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Seacology helps indigenous Chileans reclaim control of huge marine area

August 12, 2020

Surrounded by clean, cold waters and snow-capped mountains, Koldita is one of many small islands in the Chiloé Archipelago, off central Chile. The area is home to Mapuche-Huilliche people, whose culture developed over centuries on these islands. The indigenous residents have long been stewards of both the marine and island ecosystems, and have relied on the area’s abundant fisheries for their livelihoods. The archipelago is home to a huge array of animals, including penguins, swans, flamingos, whales, two species of endangered otters, and endangered Chilean dolphins.

Since the mid-1990s, however, salmon and mussel farms have brought pollution, coastal sedimentation, and invasive species to the area, threatening native species. Expanding commercial aquaculture also threatens the indigenous people’s traditional way of life. Development on Koldita and surrounding islands has damaged important archaeological sites, and indigenous knowledge has been in decline. The Mapuche-Huilliche communities decided to pursue legal protection for their marine and coastal areas, and sought help from Seacology to implement their vision.


The Chiloé Archipelago is home to rich biodiversity including many marine mammals and seabirds.

Aquaculture in the area threatens water quality and risks releasing invasive species.

In 2016, we launched a project on Koldita Island, helping the indigenous community develop a management plan for a proposed 12,630-acre marine protected area around the island. Seacology’s field representative in Chile, Claudio Delgado, was key to this effort. Claudio, a marine biologist with two decades of marine conservation planning experience, worked closely with our partners to craft the management plan. Indigenous community leaders collaborated with artisanal fishing groups to ensure everyone agreed about how to protect and use the marine protected area. Our grant also let the community buy radios and binoculars to help enforce new restrictions in the protected area. 


Under a new agreement drafted with Seacology support, the local people will manage their expansive waters.

The Mapuche-Huilliche people have depended on the fisheries around the island for centuries.

The project is now complete. A draft management plan was approved and now controls the use of the area. The radios and binoculars are helping community members patrol and protect the marine area. New signs at the boat ramps let anyone heading out on the water know about restrictions on fishing. And because the project came in under budget, our partners used the extra funds to install solar panels on the visitors center. 

We are delighted to support the Mapuche-Huilliche people of Koldita Island as they use their deep environmental knowledge and passion to manage the seas around their island. Thanks to their dedication, the habitats of sea lions, seabirds, dolphins, and countless other creatures are now better protected – as is the unique Mapuche-Huilliche culture.