The Atacama Desert in Chile, long considered the oldest and driest desert with some areas akin to the planet Mars, is home to a unique experiment in marine aquaculture.
Funded by the Chilean government under the auspices of Corfo (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción de Chile) and executed by EcoSea, two projects were carried out.
The first project was between January 2013 and August 2014 and the second was between January 2016 and November 2017. The second project yielded a harvest of more than 1 ton of Yellowtail Kingfish (Seriola lalandi), a promising resource not only for Chile but for global consumption as well.
The technology developed by EcoSea, consisted of a submersible aquaculture pen with copper alloy mesh designed for an offshore environment with waves up to 9 meters and currents up to 2 knots (1.03 m/sec).
The operation, which lasted more than 4 years off the coast of Flamenco, 30 km south of Chañaral and anchored 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 km) from the shore, was able to overcome major challenges such as the 2014 and 2015 tsunamis in northern Chile following the magnitude 8 earthquakes near the cities of Iquique and Coquimbo.
The presence of large ocean swells also had no impact on the system as the pen easily submerges and surfaces in a few minutes. In this regard Javier Tapia, Operations Manager of EcoSea, commented that “there is no more proven offshore technology than ours, however this system still requires some adjustments and complements that will be solved during 2018” he concluded.
Gabriel Olivares, head of the center and responsible for the execution of the projects in Flamenco, maintains that the cultivation and fattening of fish in northern Chile is almost impossible with traditional containment nets, since fouling is very aggressive. Keeping traditional nets clean is a never-ending job, extreme wave conditions are not a safe work environment. Copper alloy mesh pens offer a good solution to these issues, they are fouling resistant, safe and much more resistant than traditional networks to the forces of nature.
The conclusion of these projects is that Seriola offers great possibilities to be cultured in the northern seas of Chile, is very resistant to handling and has good growth in water temperatures above 17ºC.