Posted by: Celine Cousteau | January 19, 2011

Chile – “Oceano” Part 6- Juan Fernandez Archipelago

Some call the three islands of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago the Galapagos of Chile. It is here, with Robinson Crusoe island as our base, that we filmed another episode for “Oceano: Chile Frente al Mar”. There are no lack of stories to bring back from our time here, the challenge is to give a glimpse of it all without writing a novel.

Hiking 3 kms straight up to the Selkirk lookout is a great way to see the expanse of the island. Some believe it is from here that Alexander Selkirk kept an eye out for passing ships to rescue him off this island. It would take over 4 years for that to happen during which time he survived on whatever he could find to eat or use for shelter. From this legendary story was born the mythical tale of Robinson Crusoe, the two protagonists now intertwined in a crossing of fiction and fact.


Our team filming at the Selkirk lookout


In February 2010, a tsunami hit the small town on Robinson Crusoe at 3am, a wave over 10 meters high taking houses, cars, and people with it. We interviewed a few who were in the midst of this chaos and I was astounded by the clarity with which they recounted the night, details of sounds, feelings, and thoughts all coming through. The positive outlook of some was evident- living by the sea was a way of life that would not be changed by what happened. Reconstruction has been slow, the government only supporting rebuilding homes on higher ground meaning that those who wish to rebuild on their land by the sea, must do so of their own means. We dove in the bay, part of a clean-up effort, and there we saw clothes, bottles, a school chair, and endless pieces of roofing, mattress material, and bits and pieces of people’s lives. After a three month clean-up effort headed by Oceana, funding had ended. Only 1/3 of the bay down to 20 meters has been cleaned. The divers had to stop their efforts until more funding comes through.


Where there are now flowering fields once stood homes, a gymnasium, the school, and businesses- the tsunami wiped it all away.


Endemic species of plants have been choked out by invasive species brought here by settlers and later on villagers. Sailors also brought rabbits and goats as a source of food for future passages, much like what happened on many islands around the world. These animals destroyed many of the original vegetation. On the island of Santa Clara, where no humans live because of the lack of water, eradicating these mammals has taken years. Future goals are to do the same on the other two islands, Robinson Crusoe and Selkirk.


The endemic red hummingbird of Robinson Crusoe Island.


Under the sea lies a plethora of life. On one dive we came across flounder, lobsters, moray eels, sea urchin, a shark, starfish, soft coral, and an incredible quantity and great variety of fish. Another dive took us into a seal colony (lobos fino de dos pelos). Swimming amongst dozens of curious females was quite the adventure, until a large male would come close by, bullying his way through with loud warning vocalizations.


A colony of Juan Fernandez fur seals basking their flippers in the sun.


One day in between dives, our filming journey was interrupted by something far more important. A call came in from a fisherman over the radio – they had spotted a humpback whale badly entangled in a net. It was an incredible coincidence that we were only 500 meters away, a boat full of divers, dressed and ready to get in. After two hours of intense efforts, we succeeded in cutting the net lose and filmed the rescue. Watching the young whale swim away was a moment of incredible emotion and yet we also knew, this was only one case- how many other creatures are out there still, caught and suffocating in drifting nets?



Left side of the humpback whales take with a deep cut from the dragging fishing net. (Photo ©Çapkin Van Alphen - CauseCentric Productions)




  1. Estimada Celine:

    La felicito por los magníficos posts sobre el océano en Chile.
    Un cordial saludo.

  2. Hola amiga! (la considero mi amiga porque compartimos el mismo mar) gracias por mostrar al mundo los maravillosos paisajes que tiene mi país, más aún las personas buenas que hay trabajando en el mar y todo su esfuerzo por mostrar al mundo la vida en el Océano. Nos vemos el próximo sábado en un nuevo capítulo, yo lo esperaré con ansias 🙂

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