Patagonia: A Love Story

A Naturalist finds the love of his life in one of the loveliest places

Karukinka Park represents a surprising and positive turn of events for the natural world. A forest that was once set to be destroyed by a timber company was successfully rescued at the last minute when the conservation movement won a huge battle against economic interests to save this massive, southernmost woodland on the planet. When the company went bankrupt, a timely donation from Goldman Sachs to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) created the largest protected tract of forest in Tierra del Fuego, conserving habitats from the depths of the fjords, to the top of the southern Andes, and everything in between. An area that was used by nomads and canoe people for thousands of years, as huge middens still testify, is now preserved for its natural and historical value. These are rare places where albatross breed in protected waters; Andean condors soar above them; and elephant seals bask on sandy beaches.

Here you can also find glaciers, and typically Antarctic leopard seals, resting on a nearby ice floe! The juxtaposition of all these incredible elements in one place, against a backdrop of thick, wind-tortured forest and steep fjords is unique. Hiking into the forest reveals smaller yet surprising wonders: carnivorous plants, delicate sub-Antarctic flowers, and endemic hummingbirds and Austral parrots, which seem totally out of place in these southern latitudes. The end of the world is also a place where I found something unexpected. My wife, Melissa, works for the WCS and is in charge of Karukinka. Every time our ship visits, a WCS representative comes on board for a few days to show and tell us about the area. A few years ago, Melissa joined us aboard National Geographic Explorer—fast-forward a bit and last July 4th was the day our baby boy, León, arrived. We are now an Argentinean-Chilean family.

Santiago Imberti, Naturalist

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