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Monitoring Lenga Tree Reforestation in Torres del Paine

After forest fires scorched Torres del Paine's landscape, reforestation efforts are bringing forth new life and helping to rehabilitate the park

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is known to many as the 8th wonder of the world. With granite peaks that pierce the wind-blistered sky and glaciers that extend for miles into the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, it’s no wonder that tourism here has grown exponentially in the last decade. While this tourism brings significant economic growth and opportunity to surrounding communities, it sometimes comes at a cost to the park’s ecology. 

Since 1985, there have been three man-made forest fires in the park. All of these fires were started by tourists. The fires ravaged almost 1/3 of the park’s surface area, leaving many dense Patagonian forests unrecognizable and barren. These forests are primarily made up of two types of trees: lenga and ñirre. These native species have adapted to Patagonia’s strong weather and harsh climate, and contribute to the region’s iconic landscape. They also play an important role in sustaining the park’s biodiversity and ensuring watershed health. Indeed, many of the park’s 40 different mammals and 115 bird species, including the endangered huemul deer, rely on the park’s forest ecosystems for their habitat. 

Naturally occurring forest fires are nonexistent in this part of the world. That means when a species like lenga is devastated by human-induced fires, it won’t automatically recover. As a result, humans must intervene to rehabilitate and revegetate the ecosystems. 

In response to the fires, Chile’s National Forest Corporation, CONAF, began ecological restoration efforts to accelerate recuperation of the park’s damaged forest ecosystems. Lenga seedlings are cultivated in a nursery until they are ready to be transferred into the park. They are then replanted in small clusters, or “nuclei,” of 100 in the least resilient fire-affected areas. To date, more than 810,000 lenga seedlings have been planted in the park.

Our Role

Our Torres del Paine Legacy Fund program supported CONAF’s restoration efforts by monitoring the reforested lenga nuclei. Local Chilean volunteers joined us on field expeditions to collect data on the health and growth of the young seedlings. This data helps CONAF understand the tendencies of lenga and identify ways to improve reforestation efforts. In addition, the volunteers learned about the environmental challenges the park faces when it comes to reforestation and increasing tourism. 

In October 2019, a group of 10 Chilean volunteers accompanied by our Legacy Fund Field Director embarked on a monitoring expedition into the park. Over the course of eight days, they monitored the health of more than 13,800 lenga plants. Primarily working in the Pudeto and Carretas sectors of the park, these volunteers endured snow, howling wind, and off-trail terrain to gather data on the replanted lenga.

Between the previous monitor in 2017 and this expedition, few plants had died off. In fact, the majority had grown at a healthy rate. In many nuclei, the number of live plants was as high as 98 out of the original 100. These high initial survival rates show promise for the long-term health of these forests. 

Our volunteers from all over Chile were the heart and soul of this week of monitoring. Thanks to their positive attitudes and eagerness to learn, we were able to support the park and provide data that will be expounded upon in continued reforestation efforts. 

For more information about this program and our work in Chilean Patagonia, click here.

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Our Partners

  • CONAF

Related Work

Engaging Students in Reforestation

Involving local schools in restoring Torres del Paine National Park’s native ecosystem after damage caused by several man-made forest fires.

Improving Recycling Infrastructure

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park.

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Kawesqar woman weaving a basket

Kawésqar Community Tourism & Empowerment Project

Community-run tourism to celebrate the forgotten heritage of Patagonia’s indigenous people

While best known for its iconic glaciers and peaks, Torres del Paine and its gateway community of Puerto Natales also possess a rich cultural heritage. Much of this heritage is rooted in the history and traditions of the region’s indigenous people – the Kawésqar. A seafaring, nomadic people, the Kawésqar were among the first inhabitants of southern Chile’s channels and fjords. Today, only 13 Kawésqar communities remain across the Magallanes region.  

Like many first peoples, the Kawesqár have been marginalized from the local tourism economy. Despite the fact that over 260,000 tourists visit Torres del Paine each year, few learn about the Kawésqar and their unique heritage. Traditions and stories of the past tend to be overshadowed by the dramatic natural landscapes the area is known for. The predominant historical narrative centers around the figure of the gaucho, cowboys descended from European immigrants.

Our Role

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is working with members of the Kawésqar pueblo to revitalize their culture through a series of capacity-building, tourism, and entrepreneurship trainings. Ultimately, this project will allow the participating communities to build a common narrative and create a space where Kawésqar can share their rich history and traditions with visitors and residents. The project imagines Kawésqar exchanging their traditions with tourists, and selling their food, art, and guide services. The Legacy Fund and its partners will equip Kawésqar communities with the necessary skills and knowledge to sustainably manage and develop their own tourism products.

This indigenous empowerment project aims to enhance destination sustainability by:

  • Raising awareness and increasing appreciation of the region’s indigenous heritage
  • Preserving and celebrating waning cultural traditions
  • Expanding income generating opportunities for the Kawésqar people
  • Providing a more diverse, immersive, and authentic visitor experience

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation that is ensuring a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.

Protect the Places You Love

Join us in preserving Chile’s unique cultural heritage and expanding opportunities for indigenous communities! Make a gift today to support our work in Chilean Patagonia.

Our Partners

  • Kawesqar
  • Evoluzion

Related Work

Repairing Eroded Trails

Restoring Torres del Paine’s most popular trekking route, the Base Torres trail.

Improving Recycling Infrastructure

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park.

Stay in Touch

Get our email updates to see how we’re protecting our planet’s most vulnerable and treasured destinations

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Torres del Paine Chile

Restoring the Base Torres Trail

The most popular of Torres del Paine’s trekking routes is the Base Torres trail. And for good reason. After traversing through plunging valleys and rocky slopes, adventurers are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the park’s centerpiece – the “Towers of Paine. These three iconic granite spires tower high above a turquoise lagoon at the crest of the trail.

During high season, the Base Torres trail can receive 1,000 hikers in a single day. This heavy foot traffic, causes significant wear and tear on the trail. As a result, the Base Torres trail is now severely eroded. Other factors, including the harsh climate, steep grades, and poor trail alignment only exacerbate these impacts.

Our Role

These degraded trail conditions not only pose a safety concern for hikers, they also impact the park’s sensitive ecosystems. Improving the Base Torres trail is an urgent priority requiring a large-scale, public-private effort. To address this challenge, the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is teaming up with the Chilean National Forest Corporation (CONAF) and AMA Torres del Paine to implement a collaborative conservation project titled “Tu Mejor Huella para el Paine.”

This project will restore the Base Torres trail system. Tread will be repaired and constructed following sustainable design principles. Creating a sustainable trail system will reduce erosion, lessen environmental impacts, and minimize the need for continual maintenance.

Improved trail conditions will lead to a safer, more enjoyable visitor experience. At the same time, the rejuvenated trail will connect people with nature in an engaging and responsible way. Trail stewardship is key to protecting the long-term health of our national parks, particularly one as popular as Torres del Paine.

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation that is ensuring a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.

Tu Mejor Huella Video

Give Back

Leave behind your best footprint for Torres del Paine! Join us in preserving this iconic, yet fragile destination by donating your square meter today.

Our Partners

  • CONAF
  • AMA Torres del Paine

Related Work

Engaging Students in Reforestation

Involving local schools in restoring Torres del Paine National Park’s native ecosystem after damage caused by several man-made forest fires.

Improving Recycling Infrastructure

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park.

Stay in Touch

Get our email updates to see how we’re protecting our planet’s most vulnerable and treasured destinations

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Carrying Google Trekker camera in Torres del Paine National Park

Using virtual imagery to connect people to nature in Torres del Paine

One of the most remote corners of the world can now be experienced like never before. Thanks to a partnership between the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund and Google Trekker, 360-degree imagery of Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park can be accessed online via Google Maps. Now, anyone, anywhere can virtually wander the trails through the park and explore the region’s rugged natural beauty.

In March 2017, a group of Legacy Fund staff, partners, and volunteers hit the trails of Torres del Paine, taking turns with a Google Trekker camera strapped to their back. Navigating the park’s steep, wet, and rocky terrain is challenging under any circumstance. Imagine doing it with a 42-pound sphere on your back. The camera’s 15 lenses face in different directions, taking photos every 2.5 seconds. Because the device can be carried on foot, it is able to capture panoramic images of places that would otherwise be difficult to reach. In just four days, the Legacy Fund team captured a total of 9,099 3D panoramic photos. These are now pieced together on Google Maps, showcasing the grandeur of Torres del Paine.

While nothing beats exploring the Patagonian wilderness in person, the new images are a nevertheless awe-inspiring alternative. By using Google Maps’ Street View, even those who can’t journey to southern Chile can still witness the incredible landscapes that make this such an iconic destination. Virtual adventurers can hop aboard a ferry to cross Lago Grey or view the Cuernos del Paine from Paine Grande campground. One of the most impressive segments is undoubtedly the trek atop Grey Glacier, a thick mass of ice stretching 3.7 miles wide and 98 feet high.

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation that is ensuring a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.

While the images primarily showcase the park’s beauty, they also expose some of the environmental wear and tear that has occurred throughout the park. Scarred tree limbs serve as a reminder of the damage left behind from recent forest fires, while eroded trails are the result of heavy use and limited maintenance resources.

A sense of resilience and hope also pervades the images, which capture some of the park’s ongoing conservation efforts. Keep an eye out for the lenga tree nursery tucked along the interpretive trail at the Reserva Cerro Paine. Built with support from the Legacy Fund, this nursery provides a sanctuary for lenga seedlings until they are ready to be planted for reforestation.

A unique awareness raising and conservation tool

We believe that connecting people with our planet’s natural diversity is one of the best ways to inspire them to protect it. We hope that by giving people all around the world a close-up look at this spectacular destination, that this project will ignite an ever broader appreciation of Torres del Paine and compel more people to take action to protect this magnificent, but fragile environment.

The new imagery could also serve as a useful tool for conservation efforts. By comparing the images to current conditions, park managers and conservationists can see how the park’s ecosystems and infrastructure changes over the years. When paired with supplementary data, this type of visual reference point could be helpful for prioritizing needs and evaluating progress.

Protect the Places You Love

Your gift will help conserve our planet’s most vulnerable destinations and empower the people who live there

Related Work

Engaging Students In Reforestation

Involving local schools in restoring Torres del Paine National Park’s native ecosystem after damage caused by several man-made forest fires

Puerto Natales Recycling Program

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park 

Galapagos Islands Scenic View

Linking local fishers to the Galápagos tourism economy

Balancing marine conservation with community well-being by adding value to the local fish economy in Galapagos Marine Park.

A biodiversity hotspot both on land and underwater, the Galapagos Islands are an area of extraordinary global biological significance.  Because the islands are extremely isolated, an especially high percentage of the species in the Galapagos cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. In addition, the region serves as a habitat for nearly 3,000 marine species and is home to the largest biomass of sharks on the planet.

Marine Life in Danger

Hammerhead shark

Growing pressures from legal and illegal fishing practices increasingly threaten the islands’ unique marine life. Over the years, certain species such as sea cucumbers and lobsters have been exploited by overfishing. Sharks are particularly vulnerable as they are often hunted for their valuable fins which are used to make shark-fin soup – a delicacy in Asian markets.  The decline of shark populations extends far beyond the Galapagos region with scientists estimating that almost 100 million sharks are killed each year. At this rate, it is impossible for the sharks to reproduce fast enough to maintain their population. This not only threatens the long-term existence of many shark species, but also results in serious consequences for marine ecosystems as a whole.  

Conservation at Odds with Local Livelihoods

Galapagos fisherman market

Over the years, fishermen in the Galapagos have faced numerous added regulations as local priorities have shifted towards conservation and tourism development. Since the Galapagos Marine Reserve was created in 1998, commercial fishing has been restricted within its borders and local fishermen have only been allowed to practice artisanal fishing. In 2016, Ecuador formed a 15,000 square-mile marine sanctuary within the existing Marine Reserve.  By banning fishing in designated areas, the new sanctuary is designed help threatened wildlife populations to thrive. While conservation measures such as these are beneficial for wildlife, they can also have unintended consequences for local communities, such as the over 400 local fishermen and their families who depend on harvesting fish for their livelihoods.

Our Role

While it may be easy to point fingers at the fishermen and overlook their concerns, our experience has shown that environmental conservation and community well-being should go hand in hand.  As one of the oldest economic activities on the islands, fishing is deeply embedded within the Galapagos’ culture. For many of the fishermen, it is a way of life that has been passed down from one generation to the next. Losing the fishermen would not only alter the community’s identity, but it would also threaten local food security and drive up reliance on imported food – meaning higher prices for locals as well as an increased likelihood of new biohazards being introduced to the islands.  In addition, it would also diminish the authenticity of the Galapagos culinary tourism experience.

To lessen tensions surrounding the new sanctuary, in 2016 Sustainable Travel International worked with the fishermen, government, park management, local businesses, and NGOs to identify ways to support those affected by the added regulations.  Through a series of interviews, workshops, and focus groups, our team was able to gain a better understanding of the problems and potential opportunities related to two intervention strategies: 

  1. Increasing the value of locally-caught fish
  2. Pinpointing alternative livelihood opportunities for fishermen within the marine tourism sector

Through this collaborative process, we developed an action plan that outlines recommended next steps for the Government of Ecuador to alleviate the conflict and successfully implement these strategies. We hope that once this plan is put into action, that it will result in a beneficial future for both the wildlife and the residents of the Galapagos. 

Location

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Destination: Galápagos Islands

Region: South America

Dates

2016

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Puerto Natales Chile recycling project

Puerto Natales Recycling Project

Since 2015, the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund, a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation, has provided over $6,000 in grant funding to the Municipality of Puerto Natales to install the town’s first permanent recycling system.

Located in Chilean Patagonia, the city of Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. Puerto Natales is home to 20,000 people; however, park visitation results in an additional 200,000 visitors flowing through the city annually. This population generates a substantial amount of waste. As tourist numbers continue to rapidly grow, there is an ever increasing need for waste reduction and waste management solutions in the surrounding community.

Historically, all of Puerto Natales’ waste has either been found scattered throughout the streets or piling up in the ever-expanding landfill on the outskirts of town. Fortunately, this all began to change in 2010 when the owners of Erratic Rock hostel, a mainstay for backpackers passing through Puerto Natales, decided to address the town’s waste management problems. Motivated by a desire to preserve the local wilderness and improve conditions for both residents and visitors, Erratic Rock took action towards developing a recycling solution.

Despite the lack of a formal infrastructure, Erratic Rock began to organize regular recycling days each week within their own business community to collect recyclable materials. These initial efforts were funded by Erratic Rock along with grant funding provided by Patagonia, Inc. through their 1% for the Planet contribution. When enough materials were collected to fill a shipping container, the container was added to existing cargo headed weekly on a ferry to Puerto Montt, home of the closest recycling facility, over 2,000 kilometers north.

Due to the success of this movement, the Municipality of Puerto Natales (MuniNatales) agreed to assume management of the operation in 2014. Although the transition provided increased local capacity for its continued success, the operation lacked the resources for expansion into a permanent infrastructure for the city. Erratic Rock continued to receive the grant funding from Patagonia through 1% for the Planet until the program was discontinued in 2014.

This is when the Legacy Fund stepped in to support the Puerto Natales Recycling Project. The initial grant provided by the Legacy Fund allowed MuniNatales to purchase five containers to act as clean points, or “puntos limpios.” These containers were distributed throughout the town for residents to dispose of their recycling. The effort was expanded when BORSI, a German thermoplastic processing company, agreed to sponsor the purchase of ten more containers. Every week, the material collected from the containers is transported to a collection center on the outskirts of town. The materials are then sorted and compacted by employees of Recipat, a local recycling company based in Punta Arenas. Once sufficient material is collected, everything is shipped via truck or boat to recycling centers in Puerto Montt and Santiago.

The “puntos limpios” are only the beginning of a more sustainable future for the community of Puerto Natales. With this small infrastructure in place, education and awareness-building are needed to promote the recycling system to the town’s residents and businesses. As the program continues to expand and recycling becomes a common practice for everyone in the town, the long-term plan is to develop a modern recycling facility in Puerto Natales that will service the entire Magallanes region.

Tourism will continue to grow in Torres del Paine National Park and the surrounding region. With this growth, it becomes increasingly important for the area to have systems in place to be able to manage the influx of people and the waste that they create.

Learn more about Sustainable Travel International’s efforts in and around Torres del Paine National Park.

Our Work in Torres del Paine National Park

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation that is ensuring a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.