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Isla grande de Chiloé

The Chiloé Archipelago is located in the northern part of the Chilean Patagonia, in the X Region of Los Lagos. It is made up of the Big Island of Chiloé (the second largest island in South America), as well as 30 smaller islands, dozens of islets and rocky areas, located south of the Chacao Channel.

Chiloé has had a human population for more than 5,000 years which has given rise to the present day unique culture found on the island. The mix of the original Chono and Mapuche-Huilliche peoples, and the Spanish mestizo colonists, have given rise to the “Chilota Culture”, one of the most unique cultures and regional identities of Chile. Cultural expressions such as religious architecture in wood, its Hispanic forts, culinary customs, legends, stories, handicrafts, music, among other cultural manifestations have been recognized by such entities as part of the World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and World Agricultural Heritage by FAO.

Chiloe’s landscapes and its varied natural heritage, have garnered multiple awards from national and international tourist agencies and high rankings by specialized magazines as a tourist destination of culture and natural significance.

Archipiélago de Chiloé Map.

The island’s landscapes are characterized by the presence of ancient temperate rainforests in the uninhabited cordillera areas of the south and west, and by hundreds of small and medium dispersed settlements, surrounded by mini-fundos where grasslands and small forests alternate in the northern and eastern Archipelago, with channels on the eastern coast that are developing intense in the area of marine cultivation and extraction.

More than 170,000 people live in the archipelago, yet it is still one of the most rural provinces in Chile, despite the continuous emigration to its towns and cities. Almost the entire population of Chiloé is located in the north and east, due to the historical occupation of these coasts linked to the extraction of marine products from the inland sea and small-scale silvo-farming activities.

In contrast, the western sector of Chiloé has very few human settlements. The coasts are generally cliffs with some sectors of beaches with little tidal amplitude. Bordering the Cordillera de la Costa, which is covered by dense forests that were not affected by the last glaciations is a refuge of great biodiversity, which is protected by private and public conservation projects, which in spite of the past deforestation have advanced at a fast pace in the last three decades.

Threats

Today the Chiloé Archipelago is experiencing a process of accelerated cultural transformation, mixing traditional elements of a self-subsistence economy with elements of a global capitalist economy, mainly linked to maritime industries.

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Pingüino de Magallanes en islote Caicué, Calbuco.

The economic dependence of the sea and the land of the Chilota population is a key factor in their cultural, material and spiritual subsistence, although in the last four decades the seas have been transformed by industrial extraction processes that has led to the depletion of many species, with the added pressure of the privatization of marine resources and spaces.

In addition, the emergence of the salmon and chorizo aquaculture industry over the last four decades in the inland sea of Chiloé has led to profound cultural, ecological, demographic and economic transformations, including urban population growth, population decline in rural areas, excessive economic dependence on industrial marine activities, chemical, biological and physical pollution of the seas and beaches, the proletarianization of its population, the redevelopment of much of the geographic spaces, and the loss of cultural values. In addition, there has been a decrease in marine biodiversity, seascape pollution and successive crises caused by the salmon industries (sanitary and environmental) that have resulted in massive dismissals of workers and widespread unemployment.

In addition, during the last two decades, Chiloe has been troubled by summer droughts, monoculture tree plantations, industrial mega-projects and the degradation and loss of ecosystems of native forests and wetlands. Today Chiloé faces a historical socio-environmental crisis in an archipelago that is characterized by the fragility and finiteness of its ecosystems.

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