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Ecotourism Provides Hope for Local People in Post-disaster Chile

On February 27, 2010, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and a resulting tsunami struck the coast of Chile, destroying 200,000 homes, and impacting some 1.8 million people.

Damage was extensive on Isla Mocha, or Mocha Island, a small island located off Chile’s coast. The biodiversity on the island has long made it a place of interest to WWF. Almost half of the island’s surface is set aside as the Mocha Island National Reserve. The population of the island is isolated and lacks reliable access to education and healthcare, but they benefit from the area’s rich natural bounty.

Prioritizing Environmental Concerns
The earthquake and tsunami raised concerns about sustainable management of natural resources on the island. Neglecting environmental considerations during post-disaster rebuilding can have serious consequences in the long term, creating greater risk for disaster-affected people in the future.

Throughout Chile, a relief and reconstruction effort started immediately after the tsunami swept the coast, starting with the goal of building 200,000 permanent new shelters for the affected population.

Such ambitious reconstruction goals require the mobilization of massive amounts of resources, yet the agencies and organizations in charge often do not prioritize considerations of environmental sustainability. WWF built a coalition of organizations to assist in making sure such concerns were taken into account in the recovery effort.

The WWF-led team assessed the impacts of the disaster and the needs of survivors in order to ensure that any green reconstruction plan properly addressed on-the-ground realities. On Isla Mocha, the team undertook a social baseline study to examine poverty, education, public health, level of development, and other considerations to inform a comprehensive recovery roadmap.

Opportunity on Mocha Island
The assessment on Isla Mocha gave rise to plans to create environmentally viable and disaster-resistant income opportunities for local people. The centerpiece of this effort was the creation of the Mocha-Tiru?a ecotourism project, designed to address people’s needs by showing off the island’s unique landscapes and abundant wildlife.

The project team worked with the private sector and the local government to:

• complete spatial planning
• design a marketing plan
• analyze how members of the community could participate

Ecotourism is likely to serve as a new source of employment for the families of local fishermen and farmers, especially for women. To be a part of this opportunity, residents are:

• developing food and lodging offerings for visitors in their own homes
• serving as fishing guides
• providing horseback and wagon rides

The project will connect Mocha-Tiru?a tourism entrepreneurs with Tirúa, the mainland gateway to the island.

WWF works directly with humanitarian organizations and governments to help institute better practices for rebuilding communities impacted by disaster. We aim to ensure that international recovery and reconstruction efforts include considerations of environmental sustainability.