Pitipalena Fjord is a Paradise of Unexplored Gems and Treasures

Pitipalena Fjord is a Paradise of Unexplored Gems and Treasures

Fig. 1: View from the jetty at Añihue Marine Reserve.
Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.

In February, divers and scientists from Huinay Scientific Field Station successfully transected an underwater area longer than 1.5km, they discovered a remarkable coral bank on 60m depth, sampled interesting sea life in a marine lake and mapped large parts of the sea floor.

For the second time in a year, the scientific team of Huinay Scientific Field Station (HSFS) visited the Pitipalena fjord in Añihue, as a part of a larger inter-disciplinary marine project, involving scientists from all over the world, including Chile, Scotland and Germany. The purpose of the project is to assess the non-living components (abiotic factors) in the environment influencing living organisms in three different fjords in order to create a baseline for large-scale rapid assessments of benthic communities and to increase awareness on diversity of marine benthic assemblages of Chilean Patagonia.

Discovery of a deep-water coral bank. 
Shortly after the arrival at Añihue Marine Reserve, the team assembled the remote operated vehicle (ROV), a special-made underwater robot that can dive down to 500m depth (Fig. 1). It was also with this device during an exploration of the deeper parts of the fjord that the scientific team discovered the impressive coral bank. Vreni Häussermann, the Scientific Director of the field station, explains: “We are extremely thrilled to have discovered the deep-sea coral bank in such a shallow depth. Further research is definitely needed to investigate if there are more of these unknown wonders of nature out there.”

Exploration of the Pitipalena fjord.
During the week-long expedition, the team worked both night and day to keep their tight schedule. A fellow scientist and cartographer, with expertise in sea floor mapping, also known as bathymetry mapping, was covering large areas of the fjord 24 hours around the clock with a sonar to locate important habitats later to be explored by the ROV team. Whereas the deeper parts of the fjord were video transected by the ROV, the shallower depths were explored by a group of divers. On four different sites, clearly distinct from each other, divers conducted photo transects between 0 and 21 m depth to record the biodiversity and to understand the distribution of marine benthic fauna in the shallow region.

Fig. 2: The team is getting ready to launch the first dive with the station’s ROV in Pitipalena fjord. Photo credit: Mette Schiønning.

Santo Domingo lake
On one of the final days, the team also went to the marine lake Santo Domingo which is only connected through a small river to the ocean (Fig. 2). In the crystal clear water, the team sampled a number of extraordinary fauna to find out if the species differ from the species found in the ocean. “It is going to be very exciting to see if any new species have evolved within the lake. When we return to the station, we will start analysing the data to find answers to our many questions,” Vreni said.

Fig. 3: Drone image from Santo Domingo Lake. Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.

Fig. 4: (from left to right) A small colony of sea cucumbers, a jellyfish and sea anemone
Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.
The group of scientists cheerfully called the expedition a great success, who also wanted to take the opportunity to thank the entire team of Añihue Marine Reserve for their great help and support during their visit.

If you want to see more from this year´s expedition in Añihue, watch the following short video made by Francisco Izquierdo, an external assistant of Huinay, experienced diver and doctor.

The glaciologists from Bristol

The glaciologists from Bristol

In February 2018 we had the pleasure to welcome back Professor Jemma Wadham and Dr Jonathan Hawkings, this time they were accompanied by their master’s student Anna Covey. They are all part of the terrestrial team of the PISCES project (Patagonian Ice field Shrinkage impacts on Coastal and fjord Ecosystems).

This project aims to investigatewhether melting of the

Patagonian ice fields (group of glaciers connected together) is having an impact on the bugs and fish that live in the fjord next door to them. There is different teams of researchers both from Chile and UK that are working on particular part of the project. Find out more about the project PISCES project here.

There are two main sites of investigation in Patagonia, one is the Steffan Glacier and its

proglacial lake which constitute the glaciated field site, while the other one is the Comau Fjord that is a former glaciated site and constitute the deglaciated field site. The terrestrial team is working on the biogeochemistry of the rivers, and fjord connected or not to a glacier to study the inputs of sediment and nutriment into the fjord.

This is the second year the UK scientists have come to Huinay to study the Comau Fjord, and – as last time – they put sensors instruments in the river next to the foundation. That way they can have high resolution river monitoring during the couple of weeks they are staying. The sensors they put into the river are monitoring the pH, the turbidity

(quantity of sediments in the water), the Environmental Conductivity ((EC) dissolved element in the water), the temperatures of the air and the water and the amount of sunlight the river gets. They also put gauging stations that will stay in the water throughout the year and that will record the water level.

Jonathan Hawkings installing the gauge station

Every day Anna and Jemma visited the river, recorded the data from the sensors and sampled the water to study the amount of ions, sediments, nutrients and dissolved oxygen (DO) of the river.

Jemma Wadham extracting the data from the sensors.

Anna Covey sampling the water from the river.

In addition to that daily work, they sampled water from other local rivers and from a hot spring to quantify different nutrient sources of the Comau fjord. They also took ocean water samples within the fjord using CTDs and Niskin bottles up to 300m of depth.

After two weeks, Jonathan and a team of Chileans researchers went south to study the Steffan Glacier while Jemma and Anna stayed longer at Huinay. They said it was to study the river longer but between us, they chose to stay because they loved the place and

the food! They loved it so much that they will be back this winter and brave the rain…

From left to right: Research Assistant Mette Schiønning, Volunteer Camille Meline, Professor Jemma Wadham, Database Manager Stacy Ballyram and Msc student Anna Covey.

What is more interesting, the world you see or the one you don’t see?

What is more interesting, the world you see or the one you don’t see?

The group of scientist visiting Huinay at the moment to conduct their research would choose the latter. Eduardo Castro-Nallar, assistant professor for bio-informatics and integrative biology at the University of Andrés Bello, and his colleagues are taking a look at the microbial communities that live in the Leptepu fjord. As they already collected samples last year at two different depths (closer to the surface at 5 meters and at 20 meters) they can now compare their results to this year’s samples (one sample is about 40l each) and see how the microbial communities have been developing over time. The group of scientist set out to find the effects the changing of the seasons, varying temperatures and the salmon production that is widely spread in the fjord, have on these basic live forms.

Processing the water samples through different filters, they extract algae, bacteria and viruses. They are working with a standardized process, which can be very boring and lengthy, sometimes until late in the night. But so far they are very happy with the lab equipment, the location of the station, that offers access to a very unique and remote ecosystem, and the food (which is obviously the most important thing). They even went so far as to call Huinay a “Research-Resort”, a complement we gracefully accepted.

On their first trip to Huinay they were surprised that these microbes are completely unique and therefore have not yet been studied. That is also the reason why Guus Martjn Teunisse, a M.Sc Student of Biology and Bioinformatics at the University of Amsterdam, is part of the team. He is developing a system to categorize bacteria, viruses and genes to shorten the identification process for microbes and to offer the full picture of different ecosystems.

They could confirm a decline in total biomass compared to the samples from 2016, which could be a consequence from seasonal changes in the ecosystem. But more important than this, is the possible effect the solmoneras  have on the microbial communities with their excessive use of antibiotics. For the last 20 years, the salmon production in Chile has been growing 42% per annum, making it the 2nd largest salmon producer after Norway. The lack of regulation of the industry has permitted salmon farms to use higher quantities of antibiotics, including medicine that is also used for fighting human diseases.


And that’s exactly the heart of the project; finding out if or how antibiotics affect the ecosystem, microbial communities and human beings.

Eduardo and his team plan to come back next year to observe the sea lions and to determine if they or other animals in the food chain have been affected by the input of antibiotics in the aquaculture pens. Regarding the development of the bacteria, they are going to travel down south into fjords that are not affected by salmoneras to obtain more data for future comparisons.

CORFO: Madre de Dios Archipelago – July 2016

A beautiful video that was filmed during the expedition by Geográfica Producciones.

A glance at the diving expedition carried out at the Madre de Dios Archipelago in July 2016 for the CORFO INNOVA – CEQUA – SERNATUR Aysén / Magallanes Project about developing underwater tourism in cold water regions.
Director: Ernesto Davis
Biologist: Mathias Hüne
Audiovisual: Fernando Luchsinger

Acknowledgements: Expedición Fitz Roy and to M/N Forrest
Fundación Huinay: Francine Beaujot – Rodrigo Sánchez

A Family of Explorers

Overall the expedition is a huge success, both for the oceanographic team and for the divers! We return to Punta Arenas with big smiles and incredible memories.

Swimming Amongst the ´Bergs

Swimming Amongst the ´Bergs

We are lucky enough to be able to approach two glacier on the expedition, Amalia Glacier and Rengo Glacier and we can’t resist putting our drysuits on the go for a dip in the icy water.

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