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Doña Sebastiana Island


Conservation benefit: Eventual declaration of 24,710-acre permanent marine protected area

Community benefit: Development of management plan; equipment to promote ecotourism

Date Approved: 06.2017


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

Doña Sebastiana Island is part of southern Chile’s Chiloé Archipelago. The region is home to a huge variety of plants and animals, many of them endemic. The list includes South American sea lions, elephant seals, blue whales, dolphins, and cormorants, just to name a few.

The island has no legal protection. But the Encuramapu Indigenous Community, a group of Mapuche-Iafkenche people from the nearby port town of Carelmapu, wants to change that. They want the government to designate the island area as a “marine protected area for indigenous peoples.” That would offer strict, permanent protection.

To obtain that status, they must submit a management plan, with extensive data about the area’s ecosystem and culture. The community, however, does not have the technical sophistication or money needed to create such a plan. So they will use most of a Seacology grant to hire the experts necessary to prepare the formal request.

The rest of the grant will help community members develop ecotourism. After training in environmentally responsible tourism, they will take visitors out to see marine mammals and birds. They will also buy VHF radios, an outboard motor, binoculars, life jackets, and other equipment used for both ecotourism and to keep an eye on the protected area.

Project Updates

February 2024

A highly invasive anemone species is colonizing the protected area, competing with species caught commercially and for subsistence. Seacology made another grant to support a community monitoring system, the first step in fighting the invasion. The community has bought underwater cameras and related gear so that shellfish divers and other indigenous community members can map the damage, prepare information about it for the community, and identify control methods. For example, they want to make sure fishers know not to break the anemones, because that only makes them spread faster.

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May 2019

The community held a closing ceremony to honor completion of this project. The government’s decision on whether or not to create the requested MPA should come within the year. The process itself is already conferring protection, however; during the deliberation period, no new projects that affect the marine area can be approved. The community also bought an outboard motor, life jackets, and other equipment that will aid both the growing ecotourism industry and surveillance of the protected area.

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December 2018

This project is going well. Community members worked with a marine biologist, anthropologist, and geographer, and submitted an official request for creation of a marine protected area in October 2018. The government is now considering the request. The community is working on the ecotourism part of the project.

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May 2018

Community members are ready to submit the official request for creation of a marine protected area. Another six indigenous Mapuche communities have joined the MPA effort, adding significantly to its impact. They are now ready to start developing ecotourism based on marine biodiversity and local culture.

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January 2018

This project is well underway. A launching ceremony, attended by indigenous community members, local leaders, and Seacology field representative Claudio Delgado, was held early last fall. A team comprising a marine biologist, anthropologist, and geographer then began meeting with the artisanal fishermen. In November and December, workshops focused on gathering information about and mapping ancestral uses in the proposed protected area. A rapid biological assessment of marine fauna in the area was scheduled for January.

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