Before European colonization the coast of the Patagonian Sea and its resources had been used by the native population for thousands of years. The population of some recent ethnic groups of hunters and gatherers, such as the yámanas and alacalufes, rapidly declined on entering into contact with European settlers. Currently parts of the coastal area throughout the region are occupied by towns and ports. The major urban centers are to be found along the warmer Atlantic coast area (Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, Uruguay and the province of Buenos Aires in Argentina). Along the Argentine Patagonian coast and the southern Chilean coast there are many small or medium-size towns scattered in a vast unpopulated area. Many of these towns on the coast are undergoing expansion, a process that generally takes place spontaneously. Frequently, planning and investment in public utilities such as water, electricity, solid and liquid waste disposal, lags far behind demographic development in these young towns with the consequent negative environmental impact on the coast and surrounding sea.
Trawlers in the Argentine EEZ – © L. Tamini (AA-BLI)
Commercial fishing is the main use of the Patagonian Sea by modern human society. All countries and territories in the region have fishing fleets which together amount to several hundreds of vessels, ranging from small inshore vessels to factory vessels which take to the high seas for many weeks at a time. Added to this, vessels from Europe and Asia also make use of these waters as fishing grounds. Every year vast expanses of these waters are explored in search of fish, molluscs and crustaceans of commercial value. Some practices associated with industrial fishing have a negative impact on biodiversity and the ecosystem.
Marine aquaculture is very important on the Patagonian coast of Chile. In the last few decades salmon farming in marine “farms” along the coast where there are many fjords and channels has developed into one of the main industries for export in the country. When this activity is undertaken intensively and with poor environmental safeguards it could have negative environmental impacts.
Another of the economic activities which take place in and around the Patagonian Sea is the oil and gas industry in all its stages: exploration, extraction and transportation of its by-products. Most of the crude oil extracted in the continental oil fields is transported by sea to refineries. Some offshore oil fields are currently in full operation in the south of this region and there are exploration plans, in advanced stages, to develop other oil basins around the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Uruguay and on the continental shelf of Argentina. The impact of the oil industry is potentially negative; the effect of oil spills and oil by-products on the sea and shores is well known by all.
Ports and maritime transport
Montevideo and Buenos Aires, on the Atlantic coast to the north of this region, are the ports with the heaviest traffic. Port operations in the Patagonian region itself involve traffic of large vessels and handling potentially contaminating substances near highly sensitive natural areas of great value due to their biodiversity.
Cruise ships in Ushuaia – © R. Werner
The beaches on the Atlantic temperate shores are a traditional destination of massive tourism, both local and regional, in summer. This constant tourist demand has brought about the transformation of extensive beaches and sand dunes, resulting in the loss of biodiversity and irreversible changes in the landscape. In the last few decades there has been an increase in international tourism seeking destinations where wild nature is the spectacle. The awe-inspiring landscapes and concentrations of marine fauna on the coast of Patagonia have become a renowned attraction for ecotourism. There has also been considerable growth in the traffic of luxury cruises that visit ports in the región, the South Atlantic Islands and Antarctica.