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Navarino Island

Cerro Bandera and Puerto Williams 

The ship has been at anchor at Puerto Williams since last evening, and for today a visit to Navarino Island is on the schedule. 

Even though it is pretty close to Ushuaia, the settlement and the island itself get much less attention from tourists and visitors, remaining as a wilder area in Southern Patagonia. 

A large Chilean Navy Base combined with a bit of tourism and the fishing industry keep the town alive. Also, due to its prime location at the southernmost tip of the Americas and the Cape Horn Archipelago, the area attracts scientific projects and studies, housed by the University of Magellan and NGOs. 

Environmental Conservation efforts and sustainable development plans are always ongoing, framed by the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, of which the town is an important part. A UNESCO site where the human population and its history are taken in account as part of the ecosystem.  

There is one vegetable production deserving notice from its importance as an article of food to the Fuegians. It is a globular, bright-yellow fungus, which grows in vast numbers on the beech-trees. When young it is elastic and turgid, with a smooth surface; but when mature, it shrinks, becomes tougher, and has its entire surface deeply pitted or honeycombed, as represented in the figure at right. This fungus belongs to a new and curious genus; I found a second species on another species of beech in Chile: and Dr. Hooker informs me that just lately a third species has been discovered on a third species of beech in Van Diemen’s Land. How singular is this relationship between parasitical fungi and the trees on which they grow, in distant parts of the world! In Tierra del Fuego the fungus in its tough and mature state is collected in large quantities by the women and children and is eaten un-cooked. 

It has a mucilaginous, slightly sweet taste, with a faint smell like that of a mushroom. With the exception of a few berries, chiefly of a dwarf arbutus, the natives eat no vegetable food besides this fungus. In New Zealand, before the introduction of the potato, the roots of the fern were largely consumed; at the present time, I believe, Tierra del Fuego is the only country in the world where a cryptogamic plant affords a staple article of food. 

Charles Darwin. The Voyage of the Beagle, Or a Naturalist's Voyage Round the World.  

Covering trees and ground a very rich non-vascular plant variety.  

Sub-Polar and Polar regions are hot spots of lichens and moss diversity. 

Despite its isolation, Cape Horn Archipelago has not escaped one of the main causes of the loss of biodiversity nowadays: the introduction of alien-invasive species. Down below along the valleys, dry and dead trees stand as witness to the devastating action that the Canadian beaver is having over these forests since they were first introduced about 75 years ago. 

Puerto Williams was founded in 1953, originally as a Navy Base. Still at the present day half of the population of over 2000 inhabitants are from the Chilean Navy. 

But the human history on the island dates from much further back. About 7500 years ago, the Yamana or Yaghan natives started to live here, making the island the center of their culture and colonizing the area with their canoes all the way to Cape Horn itself. 

The picturesque small town is divided into sections, with the descendants of the native people mostly housing on the Eastern side, and then the officials, researchers, permanent population, and navy personnel occupying different zones. An interesting museum with expositions about the natives and the biodiversity of the area was open too. Close by, the so-called “Stirling House”, built as an Anglican Mission in 1906 in Rio Douglas (on the Western coast of Navarino Island), was finally abandoned in 1917, recently it was brought to Puerto Williams and restored. 

Not long ago, a Subantarctic Research Centre has been built as well. Modern facilities and space for expositions for the researchers who are interested in studying this area. 

The bow of the ship “Yelcho” is now a sort of sculpture close to the settlement center, as a memory of her adventure down south under the command of Piloto Pardo. An expedition that finally could reach Elephant Island and rescue the men of the Imperial Transantarctic Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton, who was stranded there for more than four months after one of the most famous Antarctic stories of the struggle for survival. 

Along the coast are the small jetty and boats from the fishermen. From here they depart and return with loads of their main catch, the Centolla (King crab), but also scallops, hake, sea urchins, and the algae Luga roja (Gigartina skostbergii

Departure time was set at 18:00h. By that time we heaved anchor and started the way that will bring us overnight along the Beagle Channel to Caleta Olla. Located just about where the channel splits into its two arms (NE and SE) there is where we plan tomorrow’s morning activity ashore.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader



Jordy, thanks for this detailed report! Feels like im there as well. 😊

Saskia Dokman   |  20-03-2024 19:12 uur

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