Chilean Patagonia is a windswept maze of fjords, channels and islands. German and Chilean biologist and marine explorer Vreni Häussermann has dedicated her life to exploring and protecting this biodiversity hotspot.
Vreni Häussermann remembers the moment she fell in love with the southern fjords of Chilean Patagonia she now seeks to protect. On a 1997 research trip with her research partner Günter Försterra (who later became her husband), she was all but blown away by the stormy seas and mountain-top glaciers.
I have learned patience here. Things don’t always go to plan, so you always have to have a plan B.
Twenty years on, she is still exploring the area. Häussermann and her family spend a week each month at the Huinay Scientific Field Station, where she has been scientific director since 2003, and which is supported by the Catholic University of Valparaíso and the energy company ENEL. Combining exploration and science, she strives to create public support for conservation and raise awareness of the pollution caused by salmon farming and other human activities, which is destabilizing the ecosystem. In 2015 and 2016 there were mass die-offs of whales, sardines, jellyfish and molluscs but the cause has not been established.
To cultivate a growing appreciation among Chileans of their environment, Häussermann will write a blog on her expeditions. Until now, her scuba-diving has been restricted to depths of 30 metres; the Rolex Award will enable a remote-operated vehicle to reach 500 metres, and allow her to document an undiscovered marine world. Back on land, a travelling exhibition and film will be presented at the 2017 International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Chile as part of her campaign to convince authorities to designate marine protected areas within the fjords.
Dead sei whales discovered by Häussermann’s team on a 2015 expedition