Jean-François PernetteThe isle is full of wonder

Published in 1998icon-clockTime to read: 0min 57s

Jean-François Pernette has spent most of his life exploring caves. In 2000, he led a mission to the remote limestone islands of Última Esperanza, Patagonia, where he made breathtaking discoveries.

locationArgentina and Chile (Patagonia)

French speleologist Jean-François Pernette gained renown worldwide for his expedition to the forbidding, inhospitable island of Madre de Dios, an alien landscape of rain-pitted windswept rock off the coast of Chile.

Nobody has been caving there – in fact very few people have been to the island. It has so much potential for discovery.

He and his multidisciplinary 24-strong team became the first people of modern times to visit the island’s vast network of underground tunnels, chambers and sinkholes, one of the most spectacular but difficult speleological sites on the planet.

The objective of the expedition – made possible by Pernette’s Rolex Award two years earlier – was geographical exploration of Madre de Dios (Mother of God), its flora, fauna, landforms, archaeological remains, and especially the caves. It was a resounding success. Opening the caves to scientific exploration, Pernette and his team found human remains, believed to be members of a now extinct group of sea nomads, the Kavésqar.

The 2000 expedition taught him that there is still a great deal of the planet left to explore and he continues to undertake challenging expeditions, shown on French TV channel TF1. Patagonia’s caves have remained a focus, with expeditions in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014. A further expedition is planned for 2017. Pernette has also explored caves in Papua New Guinea, Mongolia and Borneo.

  • 24

    Hours to navigate from Puerto Natales in southern Chile to Madre de Dios

  • 200

    Unexplored caves on Madre de Dios mapped since 2000 by Pernette and his team

  • 30 km

    Length of the caves mapped since 2000

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