Defending the coastal environment from extractive industries

Chile / Freedom for Justice / 6 mar 2018

The region of Maule, Chile is a place of incomparable natural beauty. Near the town of Putú are breath taking sand dunes and wetlands, natural spaces that are attractive to hikers and bird watchers. More than 120 species of bird coexist there, including the Chilean Flamingo, Black-necked swan and Snowy-crowned Tern. But the sand dunes of Putú and neighbouring wetlands are both under threat by mining companies seeking to extract iron.

In 2009, an Australian company made a bid to mine in the region. In response, the local community of Putú mobilised, forming the Agrupación Defensa y Conservación Maule Mataquito (Maule Mataquito Defense and Conservation Group) to protect the area and its natural resources. However, the threats from extraction failed to cease. They began a process of citizen organising and empowerment, raising awareness of the threats that mining posed to the region and encouraging others to take up the fight against extraction.

By 2014 the organisation had managed to block the mining initiative and by working together with the regional authority of the Ministry of the Environment and Local Government they were able to generate a proposal to grant a national category of protection to the dunes and wetlands of Putú, which would designate them as local and regional heritage and ecological landmarks. Alongside their proposal to the government, the Maule Mataquito Defense and Conservation Group began a programme of environmental education, believing that future generations must understand the value of the region for the wildlife that inhabit it. Each year, they celebrate World Wetlands Day, combining local gastronomy, artistic and musical traditions with recreational activities, and educational visits and birdwatching guides to the wetland complex.

After many years of work, in February 2018, the group heard news of a stunning victory, the dunes and wetlands of Putú had been officially designated a protected nature sanctuary by the Ministry of the Environment. This news was proof that the group’s efforts to oppose mining in the region, and educate and mobilise the local community had paid off. The Maule Mataquito Defense and Conservation Group continue to work in environmental education, community based tourism and in the conservation of natural heritage, speaking up for the value of preserving nature in Chile. With help from a grant from the Global Greengrants Fund, they are making a documentary to educate local communities about the threats mining poses to the region. Their objective now is to work with land owners, communities, NGOs and the local authority to build an administration plan for this new protected area, and ensure a sustainable future for the area.