Links of interest for

Chile : Chiloe


Chiloe is an archipelago located in the Los Lagos region in southern Chile just south of Puerto Montt, the region’s administrative capital. It lies midway between Santiago and the southernmost point of continental Chile, Tierra del Fuego. It is separated from the Chilean mainland by the Chacao Strait to the north, and by the Gulf of Ancud and the Gulf of Corcovado to the east; the Pacific ocean lies to the west, and the Chonos Archipelago lies to the south, across the Boca del Guafo. The archipelago is composed of Chiloe’s main island (Isla Grande), a group of 23 other islands and several smaller islets. As a province, Chiloe is a second-level administrative division of Chile, governed by a provincial governor who is appointed by the president. The province is composed of ten communes, each governed by a a municipality consisting of an alcalde and municipal council. The main island is 190 km from north to south, and averages 55–65 km wide. The capital is Castro,  on the east side of the island; the second largest town is Ancud, at the island's northwest corner, and there are several smaller port towns on the east side of the island, such as Quellon,   Dalcahue  and Chonchi. The whole province of Chiloe has a population of around 170,000 inhabitants of which 44% are in rural locations.

The island's name comes from the word ‘Chilhué’, which means “seagulls place". Inhabited at the beginning by Chonos (a nomadic indigenous group) and later on by Huilliches (part of the native Mapuche tribe from the mainland), the island was discovered by the Spaniards on November 8th, 1553. It got its independence in 1926. That same year the Province of Chiloe was created and the city of Castro became the capital. Having evolved for centuries isolated from mainland Chile, the islanders developed a strong, self-reliant culture, rich in folklore, mythology and tradition. This very identity is what constitutes the island’s major attraction for domestic and international visitors. Tourism to Chiloe is strongly based on the island’s cultural heritage, predominantly consisting of museum exhibitions, local handicrafts, particularly woolens and basketry, seafood cuisine and appreciation of the distinctive wooden architecture derived from its forest-covered landscape.

Chiloe experienced a relative insularity from continental Chile until the rapid expansion of aquaculture in the early 1990s within which the salmon industry dominates in size and changed the whole social dynamics of the island as these studies   illustrate. For two decades, salmon farming had appeared to be Chile’s new El Dorado. By 2006 Chile challenged Norway as the largest salmon producing country on earth, but it took a disaster,  in the form of a virus known as infectious salmon anemia that wiped out the industry in Los Lagos region in 2007, to drive home the point that salmon farming offers only the illusion of economic growth and was a net loser for the environment, artisanal fishing communities and eco-tourism. The Occupational and Environmental Observatory of Chiloe (OLACH)  has worked tirelessly on the analysis of problems associated with salmon farming and produced various reports. With the industry now showing signs of a major revival OLACH is supporting the Pure Salmon Campaign  to improve the way salmon is produced and seeking to address the poor working conditions of local employees.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

Chile is working to develop alternative energy sources to meet rising demand and become less dependent on fossil fuels and the nation’s three major energy producers – Endesa, Colbun and AES. With the economy growing at about 6 percent per year, the country predicts its energy demand will double by 2025. More than 80 percent of electricity is used by industry, and mostly for Chile's world-leading copper mining exports. Currently, hydroelectric dams provide nearly half the nation's energy, with the rest from coal and natural gas imports. The government has set a goal that by the end of this decade, at least 10 percent of Chile's electricity should come from geothermal, wind, solar, and other alternative sources.

In the early 1990’s 240,000 rural households were not electrified even though Chile’s energy sector had been growing by 7% since 1992. To address this problem, the Rural Electrification Program (REP) was launched by the central government in 1994. The Chiloe archipelago consists of more than 40 islands, of which 32 are too far from the coast to be connected to the mainland grid and either have no access to electricity, or intermittent access provided by diesel generators. As such, renewable electrification in Chiloe islands has always been a daunting task. In 1999 there was a pilot project implemented on Isla Tac, bringing a wind-diesel hybrid generation system to the island with 82 households. A team of experts conducted various studies and collected data but after a few successful years the system stopped operating because the local community  had no means of financing replacement parts and its long term maintenance.

Another study conducted in 2004, prepared by the e7 Fund in collaboration with Chile’s National Energy Commission and UNDP, presented the feasibility report of powering the Chiloe archipelago with renewable and/or hybrid energy systems under the REP. It concluded that installation of such systems was viable, sustainable and cost effective but they were never implemented. Instead, the REP in 2009 decided to proceed with the electrification of 22 of the internal islands of the archipelago using just diesel generators. Whilst about 223 households, schools, medical and social centres have all benefited from this program, it is not environmentally friendly nor viable economically. From 2010 it will cost the government US$3 million in subsidy per year for a period of ten years. Plans to electrify these islands using underwater cables from the big island continue, but this may take still several years, since they must obtain the water permits to pass the cables. The intention is that when that happens, the diesel generators will remain only as a backup system.

Several large wind projects are now underway for Chiloe that would triple the island’s current needs and allow it to export electricity rather than depend on the mainland. In 2010 Bosques de Chiloe sought approval from Chile’s Sistema de Evaluacion Ambiental (SEA) - the country’s Environmental Evaluation Service - to construct a wind farm near the central city of Dalcahue. The San Pedro wind farm will consist of 20 turbines, cost US$100 million to develop and will be capable of producing 36 MW of renewable energy for the nation’s central electric grid. The fisheries company Transantartic also filed approval for a 36 MW wind farm and expects to begin construction in May 2011.

Again in 2010, Ecopower,  a Chilean-Swiss renewable energy firm, sought to develop a 112 MW wind farm (Parque Eolico) comprising 56 turbines with an estimated cost of US$235 million. The SEA granted approval in August 2011 for the development to be placed on a 2,500-acre area near Cocotue Bay near the city of Ancud at the north end of the island but community representatives and NGOs raised strong objections to the project.  One of the main issues is the presence of indigenous Huilliche communities near the proposed site. The Huilliche were not consulted about the project’s potential impact on their community, which is a violation of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. Other concerns include the presence of 14 archaeological sites – one of which is 6,000 years old – in the area and the turbines’ threats to bird populations, the fishing and tourism industries, and local blue whale populations that maybe affected by the turbines’ vibrations. Ecopower say they will create a foundation that will ensure the care and maintenance of archaeological sites and as the turbines will be nearly 500 feet above sea level, should not affect local whales. However, responding to an appeal by indigenous communities the Chilean Supreme Court ordered the suspension of the project in March 2012.

Other renewable energy initiatives have been considered for Chiloe. In 2009 it was reported that Endesa, Chile’s largest power company, would build a US$24 million micro-hydroelectric plant, called Piruquina, on the Carihueico river in Chiloe that would have the capacity to generate 7.6 MW. Although there is great forestry biomass potential in Chile, its development has been prevented mainly by the small-scale ownership of the forests, a situation that requires the implementation of associative business models to provide a reliable supply for a cogeneration plant. This project presents a supply chain model for a 2 MW demonstration CHP plant located in Chiloe. The plant size was established according to the power demand of four fishing companies located in the nearby area. The annual biomass requirement was calculated as 19,000 ton, which will mainly come from Canelo forest, an abundant species not commonly used as residential firewood due to its lower heating value than traditional species.

With the help of a grant from the Chilean government, a California-based biotechnology research company, Bio Architecture Lab (BAL),  has developed a 40 ha pilot seaweed farm on Chiloe to produce low-cost sugars that can be converted into ethanol. BAL has designed and engineered a microbe that enhances the conversion of seaweed into ethanol, butanol and other chemicals in roughly half the time found in nature. Macroalgae has the potential to generate more than 2,300 litres of sustainable low cost ethanol per hectare per year compared to 1,200 litres from sugarcane. In contrast to land-based biofuels like corn and sugarcane, which possess hard to degrade molecules known as lignin, seaweed is easy to break down, reduces carbon dioxide emissions and does not compete with land used for food or require increased use of fertilizer or chemicals.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Currently no recycling schemes exist on Chiloe and the main waste disposal facilities consist of landfills that have been subject to closure due to overflow. In 2010, following a study  of these solid waste management problems, Castro municipality submitted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a waste disposal plant to the then National Environmental Commission (CONOMA) now replaced by a new Ministry of Environment (MMA)  This project costing US$5.5m included building a sanitary landfill and a storage facility for commercially viable recyclables. It was expected this plant would receive up to 190t/day of solid waste from all ten Chiloe municipalities. In 2011 the municipality of Punta Arenas in Chile's southern region submitted an EIA to the MMA for a project to build a solid waste treatment system and sanitary landfill in Chiloe. The latter will have capacity to store 2.96Mt of solid waste and work also involves setting up a storage area for recyclable waste and a lixiviate treatment system. The facility is expected to have a 22-year lifespan, will cost US$10.5m and should begin operating by January 2015.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

In 2002 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization started an initiative for the conservation and adaptive management of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage systems (GIAHS)  with Chiloe as one of their pilot sites.  Traditionally the indigenous communities and farmers of Chiloe cultivated about 800-1000 native varieties of potatoes   before the onset of agricultural modernization. The varieties that still exist at present are the result of a long domestication process, selection and conservation made by ancient Chilotes. The conservation of such rich genetic diversity provides a major social-economic service to the Chilotan people by improving their nutrition, welfare and resiliency, as many varieties are resistant to introduced pathogens and droughts which are increasingly affecting the region. Native varieties are highly adapted to the range of ecological conditions found in the region and are of key importance for subsistence production.

With more than 60% of the population still living in rural areas, Chilotan small farmers located in inland as well as coastal valleys are cultivating native and exotic potatoes, giant garlic, wheat, barley and rye. Old apple varieties in small orchards with native vegetation are utilized to feed local breeds of sheep. In addition many farmers preserve native forest areas from which they derive wood and other non-timber products. Others gather from the wild or grow a variety of medicinal plants. There are even local companies like Isla Natura  who market online their products made from maqui and murta berries. Most harvest for subsistence family use but surplus is sold in local markets in nearby towns or cities. The Association of Organic Producers of Chiloe organises a major agroecology and organic fair in Ancud each year. Potatoes, sheep meat, and marine resources are the backbone of the food security of the Chilotan population. Rural women have traditionally carried out agrobiodiversity conservation activities in small plots on family vegetable gardens, comprising a key source of knowledge about on-farm seed conservation, cultivation and potato-based gastronomy in their respective communities.


The Chacao Channel suspension bridge linking Chiloe with the mainland was one of the several projects that were planned to commemorate the Chile's bicentennial in 2010. If completed, it would have been the largest suspension bridge in South America. Construction of the bridge was scheduled to start in the second half of 2007 and completion was due in late 2012 at an approximate cost of US$ 410 million. However, on July 31, 2006, the consortium in charge of the project revealed that the total cost of constructing the bridge was US$930 million, which was above the limit of US$607 million imposed by the Chilean state. Because of this, the ministry of Public Works decided not to continue with the project, resulting in outrage by some people of Chiloe, who saw this as a broken promise by the previous government of the same coalition. Opponents contended that the bridge would destroy Chiloe’s unique character and would be nothing more than a vehicle for big companies that wanted to make off with the last of the island’s natural resources. The mayors of Chiloe's communes, most of them part of the ruling left-wing coalition, criticized the ministry of Public Works for cancelling the project. To compensate the people of Chiloe for not building the bridge, president Michelle Bachelet promised a variety of improvements of the island's infrastructure. Currently the only way to reach Chiloe from the mainland is by ferry and a series of improvements have been made to make the service faster, safer and more frequent. It has also been reported that the new president has sought a re-evaluation of the design and cost for the Chacao bridge.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing


Chiloe Stories is a collection of photographic and video essays that reflect long-standing traditions and recent cultural and economic developments. Chileans have always acknowledged Chiloe’s uniqueness but global recognition finally arrived in 2000, when UNESCO named 16 of the archipelago’s churches a collective World Heritage Site. These buildings, made entirely of native timber, are an outstanding example of the fusion of European and indigenous cultures which have produced a distinctive form of architecture. The churches, along with the unique shingled buildings and palafitos (houses built on stilts over the water) are an important cultural tourism attraction. Similarly, the island's traditions of song, dance and instrumental performance have come to play a large role in summer season tourism in the region. In addition, Chiloe has a museum of modern art and numerous artisans who produce various craft items including contemporary textiles and wool products.

The island’s main portal and tourism websites   provide extensive information on accommodation ranging from boutique hostels like Faros del Sur to eco-domes. Chilean Patagonia has a strong European influence due to German, Swiss, French, Welsh and Yugoslavian immigrants that arrived in the mid-1800’s to establish small farmsteads, which is reflected in the hearty regional food. Many farmers still make their own cheese, jams and charcuterie, and keep bees. As a result, agritourism has been steadily growing in popularity the last 15 years, which supplements the island economy.

Many visitors choose to sea kayak or do live-aboard boat tours of the fjords and inlets of the archipelago, which is perhaps the best way to take in the spectacular scenery and surrounding views of mainland volcanoes. However, land tours offered by several companies provide a more intimate experience, especially for those wanting to sample Chiloe’s nationally-famed cuisine like curanto. This traditional food is prepared in a hole in the ground, about a meter and a half deep. The bottom is covered with stones, heated in a bonfire until red. The ingredients consist of shellfish, meat, potatoes, milcaos (a kind of potato bread), chapaleles, and vegetables. It can also include fish. The quantities are not set with the idea that there should be a little of everything. Each layer of ingredients is covered with nalca (Chilean rhubarb) leaves, or in their absence, with fig or white cabbage leaves. All this is covered with wet sacks, and then with dirt and grass chunks, creating the effect of a giant pressure cooker in which the food cooks for approximately one hour.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

Chiloe is located in one of the world’s 34 Biodiversity Hotspots and WWF ecoregions. The Valdivian forests on the west coast of southern Chile, and stretching into parts of Argentina, are the only temperate rainforests in South America and the second largest in the world. The rainforests are made up of evergreen southern beech and some native conifers including the magnificent alerce - the southern hemisphere’s equivalent of the ancient redwood of the Pacific Northwest - which can reach heights of 115m and live for more than 3,000 years. Both primary and secondary temperate rainforest are found on Chiloe in the patchwork landscape shaped as a result of 10,000 years of co-evolution with human livelihoods. They hold a wide range of species including 15 rare to endangered bird species, 33 endemic species of amphibians (3 species are rare to endangered), 9 species of endemic mammals (all rare to endangered), and 4 species of vulnerable to endangered freshwater fish.

It is believed that there are only 250 Darwin's foxes on Chiloe and up to 70 on the mainland, and they are listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. Fragmentation of forest adjacent to the national park and on the island is a concern for their conservation, and feral dogs may pose the greatest threat to their survival by spreading disease or directly attacking. Persecution by people who think that the foxes attack domestic fowls, though they pose little threat, is also a potential problem. Various environmental awareness campaigns and studies have been undertaken that also involved the Senda Darwin Foundation. A group of Chilean and foreign researchers created this independent academic centre on Chiloe in 1994 to conduct ecological studies and to provide training and education on the threatened native forest ecosystems located on the island. As the name implies ‘Darwin’s Trail Foundation’, the property is located on the trail that was used by Darwin when he visited the island in 1934-35.

Chiloe has a great diversity of marine fauna, including blue whale, sei whale, Chilean dolphins and Peale’s dolphins; sea lions, marine otters, and Magellanic penguin and Humboldt penguins. The Alfaguara (blue whale)  project conducted by Cetacean Conservation Center (CCC) seeks to effectively combine long term research, educational and capacity building programs with the objective of developing innovative marine conservation proposals oriented to safeguard the rich biodiversity of the area and guarantee the sustainable development of the communities involved. The CCC led the opposition against the Ecopower wind farm project along with Centro Ecoceanos.

Chiloe is also particularly important for birds and the Centre for the Study and Conservation of Natural Heritage undertakes research on the breeding population of black-necked swan and migratory species. It works with the Manomet Centre for Conservation Sciences monitoring the winter populations of Hudsonian godwit and whimbrel in particular. 

 Chiloe National Park created in 1983 is located on the island’s western shore and encompasses an area of 431 km2 divided in three sectors. Parque Tantauco, with an area of 1180 km2 is a pioneer conservation project of Fundación Futuro established by Sebastian Pinera, one of the richest men in Chile. Tantauco’s highlights in terms of flora and fauna include the presence of endangered species such as the Guaitecas cypress, the Coastal Olivillo, the Huillin otter, the Darwin fox and the blue whale. The park was founded in 2005 and operations on the ground were launched in early 2006. The first two years focused on creating the necessary infrastructure so that visitors could access the park. Conservation objectives were next addressed through a restoration program (2008), contributions to local culture with the Inio Museum (2008), environmental education by means of cultural workshops (2009) and research through scholarships and internship programs (2006-2010). Parque Ahuenco is a community owned 800 ha coastal property which is covered by pristine Valdivian forest as well as being an important breeding site for Magellanic and Humboldt penguins.

Integrated Development Planning

The Chiloe Model Forest    serves as an excellent example of how the inclusion of communities through a participatory process can shift attitudes in favour of sustainable forest management. The area set aside initially for the Model Forest was 173,000 hectares, including the southern part of Chiloe National Park, Lemuy Island, two cities and several small private properties, some of which are owned by indigenous communities of the Huilliche ethnic group. After three years of operation, the Model Forest was expanded to include the entire Chiloe Archipelago.

The Chilean association Territorio en Movimiento (Territory in Movement), formed by various local organizations, was able to develop "Chiloé Cómo Vamos” (How are we doing, Chiloe?), with the support of local stakeholders as well as funding from the European Union and AVINA. In 2006, AVINA began working with a group of local business people on innovation, entrepreneurship and fair trade issues. Today, these organizations, such as Minga and AG de Emprendedores de Chiloe anchor a citizen empowerment program, which aims to transform local governance and improve the quality of life in Chiloe. Chiloe Como Vamos is an active part of the National Network of Just and Sustainable Territories.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

In December 2008 the Chilean Ministry of Environment published their National Climate Change Action Plan and this second communication reports on the advances made to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This World Bank publication on climate change aspects in agriculture focuses on policy developments (action plans and programs), institutional make-up, specific adaptation and mitigation strategies, as well as social aspects and insurance mechanisms to address risk in this sector.