On the growing list of cool and unusual experiences I’ve had this year, I can now add time travel. I left New Zealand on the 22nd of February at 8pm and, after a 15-hour flight, arrived in Chile on the 22nd of February at 7pm. Okay, maybe I simply crossed an international date line and didn’t actually do any Back to the Future-style time travel but it certainly felt like it. After working and living in a country characterized by two-lane highways and endless swathes of open space, Santiago (almost twice the population of the entirety of New Zealand) was a bit overwhelming. I spent my first two weeks getting over my jet-lag, scrubbing the rust off my Spanish, and simply trying to adjust to a new culture/pace-of-life.
When we think about global aquaculture, there are several regions/countries that are indispensable to a general discussion. Chile, as the world’s second largest producer of farmed salmon, is one of them. Despite the country’s significance, it was actually a serendipitous addition to my itinerary that only happened AFTER I’d already started my year. I’d unsuccessfully attempted to make country contacts when I was applying for the Watson but, due to unresponsiveness, decided to abandon it in order to present a more feasible and complete project proposal. A bit of Watson magic found me at one of the aquaculture conferences I attended in Bangkok, where an officer from the FAO connected me with an aquaculture scientist at AVS Chile (a private aquaculture research company) who in turn has helped me establish internships and arrange interviews with various stakeholders.
My excitement to pursue my project in Chile is two-fold. First, I am getting a chance to explore one of the most developed salmon aquaculture industries in the world. Chile has diverse aquaculture research infrastructures, industrial salmon farms, and a complex, tumultuous history of aquaculture development making it one of the most interesting places in the world to carry out my project. I am also excited that I get to use my Spanish language in a more focused setting. Approaching my project in another language has challenged me to change the way I talk about and absorb information. Even more of a challenge in Chile, where Spanish is spoken rapidly and with a wealth of chilenismos (local slang). Many of the understandings I developed in New Zealand have broken down here and it sometimes feels as if I’m back at square one. Between the immense complexity and controversy of Chilean aquaculture, and a new language dimension, my hands are pretty full.
I am now based out of the small, lakeside town of Puerto Varas; located in Región X de los lagos (the 10th lake region), and arguably the epicenter of Chilean aquaculture. So far, things have been going quite well. I found a private room in a guesthouse for long-term rent (which is unbelievably exciting after having lived in hostel dorms the past two months) and I’ve just started an internship at a private research center that primarily focuses on salmon health and disease. The facility houses multiple clusters of tanks that are used to run experimental trials and “challenges”. Depending on the trial, Atlantic salmon may be “challenged” with different environmental factors – from decreased salinity to inoculation with a common salmon virus or skin parasite – and then monitored to understand virulence and probe disease reduction using medicated fish feeds. For the first time during my year, I’m getting a peek into the world of food science: a zone of learning that can be mutually understood as dystopian and progressive. For me, this is probably the closest I’ve come to incorporating all of my interests into one topic so I’ve been deeply enjoying the opportunity to be here.
Being here has also caused me to return to the term “blue revolution”, its promises, and risks. The term makes reference to the “green revolution”, a heavily criticized paradigm shift in agriculture production that aimed to promote food security through monoculture, pesticide use, and other modern agricultural techniques in lieu of traditional, localized farming practices (a very generalized overview of the transition, of course). In some ways, the blue revolution is working towards similar end goals; feeding more people by optimizing food production, using modern technology to rethink traditional food acquisition, and so on. But global aquaculture is still in a process of becoming; with what feels like significant wiggle-room to head in both positive and negative directions. Certainly, comparing the green and blue revolutions is like comparing apples and oranges. They’re just too different to make many generalizations. As the year continues to speed along, the reality of a post-Watson existence looms tangibly on the horizon. I’ve decided to wait until the year is over before I think about what comes next. But as I continue to navigate governmental, environmental, research, and production infrastructures, I’m beginning to see the myriad places where I might contribute to more ethical, sustainable aquaculture practices. These are just thoughts for now, but ones that continue to pop-up and excite me. Now that I’m more settled, I hope I’ll have more time to update everyone and upoad some photos. Stay tuned!