Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve (Chile)

Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve (Chile)

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 15:09
Posted in:

The Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve is located in the American continent's extreme south, comprised of marine areas, islands and forested coast. The region (Cape Horn) was discovered in 1616. The core areas are constituted by Cabo de Hornos National Park and Alberto de Agostini National Park.

Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve is located in the American continent's extreme south, comprised of marine areas, islands and forested coast. The core areas are constituted by Cabo de Hornos National Park and Alberto de Agostini National Park.

The Biosphere Reserve includes an extensive and remote area of temperate forests, the sub-antarctic or sub-polar forests of Magellanic Chile, that recently have been identified as one of the 37 most pristine ecoregions in the world.

The region of Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) was discovered by the Dutch merchant Isaac Le Maire in January 29, 1616 and was named "Hoorn" after the Dutch city where the expedition came from.

Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve represents the southernmost territory in the world with pre-Columbian populations, since the territory corresponds to the ancestral territory of the Yagán people. Some 2,200 people live in the transition area with a concentration in Puerto Williams.

The resident civil population mainly includes the indigenous community of Yagán descending from the first colonists. The main economic activities are artisanal fishery, public services, diverse small-scale commercial activities and some cattle raising.

The Yagán people constitute a nomad culture that has inhabited the southern end of the American continent at 56°S. They live in the coastal sectors, navigating the channels of Cabo de Hornos and the sub-antarctic archipelago region to the south of the Tierra del Fuego. Today it is the most threatened of the Chilean indigenous cultures.

The Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve supports economic and human development through an 'alliance between science and tourism to promote sustainable development'. It also provides advice to stimulate the sustainable use of marine and silvoagricultural natural resources on which the extractive and productive activities are based that constitute the base of the local economy.

The core areas are constituted by the Cabo de Hornos National Park and Alberto de Agostini National Park, which in spite of their proximity, are not interconnected. The biosphere reserve will contribute to initiate scientific education, research and conservation programs in both national parks and establish a biological corridor between them.

Cabo de Hornos National Park is the world's southernmost national park. It is located 12 hours by boat from Puerto Williams in the Cape Horn Archipelago, which belongs to the Commune of Cabo de Hornos in the Antártica Chilena Province of Magallanes y Antártica Chilena Region.

The National Park was created on April 26, 1945 by the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture. The park is the southernmost piece of Chilean territory, except for the Chilean Antarctic Territory which is in dispute.

The park covers an area of 63,093 ha (155,900 acres), at a general altitude of 220 m (720 ft), with the exception of two major peaks: Cerro Pirámide, which has an altitude of 406 m (1,330 ft), and Cerro Hyde, the highest point with an altitude of 670 m (2,200 ft).

The park comprises a series of the islands and islets that make up the archipelago, including the main landmasses of the Wollaston and Hermite Islands.

The climate in the park is generally cool, owing to the southern latitude. Precipitation is high throughout the year: the weather station on the nearby Diego Ramirez Islands, 109 km (68 mi) southwest in the Drake Passage, shows the greatest rainfall in March, averaging 137.4 mm (5.4 in); while October, which has the least rainfall, still averages 93.7 mm (3.7 in). Wind conditions are generally severe, particularly in winter.

The terrain is almost entirely treeless peat and its main characteristic is the presence of tuberous vegetable formations covered in low dense Poaceaes (Gramineae), lichen and mosses that are resistant to the low temperatures and harsh weather. In some parts, small wooded areas of Antarctic beech or nire, lenga, winter's bark or canelo, and Magellanic coigüe can be found.

Fauna in the park is scarce and many of the species are endangered. The fauna is dominated by birds and maritime mammals.

Bird species found on the islands include: Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus), or red peek penguin, the southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), kelp gull or Dominican gull (Larus dominicanus), red-legged cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi, also known as the red-legged shag, red-footed cormorant, red-footed shag, Gaimard’s cormorant or grey cormorant), and southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora).

Mammal species found in the park include: marine otter (Lontra felina, known locally as chungungo), leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx), Chilean dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia, also known as the black dolphin or tonina), Burmeister's porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis), Peale's dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis) and humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).


Alberto de Agostini National Park is a protected area in southern Chile that covers 1,460,000 ha (3,608,000 acres) and includes the Cordillera Darwin mountain range.

The Cordillera Darwin is the final land-based stretch of the Andes before it becomes a chain of mountains appearing as small islands that sink into the Pacific Ocean and the Beagle Channel.

The National Park marks the final point of the Andes Mountains: the longest continental mountain chain in the world. Spanning the entire length of South America, they start in Venezuela in the north and cover 4,300 mi (7,000 km) before they finally plunge into the ocean within the park.

The park is named after one of the most important Salesian priests in Chilean history, Father Alberto Maria De Agostini. The Italian missionary, explorer, photographer and writer is known for his discoveries, photographs and maps of the region.

The park is located 80 nautical miles southwest of Punta Arenas, the nearest city, in Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena region, stretching over three provinces: (Magallanes, Tierra del Fuego and Antártica Chilena). Tierra del Fuego experiences extreme weather. The climate of the park is classified as subpolar oceanic climate and is wet, cold and windy.

Several tidewater glaciers and steep fjords can be found in the park. It also comprises the Gordon, Cook and Londonderry islands, as well as part of Hoste Island.

The park features a highly irregular coastline, which is deeply indented by fjords. The centerpiece of the park is the Cordillera Darwin, whose slopes drop precipitously to the sea. The Darwin range is dominated by Monte Darwin and Monte Sarmiento. The valleys not filled by the sea are covered by glaciers, which also occupy small high plateaus.

Much of the landscape of the park has been sculpted by glaciers. The largest glacier is the Marinelli, which is in a state of retreat as of 2008. One of the most stunning portions of the park is the Seno Pía, an embayment of the Beagle Channel.

The glaciers and mountains in this area form an amazing scenery, which also comprises the majestic Mount Darwin. The most famous of the Alberto de Agostini National Park's glaciers is the tidewater Marinelli Glacier, which spills from the Darwin Mountains and the Darwin Ice Sheet into Ainsworth Bay.

Another glacier-related highlight of the park is the "Avenue of the Glaciers" or "Glacier Alley," where the word "avenue" or "alley" is used in a figurative sense - describing part of the north-west arm of the Beagle Channel where it is possible to view several glaciers along the north shore.

Named after European countries (including Spain, France, Holland, Germany and Italy), these glaciers flow from the Darwin Mountains into the ocean. These glaciers are: España, Romanche, Alemania (also known as Roncagli), Italia, Francia and Holanda.

The National Park is part of the Magellanic subpolar forests ecoregion which began to grow around 10,000 years ago when the glaciers formerly covering the area began their retreat. This pristine coastal ecosystem is home to various species of trees such as the coihue (nothofagus betuloides) and canelo (drimys winteri).

Mammals found in the park include the Culpeo or Andean fox (lycalopex culpaeus), the South American gray fox (lycalopex griseus), also known as the Patagonian fox, the marine otter (lontra felina), known locally as chungungo, the South American sea lion, the southern elephant seals, the leopard seal (hydrurga leptonyx), the Chilean dolphin (cephalorhynchus eutropia, also known as the black dolphin or tonina), the Burmeister's porpoise (phocoena spinipinnis), Peale's dolphin (lagenorhynchus australis), the humpback whale (megaptera novaeangliae), and the guanaco (lama guanicoe).

Sea birds include the southern royal albatross (diomedea epomophora), the Magellanic woodpecker (campephilus magellanicus), the white-crested elaenia (elaenia albiceps), the cormorant, the austral thrush (turdus falcklandii) or Magellan thrush, among many others.

This ecoregion corresponds to one of the unique areas where non-fragmented or altered temperate forests are conserved. The Archipelago of Cabo de Hornos is one of the few insular groups that remain free of human impact.

The mosaic of terrestrial ecosystems includes evergreen broadleaf forests, deciduous forests, alpine habitats with formations of cushion plants and lichens, a complex of tundra formations ranging from Juncaceae wetlands to Sphagnum peat bogs, glaciers and snowdrifts, and a series of freshwater ecosystems.

These ecosystems are located in an insular system, in the middle of an intricate system of fjords, channels, estuaries and bays. In this regional heterogeneity several types of intertidal systems are distinguished with extensive meadows and belts of brown seaweed (Macrocystis pyrifera).

Recent analysis has shown that the sub-antarctic ecoregion of Magellanic Chile includes the greatest diversity of non-vascular floral species in Chile, and constitutes a hotspot of bryophyte diversity.


The region to the south of 50°S also represents a hotspot of invertebrate and marine mammal diversity, with cetaceans such as the Peale's dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis) and black dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia), and occasional visits by killer whales (Orcinus orca) and antarctic minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). The presence of penguins are remarkable, principally the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) and the rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes crestatus).