A Biocultural Solution

a Biophysical Realm

In the research and education programs associated with EHL, philosophers and scientists at Omora Park have focused on the uniqueness of the subantarctic habitats, the life habits of non-vascular and vascular plant species, as well as their abundance and distribution patterns. This focus contributed to the discovery, through the long-term research program of Omora Park, that the subantarctic ecoregion of Magallanes (less than 0.01 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface) includes more than 5 percent of the species of non-vascular plants (mosses and liverworts) that have been described worldwide (Goffinet et al., 2012). This discover}' of a ‘hotspot’ or world center for the diversity of non-vascular plants stimulated a “change of lenses” to assess biodiversity at the austral end of America (Rozzi et al., 2008b). With a philosophical perspective, we have not only underscored the uniqueness of the subantarctic biota, but also the meaning and implications of the fact that this uniqueness has been ignored by prevailing education and policymaking processes that lead to biocultural homogenization, which undervalues, ignores, and often eliminates native and endemic biological species. Analogously, biocultural homogenization also entails elimination of vernacular forms of knowledge and oppression of indigenous and other local communities.

b Cultural Realm

The philosophical “change of lenses” had implications not only for research but also for conserving biodiversity. The high diversity of subantarctic non-vascular plants was one of the strongest arguments for UNESCO to create the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve in 2005 (Rozzi et al., 2008b). This is the most extensive biosphere reserve in the Southern Cone of America, and its creation was a novelty worldwide: this is the first time that a protected area has been designated in Chile, or around the world, based on the diversity of mosses and liverworts. These small organisms have been little appreciated not only in the Magellanic Region of Chile but also in international conservation. The “change of lenses” to investigate and conserve biodiversity thus leads to a change in the valuation of subantarctic biodiversity.

c Institutional Realm

Omora Park philosophers, working with researchers, educators, and authorities in the Ministry of Education, introduced the FEP methodological approach in the curricula of schools (in 2000), preschools (in 2002), and the public university of the Magellanic region (in 2003). FEP has offered a ‘fine filter’ biocultural approach that incorporates methods and themes focusing on local biocultural diversity, including different forms of ecological knowledge as well as less conspicuous groups of organisms such as non-vascular flora, freshwater invertebrates, and marine algae. This represented a reorientation that departed from prevailing formal education programs developed by the Chilean Ministry of Education during the last decades of the twentieth century, and which intensified during the military dictatorship; these focused on a few biological species, mostly exotic species of commercial interest (e.g., salmon, eucalyptus, and pine trees) (Rozzi, 2012).

To achieve a biocultural education reorientation, collaborative work with institutions from both public and private sectors has been essential to include more broadly diverse forms of knowledge about less conspicuous groups of organisms into programs of school education, ecotourism activities, and territorial planning (Rozzi et al., 2006). In contrast to the results obtained in interviews conducted in the year 2000, school students in Puerto Williams today name, recognize, and value a diversity of native non-vascular and vascular plant species, as well as those of commercial interest. Students at Chile’s southernmost school have also won over ten regional and national awards in Chilean National Science Foundation (CONICYT) annual school science conferences, created art exhibitions, acted in theater plays, and developed a subantarctic cuisine based on seaweeds—a practice that had not previously been implemented in Magallanes or other regions of Chile.

The results show that the degree of knowledge and appreciation of subantarctic biodiversity can be positively reoriented in favor of biocultural conservation. This reorientation has been attained under the guidelines of the philosophical contextual and systemic approach of biocultural ethics, which interrelates specific habitats with specific life habits that encompass specific coinhabitants. To achieve this aim, philosophers have worked collaboratively in situ with schoolteachers, students, scientists, representatives of the local indigenous community, artists, Navy officers, and personnel from various public institutions, as well as working as advisors to government authorities and leaders of citizen organizations.

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