy Duman, Gabriele und Werner Knauf, Claudio IbáñezSince the end of January, the new positions of the responsible authorities regarding the planned project Dominga (from Andes Iron) have been at the SEA (the governmental authority responsible for environmental compatibility analysis). The political pressure to approve the project is immensely high. It is feared that the responsible parties who do not fall in line, will lose their jobs. Nevertheless have CONAF (the governmental authority for protected areas) and the Regional Environmental Ministry clearly named the threatening dangers of ship traffic and emissions that would be caused if this project is approved. They have again pointed out the fact that it makes absolutely no sense to address only the impact on the immediate surroundings of the planned port project, but that the marine ecosystem as a whole as well as the already legally-declared and immediately neighboring natural protection areas must be taken into consideration as well (see also Declaration on La Higuera-Chañaral Island).

For a Proper Review of Environmental Compatibility

La Serena, 25. January, 2016.

TümmlerChilean scientists and professionals have requested short-term assistance from Sphenisco, because they fear that through the construction of three ports, that the marine area of La Higuera and the Island of Chañaral in northern Chile will be irreversibly destroyed, an area that is one of the 35 most-important hotspots of biodiversity on the planet. The realization of these projects would mean the end for the Humboldt Penguin. A port in an ecosystem of global importance has already been approved, because the environmental compatibility was only reviewed for the sake of appearance (see also this internet site, Letter to President Bachelet, 12. Feb. 2015). There is currently a court case in process that was brought against the decision to approve this port project. Currently, the environmental compatibility review for the second port is in a crucial phase. With the “La Higuera-Chañaral Island Declaration” and the signature petition from Unterwasser“Save the Rainforest”

(, Sphenisco is turning to the Chilean and international public, da zu befürchten ist, because it is feared that also this second compatibility process will not be done in a proper manner.

Sphenisco appeals to nature and species-protection organizations, as well as friends of nature throughout the entire world, to sign the petition and to support its declaration, in order to bring attention to the threatening loss of this meaningful ecosystem. Sphenisco's chairman requests that all of its members and member-organisations utilize their connections to the media, or to mention them to Chairwoman Gabriele Knauf.

In the coming weeks Sphenisco will personally inform parliamentarians, senators, and Lobo Marinorepresentatives of the media, in order to prompt parliamentary enquiries and investigations into the environmental compatibility review in the Coquimbo Region.




Sphenisco e.V./Eckenerstr. 6/D 76829 Landau

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it./


Coquimbo, February 12, 2015


The Humboldt Penguins are Again Threatened!

A “Hotspot” of Global Importance to Biodiversity is Seriously in Danger!



Honorable Mrs.

Michelle Bachelet Jeria

President of the Republic of Chile,

Ministers, and Public Office Holders



Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

In our second letter, we are again turning to you, in order to provide additional information to the first letter, and to again express our deep concern about the great danger that the marine and coastal region is under, the region in which 80% of the entire world's population of the Humboldt Penguin lives, and for whose protection on January 3, 1990 “The National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin” and later the “Marine Protection Area of the Islands of Choros and Damas” were created.

1. On January 30, 2015, during an exceptional meeting of the Commission for the Determination of the Environmental Compatibility, the port project Cruz Grande was approved, with only one vote against it (1).

2. This approval took place without any consideration of the foreseeable consequences to the marine environment, which is absolutely not comprehensible, because the project is for the “building and operation of a port for the purpose of bulk cargo storage and the shipment of ores in pellet form” (2).

3. The entire coastal area between Caleta Hornos and the Island of Chañaral was not interpreted to be a collective ecosystem. Thus were the federally-protected areas that were only 14 sea miles away, not considered as within the area of environmental impact of this planned project, and that despite the fact that such potential environmental impact was declared a factor from the very beginning by the government-appointed agency CONAF. The oceanographic features (the current, vorticity, and constant upwelling) and the topographical features (bathymetry, islands) make this ecosystem singular in Chile, and enable a particularly rich variety of species which, because of its global importance for the preservation of biodiversity, had previously been prioritized as worthy of protection by the Chilean State itself.

4. By the same token, more than 15 federally-protected areas would be threatened, areas set up for the purpose of shellfish harvesting, where Locos (Concholepas choncholepas) is also harvested; there is the danger of marine pollution, and the project entails restrictions for the fishers.

5. The presentation of these issues by SEA (Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental – the Agency For Review of Environmental Compatibility) was very superficial and general. Thus, not all potential ramifications of this project were indicated, the comments of the citizens were only perfunctorily addressed, and the stipulations mentioned by SERNAPESCA (Chilean Federal Fishery Ministry) and SUBPESCA (the regional Fishery Ministry) ignored, stipulations that would have helped lend legal conformity to the project.

6. The speed with which the environmental compatibility of the project was declared and signed was surprising, on the day of the extraordinary meeting itself, by the local regional governmental head, Mrs. Hanne Utreras, and the regional director of SEA, Mrs. Claudia Martinez.

7. When we arrived at the Regional Administration Office to take part in the meeting, which was to be open to the public, there was a surprising number of police, both in uniform and in civilian clothing.Whoever wanted to observe the meeting had to turn in their identification card (e.g., passport). This is all very strange, as the government claimed that the participation of the citizenry was desired and to be promoted.

8. The crowning moment was when, five days after the approval of the port project was signed, the Regional Secretary of the Agricultural Ministry, resigned. He was the only one that acted in conformity with the analysis of his team regarding the project, and the only one who voted against the project. Might it be coincidence that personal problems made it impossible for him to stay in his position after he voted against a deficient project, a project which will cause negative consequences from which the biodiversity of the coast and marine area will never be able to recover?

We see it as our duty as citizens, to bring these matters of fact to your attention, facts that were mentioned as the background of our previous writing to you dated January 27th, and which present a highly alarming picture. We urgently insist on an exact examination of this project, in order to prevent damage that will no longer be able to be reversed!

Biodiversity is the basis of the environment and the well-being of humanity!

Gabriele Knauf



(1) A vote against a project by a government body is in actuality enough to prevent a project from satisfying the Environmental Capability Test, or at the very least would only allow it with restrictions.

(2)The port project Cruz Grande is expected to result in the shipping of 13,500,000 tons of iron on 75 freight ships, and in the neighboring mining project Dominga, that also includes the building of a port, there are an additional 56 freight ships planned. This would be the beginning of an “announced death” for biodiversity and the Humboldt Penguin.



Coquimbo, 27. January, 2015


Dear Mrs. Michelle Bachelet Jeria,

President of the Republic of Chile,

Your Excellence:


We are turning to you, as well as to the national and regional authorities, parliamentary representatives, and the citizens of Chile with this open letter, to publicly point out the grave irregularities taking place with the Test of Environmental Compatibility under the project “Port Cruz Grande”. Should the project be approved, these irregularities will result in irreversible consequences for the National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguins, the marine protection area “Choros Damas”, the “Sitio Prioritario para la Conservación de la Biodiversidad Reserva Marina Punta de Choros” (the marine area of Punta de Choros, whose biodiversity is of primary importance for protection), as well as the protected marine areas “Áreas de Manejo y Explotación de Recursos Bentónicos (AMERB)”, which are areas dedicated to the sustainable harvest of shellfish.

Please allow us to introduce ourselves: “Sphenisco” is a non-profit society with its home in Germany. It is dedicated to the prevention of the extinction of the threatened Humboldt Penguin (1). Since the end of the 1990s we have been supporting, first as private citizens, and since 2007 as a registered society, the scientific research into this species, the development of sustainable tourism, environmental education and a citizens’ movement, which substantially contributed to the prevention of the building of coal-fired power plants in the immediate vicinity of the National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin.

Based on the imminent decision on the environmental sustainability of the port project Cruz Grande on 30. January, 2015, we again would like to publicly express our deep concern, and to point out that this decision is set to be made without correcting the mistakes or addressing the flaws that have been repeatedly raised by different governmental agencies at each phase of the Test of Environmental Compatibility process. In the following eleven points, we will mention the events and administrative actions that are not comprehensible, and reveal what grave consequences these flawed evaluation processes can have.

1. This project was submitted for a Test of Environmental Compatibility (SEIA) by the company CMP (Compania Minera del Pacifico S.A.). It is expected that the port will clear and dispatch 75 ships a year, for freighters with a DWT (dead weight) of 300,000 tons and an average load of 180,000 tons per ship. Further, there is a second port planned for 56 more freighters expected whose sole purpose would be to support the planned “Dominga” mining project, and most certainly additional ships that would be needed for indirect and third-party services.

2. Although from the beginning and in all other following phases of the environmental evaluation, organizations such as CONAF (a Chilean Federal Agency responsible for safeguarding the National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin), Sernapesca (The Chilean Fishery Ministry), and Subpesca (The Regional Chilean Fishery Agency) called for the review of application of this project according to the requirements under Regulation Number 19.300, Article 11, Point B, and although they pointed out that there was insufficient information submitted in order to be able to review the application according to regulatory requirements, the evaluation process has nontheless continued. The aforementioned regulation specifically states that the following must be taken into consideration when deciding on the establishment of the location of a project: “...the placement of the project in or proximity of residential areas, natural protection areas, otherwise-designated protection sites, protected wetlands, glaciers; in other words, areas that therefore could be potentially damaged, such that the intact environment in the area where the project is to be located could be negatively affected.” (2)

3. Equally, the well-founded claims of the aforementioned agencies have been ignored, that the project's affected area as defined by the company CMP be expanded to take into consideration the above-mentioned protection areas. At the same time, these protection areas are home to a variety of threatened species that use this territory as breeding and nesting places, as well as for foraging and places of rest. Further, in the area between Punta de Choros und Caleta Hornos there are more than fifteen AMERBs and five aqua cultures.

4. The governmental agencies have repeatedly objected that the repercussions of the port project have only been partially taken into consideration, and that other factors that are not environmentally sustainable, such as the ship traffic, have simply not been mentioned in the application. Thus, CMP has attempted to claim that the ship traffic is not in their realm of responsibility and pointed out that the transport over the sea would be done by third-parties. However, part of CMP's realm of responsibility would be the prevention of the import of nonnative species in the ballast water as well as preventing hydrocarbons from leaking into the sea.(3)

5. We are very irritated by all this, and cannot comprehend how the agencies such as Sernapesca, Subpesca, as well as the regional environmental ministry, who all spoke out against this project, now suddenly have provided their support to it, despite the fact that the end of the evaluation cannot yet be realized, considering the fact that the controversial points have not been resolved, the very same controversial points that have previously led to rejection by these very same agencies.

6. Grave as well also appears to be the fact that the call from governmental organizations, that the project was to be newly submitted for environmental compatibility review in accordance with Regulation Nr. 19.300, Article 11, Point B, was completely ignored. There is not a single document that shows how this decision to ignore legal process was determined, no explanation, and no verbal discussion about the issue.

7. Everything that has been carried out so far obtains a much more important meaning when one realizes that the area where the port “Cruz Grande” and the port of the planned mining project “Dominga” (from the company Andes Iron) are to be built, happens to be where one of the 34 globally-important hotspots of biodiversity is located, making this particular area extremely important to protect (Mittermeier et al. 2004). This marine area features an especially exceptional biodiversity, due to the fact that one of the two most important so-called cold upwelling areas in central and northern Chile is found there, which makes a high production of plankton and phytoplankton possible. As a result of this high production of plankton and phytoplankton, there is an abundance of fish and shellfish, which is of vital importance to the survival of the threatened species that live there, as well as for the livelihood of the people living in the coastal areas.

8. Among the prominent characteristics of this marine area are firstly, the fact that it is where 80% of the globally-remaining population of the red-listed, threatened species of Humboldt Penguin lives and breeds (Red List of the IUCN); secondly, that it is also where the most productive AMERBs of the Coquimbo region lie, and where 60% of the so-called Locos (Concholepas concholepas sea snail) of the Coquimbo Region are harvested (4); thirdly, that this is where numerous emblematic and threatened species live, such as the Red-Footed Cormorant, the Bottle nose Dolphin, the South American Sea Lion, the Peruvian Diving Petrel, and the Sea Otter; and fourthly, this is where over twelve species of large and small whales forage.

9. Academics and scientists of Chilean universities, renowned experts, and public agencies have all openly advocated that the coast from La Higuera to the Island of Chanaral in the community of Freirina be declared an “Área Marina y Costera Protegida de Multiples Usos” (Marine Protection Area with Multiple Use), and in this way meaningfully increase the percentage of protected marine and coastal areas in Chile.

10. All scientific studies and information collected on this topic, from national experts as well as international ones, warn collectively that the building of a large port and the therefrom resulting traffic would result in unrectifiable damage to this valuable ecosystem, and that it would also negatively impact the coastal fishers. “Is there truly no other alternative to this for the transport of ore?”

11. In closing, honored President, inspired by your own life story and your social commitment for the general prosperity and involvement of the citizenry in value-based politics, we turn to you as well as a woman and mother, as a professional, who wishes from the bottom of her heart for a better world. Just as the rest of us, you hope to allow all of our children to be able to see the large fish, sea snails, and Humboldt Penguins not just now, but in the future as well.

Gabriele Knauf
President of Sphenisco

(1) The goal of Sphenisco is, through cooperation with scientists and conservationists in Chile and Peru, to prevent the extinction of the Humboldt Penguin, to preserve the living and breeding conditions in its natural habitat, and to improve conditions while under the care of humans (in zoos throughout the world).

(2) ...within the scope of the Test of Environmental Compatibility (SEIA)... it is the duty of the evaluating agency (SEA) to review the quantity and quality of the information brought before it.

(3) Ports, paths of navigation, ship yards, and such, in all their phases can have an impact on the environment, which is exactly why they need to be evaluated regarding their environmental compatibility. In addition, all paths of the ships on the sea, on the rivers, lakes, mooring and unmooring points, as well as the permanent presence of larger ships, and all that which corresponds to the care of these ships, their loads, their passengers or crew, are all part of the requirements per Art. 3°, D.S. 95/2001 of the Regulations of the Environmental Compatibility Evaluation.

(4) Carcamo et al. 2011












Humboldt Penguin (Picture: Stefan Görlitz)

























We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.