Melimoyu Nature Reserve
The Melimoyu Nature Reserve is located at 44° 05 ’19’ ‘S north of the region of Aysén, province of Aysén, and borough of Puerto Cisnes, in the fjords of the continental coast, 300km south of Puerto Montt.
It is accessed by sea from the port of Raul Marin Balmaceda, or from the port of Quellón in Chiloé, using public transport barges operating in the region. The Reserve and its team are part of the community of Melimoyu, a village of settlers with 57 inhabitants, organized in a neighborhood committee, which has a Water Bailiff, a School, a Health Post, and other basic tourism services.
Regarding the marine ecosystem, Aysen houses two eco-regions, the Chiloe Eco-region; up to the Taitao Peninsula, and the Channels Eco-region and Fjords of Southern Chile, from the Taitao Peninsula to Cape Horn (Ministry of Environment, 2014).
Melimoyu belongs to the Valdivian Chiloe eco-region, a link between the southern boundary of the temperate Valdivian forest and northern end of the Subantarctic Patagonian forest. The Reserve is composed of large extensions of native forest represented by two predominant vegetation levels, temperate evergreen forest, and the temperate resinous forest of the Guaitecas cypress and tepú.
The imposing Melimoyu Volcano dominates its geography, 2,400 meters above sea level, characterized by two rocky horns and by being covered by a glacier that makes this mountain the main natural and tourist attraction of the place.
Two fresh-water rivers cross the Nature Reserve from east to west, the Colonos and the Marchant, flowing into the Melimoyu Bay, and it has several spectacular waterfalls in more than 16 thousand hectares of native forest and seven kilometers coastal marine edge.
The climatic and geographical differences determine six prevailing environmental units: Archipelago and Islands; Fjords and Channels; Mountain Range; Oriental Subrange; Eastern Plains Steppe; and Ice fields. In this regard, it is important to highlight that the region represents an important freshwater reservoir, (both nationally and globally), housed in the ice fields, glaciers, lacustrine water bodies and rivers (CONAMA, 2003).
As for fauna, the area hosts a great variety of terrestrial and marine species; such as pumas, Darwin’s frogs, pudús, Chilean dolphins, Peale’s dolphins, Magellanic penguins, southern fur seals, an incredible variety of land and sea birds, and the huge blue whales, which every summer reach the Gulf of Corcovado to feed on small crustaceans called euphausiid (krill) and to socialize with other species of marine mammals.
The Melimoyu Nature Reserve represents a strategic center and gateway to this whale sanctuary in Chile. In this natural, forest and coastal scenery, Fundación MERI – a private nonprofit organization – was created in 2012, in order to investigate, interpret, educate and ensure the conservation of pristine ecosystems and terrestrial and marine ecological diversity of the Melimoyu Nature Reserve and its surroundings.
The Melimoyu Nature Reserve is located at 44° 05′ 19′ ‘S north of the region of Aysén, province of Aysén, and municipality of Puerto Cisnes, in the fjords of the continental coast, 300 km south of Puerto Montt.
It is accessed by sea from the port of Raul Marin Balmaceda, or from the port of Quellón in Chiloé, using public transport barges operating in the region. The Reserve and its team are part of the community of Melimoyu, a village of settlers.
The imposing Melimoyu Volcano dominates its geography, 2,400 meters above sea level, which is characterized by two rocky horns and by being covered by a glacier that makes this mountain the main natural and tourist attraction in the area.
Two fresh-water rivers cross the Reserve from east to west, the Colonos and the Marchant, flowing into the Melimoyu Bay. It has several spectacular waterfalls in the more than 16 thousand hectares of native forest and the seven-kilometer coastal marine edge.
This natural, woodsy and coastal scenery houses the Fundación MERI, a private nonprofit organization that was created in 2012 in order to investigate, interpret, educate and ensure the conservation of pristine ecosystems and terrestrial and marine ecological diversity of the Melimoyu Nature Reserve and its surroundings.
Terrestrial Flora and Fauna
The Melimoyu Nature Reserve is home to six different vegetation levels representative of this ecosystem and its transition along an altitudinal gradient, these are:
Evergreen forest of Chiloé coigue (Nothofagus nitida) and mañío macho (Podocarpus nubigena).
Coastal forest of Guaitecas cypress (Pilgerodendron uviferuma) and tepú (Tepualia stipularis).
Mountain forest of Magellan’s coigüe or guindo (Nothofagus betuloides).
Andean forest of Magellan’s coigüe or guindo (Nothofagus betuloides) and tepa (Laureliopsis phillipiana).
Inland forest of Magellan’s coigüe or guindo and taique (Desfontainea spinosa).
Andean forest of Magellan’s coigüe or guindo and American Chusquea bamboo species (Chusquea macrostachya).
Andean stunted forest of lenga coigüe (Nothofagus pumilio) and Ñirre (Nothofagus antartica)
As for the birds that are possible to observe in this corner of the coastal Patagonia are the Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), the Chilean pigeon (Columba araucana), the cocoy (White-Necked) cocoa heron (Ardea cocoi), the striated caracara (Phalcoboenus australis), the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus), and the red-legged cormorant (Phalacrocorax giamardi). In addition, the unmissable chucao tapaculo (Scelorchilus rubecula), the black-throated huet-huet (Pteroptochos tarnii), the thorn-tailed rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda), and the ringed kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata) among others.
Moreover, footprints, droppings and remains found on the banks of the Colonos River, which crosses the Melimoyu Nature Reserve from east to west, reveal the presence of larger mammals and of high conservation value, such as the Southern River otter (Lontra provocax), the puma (Puma Felis concolor) and the pudú (Pudu puda), species which are endangered due to the accelerated destruction of their habitat derived from human pressures.
In turn, in pastures and rocky environments there may be a family core of south Andean deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus), due to the biogeography and ecology of the species. There is also registration of two introduced species, the American mink (Mustela vison) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), both very dangerous for native and endemic fauna of the area, for competing and preying on it.
Meanwhile, all kinds of amphibians that inhabit the reserve are endemic and some date back to the Tertiary (Eupsophus) (Formas, 1979; Shaeffer, 1949). Most anuran populations are currently in decline due to loss and disturbance of habitat, mostly due to human intervention such as the case of the Darwin’s frog (Rinodherma darwinii) found in the Melimoyu Nature Reserve.
Marine Flora and Fauna
In the coastal edge of the Melimoyu Bay, we can find an immense diversity of invertebrates, including some which are typical of the area, such as the sea star (Cosmasterias lurida), the sea urchin (Arbacia dufresnei), the limpet (Tonicia chilensis), the Magellan mussel or the ribbed mussel (Aulacomya atra). Several crustaceans can be seen, being the intertidal crabs more common (Hemigrapsus crenulatus and Acanthocyclus hassleri), the benthic as the marmola or rock crab (Cancer edwardsii), the Chilean abalone (Concholepas concholepas), the barnacle (Balanus sp.), and the galatheid crab (Munida subrugosa).
In the same area, there have been records of benthic and pelagic fish. Among these, we can name the Pacific or starry butterfish (Stromateus stellatus), the Southern sardine (Sprattus fueguensis), the hoki (Macruronus magellanicus), the Southern hake, Australis hake, or Antarctic queen (Merluccius australis), the black cod (Paranotothenia angustata), Patagonian blenny (Eleginops maclovinus), the Peruvian rock sea bass (Palabrax humeralis), the Pink cusk-eel (Genypterus blacodes), and the redspotted cat shark (Schroederichthys chilensis).
Among the marine mammals in the bay are, the South American fur seal (Arctocephalus australis), the Chilean dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia), a species that is endemic to our shores, declared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “data deficient” and observed repeatedly in the Melimoyu Bay. In addition, it is possible to see the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), a species that migrates every summer to the Gulf of Corcovado to feed and socialize and which is currently in the “Endangered” conservation category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The marine flora and fauna represents a great opportunity to declare Melimoyu Bay as a priority area for conservation of the blue whale and of the biodiversity found in the area of fjords and channels.
Freshwater Flora and Fauna
The Melimoyu area has a large amount of freshwater input from rivers and lakes that are the link between the terrestrial and the marine ecosystems. In the Melimoyu Nature Reserve, we can find rivers as diverse as the Colonos and the Marchant, the latter which feeds on the glacier on the Melimoyu volcano.
While it is the least studied of the three ecosystems in Melimoyu, it is of great importance because it houses native and endemic species of Chile, as, the galaxias (Galaxias sp.), the freshwater catfish (Hatcheria macraei), the Aplochiton (Aplochiton zebra), the Creole perch (Percichthys trucha), the silverside (Odonthestes sp.) and the Patagonian blenny, Falkland’s mullet or rock cod (Eleginops maclovinus), the latter a clear example of the close relationship fresh-sea water when living in the brackish areas.
Multiple invertebrates provide food and cyclized organic matter reaching the sea from the land area through these rivers. Among these, insects of the Plecoptera, Ephemeroptera, Tricoptera and Coleaoptera orders. Crustaceans are represented by the freshwater crab (Aegla sp.).
South American fur seals, ringed kingfishers and cormorants are commonly seen in the rivers, feeding on the existent fauna and once again, demonstrating the importance of these systems as interconnection between land and sea.
It is possible to see exotic fish as the brown trout (Salmo trutta), the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), which are a potential threat to freshwater biodiversity as well as the possible habitat fragmentation and decrease.
Freshwater systems in Melimoyu are an opportunity to continue studying their biodiversity and its implications in the interactions of freshwater-marine-terrestrial systems, and its importance in the sustainability of the Melimoyu Bay.
The Community of Melimoyu
Melimoyu is located on the northern coast of Aysen, in the municipality of Puerto Cisnes, between the bay of the same name and Gala Bay. It is a place surrounded by natural beauty where along about 15km between mountains and coast, it is possible to find landscapes and ecosystems as varied as the glacier, the native forests, the peat lands and the fjords. It is possible to observe a great diversity of species of wildlife such as the Chucao, the Darwin’s frog, and the Chilean dolphin, among others.
On the other hand, the town is part of the historical heritage of our country, since it is the last village to be settled in Chile, a process that was scheduled and run by the government in the early eighties by the “Experimental Settlement Plan of Puyuhuapi (Melimoyu)” (Martinic, M. 2005). All this is added to a series of living tales in the memory of the settlers, which really must be heard in-situ in order to assimilate what happened and understand the effort and the passion it involved.
Currently, the town is made up of about 16 families, considering both those living in the town and the families living in more remote locations such as Poza de Oro, Estero del Medio and Estero Mena.
The main source of employment in the area is the provision of services to salmon farming businesses, which have allowed the residents to stay in place thanks to the support in generating ventures.
As neighbors of the Melimoyans, Fundación MERI and Melimoyu Nature Reserve wish to share with the community and be a contribution. That is why two action plans have been defined based on the Melimoyu Nature Reserve conservation plan. The first is aimed at the education and dissemination of good practices where it is possible to find, for example, the environmental program and the support to schools through visits to the reserve and talks to the community and the children. The second action plan is for the support of the development of ecotourism of Melimoyu Bay.
“Get to know some of the activities we’ve carried out jointly with the community of Melimoyu in the News section”
Southern Forest Trail
Length: 0.5 km / Difficulty: Easy / Duration: 1 hour. It is characterized for going through tepú forests, lumas and beech trees to a shelter located about 50 meters high. At the end of this path, it is possible to see the majesty of the Melimoyu Bay and the channels that converge into it, waters that were formerly crossed by the Chonos, former canoeists in southern Chile, the first inhabitants of these fjords.
The Guaitecas trail
Length: 1.6 km / Difficulty: Easy / Duration: 3 hours. It is characterized for being the only trail with the presence of peat soils harboring an old area of young Guaitecas cypress endangered native tree of the northern fjords of the Chilean Patagonia.
The Understory Trail
Length: 1.6 km / Difficulty: Easy / Duration: 3 hours. The thick vegetation that accompanies this trail along the foothills of a large hill allows the birds that live in the deep woods such as chucao, the black-throated huet-huet or the Magellanic tapaculo approach the visitor, who is walking the route, without major fears.
The Guaitecas Trail and The Undergrowth Trail are part of a circuit that will take you to the Mud Hut located on the banks of the Colonos River, the starting point of the route to the Melimoyu Volcano glacier. We recommend that you get to know the birds of the Undergrowth forest and walk back though the centenarian forests of the Guaitecas cypress.
Length: 0.9 km / Difficulty: Easy / Duration: 1.5 hours. Along this route you will get into the exciting world of the micro-forest consisting of mosses, lichens and small ferns that make up the habitat and give sustenance to countless small creatures.