Featured Image Credit: Flickr
By Kira Krall
This past week, the Chilean government canned a $2.5 billion iron ore and copper mining project. Plans for the open mining system also included a port since the project would have shipped over 1 million tons of product per year. While the mining project could have boosted the economy, it would have come at a severe ecological cost to the neighboring Pinguino de Humboldt National Reserve.
The Reserve protects a breeding colony of Humboldt penguins. Allowing Humbolts to breed in peace is crucial to the survival of the species, as these aquatic birds are found only in Peru and Chile. This part of Chile’s coast also provides habitat for 13 endangered birds, seals and sea lions, and various species of whales.
Cancellation of the billion-dollar iron mining project falls in Chile’s long-standing ties with nature and its people. Fishing villages, environmentalist groups, and the government fought both the initial proposal in March and the subsequent appeal by mining giant Andes Iron.
While this decision represents Chile’s strong relationship with the environment, there’s evidence that other matters weighed heavily on the government’s decision. This part of the Pacific coast has extremely nutrient rich waters that cause fish populations to spike, creating a feast for sea birds, marine mammals, and humans alike. This area is only .02% of the entire ocean surface but it provides 20% of the world’s commercial fishing product. The Reserve and other protected wildlife areas bring in tourists from around the world who contribute to the $3 billion a year Chilean tourism industry. Opening a mine that would threaten these lucrative industries could wind up being counter-productive.
This win is huge for one of the most biologically productive areas on Earth. We hope that other countries will follow Chile’s example in protecting their environment.