Chile penguins win battle in war against mine

2017-10-13 08:17
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La Higuera - They may be less than a metre tall but they have conquered a Goliath: Chile's vulnerable Humboldt penguins have thwarted - for now at least - a billion dollar mining project in one of the country's most depressed regions.

The rare species is only found on the coasts of Peru and Chile, which has created the National Humboldt Penguin Reserve - but it's also an area rich in natural resources which has put the animals on a collision course with mining giant Andes Iron and their $2.5bn project.

Conservationists jumped to their defence when the company unveiled plans to construct a huge open-cast mine and a port near the reserve, 600km north of Santiago.

The Dominga mine would have produced 12 million tons of iron ore a year, making it the biggest of its kind in the country, and 150 000 tons of copper.

For months it made headlines amid a bitter national debate over economic development and environmental conservation that was fought out on social media and split the socialist government of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

The project was rejected in March by an environmental commission, but Andes Iron appealed the ruling.

In August, a special cabinet committee which included the energy and mines, health and environment ministers, finally vetoed the project citing of a lack of guarantees for the penguins.

Humboldts have been protected here since 1990, when the reserve was set up to encompass the islands of Dama, Choros and Gaviota, a stunning nature trail beloved of whale, sea-lion and penguin watchers.

Conservation NGO Oceana warned of the risks to the ecosystem from the mine, whose port terminal was set to be built only 30km away from the island of Choros.

The conservation group argued that increased shipping traffic, with its greater risk of oil spills, would do untold harm to a known cetacean migrant route and pristine waters that provide a rich food source to several vulnerable species including the sea otter.


Read more on:    chile  |  marine life  |  conservation

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