• WorldView
  • 3 Min Read
  • 9 Apr 2020

Karukinka Natural Park: An Innovative Model of Conservation

Karukinka Natural Park is a very special place with a very special story. Roughly the size of Rhode Island, it spans 735,522 acres across the southern edge of Patagonia on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego—a land visited by both Magellan and Darwin. Within its borders you can find the world’s southernmost old-growth forest, a complex of wetland systems, peat bogs, mountains, and alpine meadows, plus over 90 animal species. And since 2004, this incredible wealth of natural diversity has all been carefully protected thanks to a unique public-private partnership between Goldman Sachs and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Together, they’ve set an incredible new standard for conservation worldwide.

For Lindblad naturalist Santiago Imberti, the park holds particularly special and personal meaning—it’s where he met his wife Melissa, a WCS representative and Karukinka’s park coordinator. The two got to know each other when she came aboard National Geographic Explorer to speak with guests—and the rest was history! Here, Santiago shares some thoughts on Karukinka’s many wonders.

Karukinka trees.jpgBent and sculptural, the trees in this forest tell the story of a wild and windswept landscape. Photo: Linda Burback

"Karukinka Park represents a surprising and positive turn of events for the natural world. Here you can find glaciers, and typically Antarctic leopard seals, resting on a nearby ice floe! You can see native guanaco, endangered culpeo foxes and black-browed albatross. The juxtaposition of all these incredible elements in one place, against a backdrop of thick, wind-tortured forest and steep fjords is truly 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. Off the coast in the surrounding waters, there have been recent sightings of Chilean dolphins, humpback whales and sei whales too."

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Special permission is required to enter the park and spot charismatic wildlife like this elated elephant seal.

"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."

See what a day in Karukinka looks like!