Ensayos is committed to the biodiversity conservation processes in Tierra del Fuego, and for this reason Ensayo #6: Holy Peat! sets out to be a spectacular window into ecosystems that are relatively unknown yet essential to the preservation of life on our planet: peat bogs. This Ensayo is dedicated to policy, stewardship, and awareness regarding the ecosystemic value of peat bogs.
When glaciers receded 12,000 years ago, the weight of their ice left indentations in the landscape. These pools filled up with organic material and water and eventually became wetlands brimming with flora, fauna and microorganisms. The distinctive feature of peat, the semi-decomposed matter that extends several meters below the bog’s living surface, is its capacity for storing carbon—a result of the low oxygen, high acidity, and absence of decomposing microorganisms in these submerged bogs. Chile’s Patagonian peat bogs contain 4.7 times more carbon than the entire biomass of the country’s forests—4,800 million tons, which accumulated over 18,000 years. Peat bogs are under threat of mining and unsustainable moss extraction. Conserving peat bogs is critical for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Peat bogs represent 30% of the planet’s wetlands, covering 4 million square kilometers of the earth’s surface. South America is home to 11% of the world’s peat reservoirs, and their potential for carbon sequestration is enormous, especially since they are distributed in places with low human footprint such as Patagonia. In Argentina and Chile, peat bogs provide water services that are critical at a local scale, which are significant contributions for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Despite their local and global value, there are still important gaps in knowledge regarding peat bogs—their location, taxonomy, size, carbon content, hydrological processes, along with development of conservation, sustainable management, educational tools. Patagonian peat bogs face threats including mining, unsustainable extraction of moss, and climate change. The degradation of peat bogs facilitates the emission of greenhouse gases, and the full extent of this impact still remains to be determined.
Chile has taken firm steps towards the understanding, appreciation, protection and sustainable use of peat bogs in Patagonia. Recently, a motion was introduced to prohibit the exploitation and commercialization of peat bogs, and to declare the Sphagnum magellanicum moss as a species of national interest. This proposed legislation comes with a national strategic roadmap for the conservation and sustainable usage of peat bogs designed by the Wildlife Conservation Society-Chile, but despite this, these ecosystems—invaluable for their capacity for storing carbon, filtering water, and sustaining biodiversity— are practically invisible, ignored and vulnerable. The path to their effective conservation has been slow, cumbersome, and uncertain. The measures that have been taken are significant, but the action needed to secure the health and wellbeing of peat bogs must be greater.
The peat bogs of Patagonia / New York / Scandinavia / Australia
Through fieldwork, transdisciplinary experimentation, Indigenous language revival and artistic production.
As a curatorial platform for eco-artistic investigation in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego, Ensayos is one of a number of organizations involved with the Patagonian Peatland Initiative.
Melissa Carmody (biologist, WCS)/ Daniel Droguett (marine biologist, WCS) Christy Gast (artist) / María Jesús Gutierrez de Val (architect)/ Camila Marambio (curator) / Hema’ny Molina (Selk’nam craftswoman, poet and activist, president of the Selk’nam Corporation and founder of Hach Saye) / Fernanda Olivares (Hach Saye)/ Antonieta Eguren (WCS- Specialist in Human Dimension and Conservation)/ Nicole Püschel (WCS- Head of Climate Change and Biodiversity )/ Bárbara Saavedra (ecologist, Director WCS-Chile)/ Rosario Ureta (designer)