Ecotourism with a Hand-Lens (EHL): A Field Environmental Philosophy Experience
FEP’s methodological approach aims to integrate research, values, and conservation of cultural and biological diversity, from the planetary macro-scale to the micro-scale of small living beings, which are frequently overlooked by global and national research and education as well as environmental decision-making processes. EHL first emerged as a research focus as a result of an accident in the field, experienced by the lead author of this chapter.
In March 2000, Ricardo Rozzi accompanied an expedition of ‘bryologists’ (scientists who study mosses and liverworts) to the Cape Horn Islands at the southern tip of the Americas. The team, led by Bernard Goffinet, was searching for specialized mosses (‘Splachnaceae’) that were rumored to grow on the bones of beached whales in the southern parts of the archipelago. The group experienced severe storms while navigating in their tiny fishing boat—the “Maroba”—but they eventually made it ashore and began trekking across an area of peatland in search of plant specimens. Ricardo became separated from the group and accidentally slipped into one of the numerous scattered pools. Despite intense exertion, he could not extricate himself from the cold, dark water, and he resigned himself to his fate. But, as Ricardo sank slowly down, he began to notice the billowing and colorful cushions of mosses growing all around the edge of the pond, and thought: “I am a biologist, yet I had no former knowledge of the abundance and diversity of these small plants in my own country. How unaware might educators and decision-makers also be of this rich natural heritage in Chile?” Some years earlier, he had participated in committees charged with identifying priority sites for conservation in Latin
America, based on vertebrate and vascular plant diversity. The Magellanic sub-antarctic ecoregion was classified as “unknown,” and was therefore accorded low priority for biodiversity conservation. Fortunately, Bernard Goffinet and his team found Ricardo in the swamp after a couple of hours, just in time before he completely disappeared. Ricardo survived the episode, but that image of the exuberant diversity of mosses became fixed in his mind. He began systematically to compile a bibliographic review of bryophytes in Chile, and a full floristic inventory was initiated with Bernard, William Buck, and other bryologists in the Cape Horn archipelago. It was not long before, in a ‘eureka’ moment, they realized that the Magellanic subantarctic ecoregion constitutes a world hotspot for moss and liverwort diversity.
This accident triggered a biocultural research program, which later incorporated social experiences that demonstrated that the local community had a marked lack of knowledge and appreciation of the most diverse flora, with the highest degree of endemism in the area of the subantarctic region of Chile (Rozzi et al. 2008a). We will describe the problem we tackled and the solutions we developed by integrating work in the three socio-ecosystem realms of the biocultural ethic: (a) biophysical, (b) cultural, and (c) institutional.
A Biocultural Problem
a Biophysical Realm
Until the year 2000, the biodiversity of the Magellanic region was poorly valued because it has low numbers of species of vascular plants and terrestrial vertebrates (mainly mammals, reptiles, and amphibians) compared to the Mediterranean Temperate Valdivian forest regions of Chile (Armesto et al., 1998). However, fieldwork changed this valuation because we discovered an exuberant diversity of non-vascular plants (Rozzi et al., 2008b) and of freshwater invertebrates (Contador et al., 2012), abundant cover of macroalgae in coastal ecosystems, and unique ecological attributes (Rozzi et al., 2012).
b Cultural Realm
Since 2000, at the single school in Puerto Williams, studies have been carried out with schoolchildren and teachers who are given structured and semistructured surveys about their knowledge, assessment, and preference of flora and fauna species (Rozzi, 2001). Unexpectedly, since they are embedded in an archipelago with exuberant flora and native fauna, most of the respondents have shown significantly greater knowledge about vascular flora, vertebrate fauna, and cosmopolitan exotic species not found in the archipelagoes of Cape Hom— such as roses and apple trees (Rozzi et al., 2008a). In the surveys, 91 percent of the responses included species (e.g., larch) native to other regions of Chile or of the planet (roses, apple trees, daisies, eucalyptus, lettuce, and orange trees). Furthermore, 78 percent of the plant species most named by students are not present in the region of Cape Horn.
Thus, the most diverse and idiosyncratic flora of Cape Horn were excluded from the knowledge and biocultural mindsets of local inhabitants. However, in complementary surveys we found that members of the indigenous Yahgan Community as well as older residents mostly named plant species that are native to Cape Horn. Therefore, lack of knowledge about native biota is a recent phenomenon, which particularly concerns formal education and recently arrived professionals from the public or private sectors. However, the latter are responsible for making development decisions in the Cape Horn County.
c Institutional Realm
We examined the curricula and textbooks used by public education in Chile, including the Magellanic Region, between 2000 and 2010 and found that the examples of plants and animals they contained were almost exclusively vascular flora and vertebrate fauna. In addition, most examples were of species, such as roses and apple trees, from other regions. Examples of non-vascular plants and invertebrates were almost completely excluded (Rozzi et al., 2008a). These results illustrate how universal concepts and content in formal education, which are also present in development policies, mask local cultural and biological diversity. Roses and apples are essential plants in Western Christian culture. In addition, roses and apples now occupy a central place in the world and in the Chilean economy. Roses represent more than 66 percent of the flowers sold throughout the world, and Chile ranks fifth in the world among apple exporters. Therefore, the predominant presence of roses and apples in the mindsets of the inhabitants of Cape Hom expresses the central place these plants occupy in Christian-European culture and the globalized market that today reaches even remote regions of the world.