By Randena Hulstrand
The UNT-Chile Field Station, located in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve at the southern tip of South America, is home to interdisciplinary research on sub-Antarctic biocultural conservation. The location permits accessibility to pristine wilderness areas and archeological sites, and the station collaborates with area schools and various government services and social organizations.
The UNT-Chile program has been growing under the coordination of Ricardo Rozzi, an associate professor of philosophy who actively collaborates with Chilean partners, as well as Robert Frodeman, professor and former chair of philosophy; Eugene Hargrove, director of the Center for Environmental Philosophy; and James Kennedy, professor of biological sciences and director of the Elm Fork Education Center and Natural Heritage Museum.
Rozzi says the program recognizes that international partnerships enhance research, as different cultural experiences and fields of expertise are essential for translating scientific knowledge and integrating education into the community.
"This sustainable biocultural conservation initiative cannot be successful with science alone; to confront global change, science needs to be involved in society at local and global scales," says Rozzi, who recently earned the 2008 Science and Practice of Ecology and Society Award from the online journal Ecology and Society.
The Yahgan, nomadic people living in the Cape Horn Archipelago at the southern tip of South America for the last 7,000 years, have long revered Omora. This green-backed firecrown hummingbird is a cosmological hero maintaining harmony between society and nature.
Ricardo Rozzi, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas, also is bridging the divide between humans and other living things. With a team of scientists, philosophers, artists and other collaborators, he is integrating research disciplines and building relationships between the United States and Chile while helping establish UNT as a global leader in biocultural conservation studies.
Rozzi, a native Chilean, is the director of UNT's Chile Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program and Field Station at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park in the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. Located in one of the world's most pristine remaining wilderness areas, the reserve encompasses islands, fjords, glaciers, bogs and forests, and is home to sub-Antarctic wildlife and plants.
With a keen understanding of the diversity of disciplines needed to conserve both biological and cultural diversity, Rozzi, a philosopher and ecologist, is a natural collaborator.
"I saw a group of biologists on one slope and philosophers on another slope, and I wanted to bring the two together," he says.
In 2000, Rozzi led the effort to create the Omora Ethnobotanical Park on Navarino Island in the Cape Horn Archipelago. Five years later, his efforts helped secure the area's designation as the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve and set the stage for a cooperative agreement between UNT and the University of Magallanes, where Rozzi also is an associate researcher.
By 2005, he helped organize a consortium made up of the two universities, the Chilean Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity and the Omora Foundation, a nonprofit organization associated with the park. Also included are UNT's Center for Environmental Philosophy and the Omora Sub-Antarctic Research Alliance.
As a result of the work there, researchers and students at the UNT-Chile Field Station have incorporated environmental philosophy with biocultural conservation, including the traditions and philosophies of the indigenous Yahgan community and South American researchers.
Last year, the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, one of UNT's primary partners in the program, received a $15 million grant from the Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), the Chilean equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the United States. The money is helping to fund the construction of new facilities at the field station and support the work of UNT researchers and students during the next 10 years.
The UNT-Chile Field Station provides an opportunity to study at the Omora park in Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world, with facilities under construction overlooking the Beagle Channel and the Cordillera Darwin mountain range. The station will house up to 15 students and faculty during courses and research expeditions. Plans include a library-classroom, computer area and laboratory for processing and storing plant, insect and other research samples.
Through a series of summer and winter courses titled "Tracing Darwin's Path," UNT undergraduate and graduate students from anthropology, journalism, biology, philosophy and art get hands-on experience with topics such as nature writing, ethnoecology, and biocultural and sub-Antarctic watershed conservation.
The field station provides opportunities for students and faculty to engage in field philosophy, studying the effects of real-world issues such as the loss of languages and biodiversity, damming of rivers, exotic invasive species and global warming, while forming solutions that can transfer to other areas of the world.
"Living in a global context, we can't just offer concepts; we need actual applications like the field station," says J. Baird Callicott, chair of UNT's Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies.
The station allows for studies that focus on the global challenges of biological diversity, such as the impacts of the introduction of North American beavers on watersheds and forested landscapes, or the introduced mink's predation on ground-nesting song birds. But research at the station also includes study of linguistic and cultural diversity as well as conservation of bird, plant and aquatic insect species.
"Rather than theorizing from afar, students and researchers can engage with the local flora and fauna, as well as the indigenous Yahgan people," Rozzi says. "Yahgan knowledge of the local environment is being lost as their language and ecological practices are replaced by global culture."
Recently, the Omora Foundation received $500,000 from the Chilean Office for Development to develop in partnership with UNT and UMAG the concept of "Tourism With a Hand-Lens." The innovative research project, involving several UNT philosophy, science and art faculty and students, will result in a series of ecotourism options.
Last year, researchers with the UNT-Chile program reported in Frontiers in Ecology, the leading ecological journal, that the Cape Horn region represents less than 0.01 percent of the Earth's land surface but is home to more than 5 percent of the world's bryophytes, or nonvascular plants like mosses. In the project's "Miniature Forests of Cape Horn," citizens and tourists are learning to appreciate the beauty and ecological value of the mosses, lichens and liverworts through guided tours.
Rozzi says the project, which is being used as a model for other research, includes not only scientific research and education of the public through guided ecological activities, but also conservation on site, such as in the building of a miniature forests garden for the tours.
"This project brings research and conservation together with biodiversity, transferring it into ecotourism activities and education; it's not abstract," Rozzi says.
As tourism is the fastest-growing industry in Chile, he says the advantage of developing specific ecotourism experiences is economic as well as ecological.
"Tourists spend money at hotels, and the guided tours help them understand this sub-Antarctic research and appreciate a floristic diversity that was previously overlooked, while keeping their footprints limited to smaller, concentrated areas," he says.
UNT Chilean doctoral student Tamara Contador, who earned her bachelor's degree in biology from UNT in 2006, is studying the fauna of these miniature forests, focusing on the ecology of freshwater insects in the Robalo River watershed, which provides drinking water for Puerto Williams. Working with James Kennedy, a regular instructor of the "Tracing Darwin's Path" courses, Contador will move to the field station for a year. Her dissertation is part of a larger plan to disclose the richness of sub-Antarctic freshwater insects and translate scientific findings into ecotourism and conservation activities.
For Alexandria Poole, a philosophy and environmental science graduate student, the field station is a practicum for theoretical and applied research projects. She is studying international biocultural conservation efforts and ecological education through ecotourism, educational programs and policy in Chile.
"I hope to help society re-engage the natural world in a way that will fortify our communities and culture, but also lessen the damage we are doing to the environment," Poole says.
As an interdisciplinary, international initiative, UNT's Chile Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program will continue to build opportunities with UMAG — the southernmost university in the world — through the inauguration of a joint office for the program at the central campus in Punta Arenas, Chile. In collaboration with the Center for Environmental Philosophy, professors are producing bilingual editions of journals and books with plans for a future UNT-UMAG dual degree program including online courses, video conferencing and semester-long exchanges.
"Global issues don't stop at boundaries of a country," says Kennedy, professor of biological sciences and director of the Elm Fork Education Center and Natural Heritage Museum. "Besides the neat science we're doing, it's about the collaborations we're creating and the international experiences our students and the Chilean students are getting."
The UNT-Chile Field Station is making investments for the future, not only for researchers, local citizens and the environment, but for the students.
"Through UNT's innovations in field environmental science and philosophy, I expect our students to become leaders of the biocultural events around the world," Rozzi says. "My hope is that we not just integrate philosophy, art and biology, but we also contribute to conservation in high-latitude habitats threatened by global change.
"By 'changing the lenses' through which we view not only the problems but also the beauty of the landscapes, our future leaders — together with the local people, the government, the little plants — can make a difference."
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