How Argentina is saving one of Earth’s most remote places

Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of the Americas, is brimming with an incredible menagerie of life. This is the plan to keep it that way.

Jellyfish float among the fronds of a kelp forest off Isla de los Estados, Argentina. Giant kelps (Macrocystis pyrifera) are the largest algae in the ocean, growing upward to more than 150 feet. Their forests harbor one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.

Thetis Bay, near the very tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, is about as far south as one can go in the Americas.

Few people ever do. “This is but a bad place for Shipping,” Captain James Cook wrote in his journal in 1768, cautioning future visitors to keep clear of the seaweed. But the bay does provide some shelter from the region’s notoriously rough seas and battering winds. On a chilly, overcast day in February 2018, we launched a Zodiac craft from our ship, the Hanse Explorer, and maneuvered it through Thetis toward the shore, careful to avoid the thick blankets of kelp and the sandbanks emerging at low tide.

I was there leading a National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition, in collaboration with the Argentine government, the regional government of Tierra del Fuego, and the Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea. With me was my old friend and colleague Claudio Campagna, who co-founded the forum in 2004 and has dedicated his life to studying and protecting the marine mammals of Argentina. Our goal was to gather scientific information and produce a film to lay the groundwork for a new protected marine reserve in Argentina’s waters.

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