In the eastern division, the Argentine government has promoted development by offering substantial financial inducements to people to settle and work in this region, one that diplays relatively cold weather and long, dark winter nights. A good example of the success of the plan is Ushuaia, a settlement squeezed into space bordering the Beagle Channel. Starting with a town of only around 12,000 residents the population has now increased to a city over 60,000, and as this is a port of call, or the jumping-off site, for ships heading to and from the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic Peninsula, it is bustling with visitors in the summer months. Over 200 cruise ships dock here anually.
These days tourism is a major economic driving force here and records show that back in 2015 over 300,000 visitors arrived on the island, the majority (55%) from Argentina. Numerous other business activities are promoted in this eastern part of the island including extracting oil and gas, as well as peat ‘mining,’ and logging. In addition, factories that produce textiles and plastics have been constructed in economic free zones while raising beef cattle is important as this region is free of hoof-and-mouth disease.
As with most mountainous tracts, foothill areas rise up on both sides of the main spine and each altitude level comes with distinct biological constituents. In the case of Tierra del Fuego the eastern foothills of the Darwin Range lie on the dry side where the lower slopes are home to a variety of herbaceous plants including beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) and calafate (Berberis buxifolia), both of which were gathered by the Yaghans for food. Stands of trees grow where conditions allow, and among these is the conifer,Pilgerodendron uviferumin the cypress family, the southernmost cone-bearing plant in the world and one often found in association with subpolar beeches, Nothofagus sp., and Winter Bark,Drimys winteri, the bark used by early travelers to prevent scurvy.
By Professor Robert Fleming
Only a few island groups on our planet have remained mostly free of human impact and with good fortune, a portion of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, below the Beagle Channel, is one of these. Here lies the small (244km2/94mi2) Cape Horn National Park, which encompasses both shallow marine habitats along with the island groups of Wollaston and Hermite. Cape Horn Island itself is a miniscule part of the reserve.
Some of the islands below the Beagle Channel are treeless andexhibit tundra formations as well as alpine habitats, these often intermixed with freshwater ecosystems such as peat bogs that are repleat with species of Sphagnummosses. Indeed, the whole region is a bryophyte hotspot, especially well known for its great diversity of cold-adapted liverworts and mosses.
In addition, other islands in the region are partly covered with a mixture of southern evergreen forests or subpolar deciduous forests. A main component of the former is the southern beech Nothfagus betuloides, and the white-flowered Drimys winteri (in the Winteraceae family). While the deciduous forests are mostly composed of the southern beeches, Nothofagus pumilioand N. antarctica.
By Professor Robert Fleming
I am the albatross that waits for you
at the end of the world.
I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners
who passed Cape Horn
from all the oceans of the earth.
But they did not die
in the furious waves.
Today they sail on my wings
in the last crack
of Antarctic winds.
– Sara Vial
A world of wind, waves, and swirling spray is home to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean, the birds a fitting symbol for the spirits of the many mariners who have perished attempting to sail around Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos) at the tip of South America. These roiling seas hostmany oceanic birds including petrels, skuas, and shearwaters, but the primier species are albatrosses, their seemingly effortless flight beautifully adapted to the circumpolar winds that continuously blow east between 40 degrees and 60 degrees south latitude. Beneath the ocean’s surface, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current also circles east, little impeded by any land mass except where it has to squeeze through the 800km-wide Drake Passage between the Antarctic Peninsula and South America.