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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Get to know the Chilean woman scientist nominated for the APEC ASPIRE Science Prize

Tamara Contador lives and works on Navarino Island, in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region, where she studies Antarctic freshwater environments. In this interview, she told us something about her research work, which has led to her being the only Chilean nominated for the 2019 Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE).

Since she was a child, she always wanted to be an explorer, and she loved insects. She wanted to spend her time looking at the outside world and investigating the area where she lived. As she grew up, her tastes remained unchanged: today, Tamara Contador is a Chilean biologist specializing in the ecology of freshwater environments. Her specific area of study is Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic ecosystems of South America.

Her work focuses on the Omora ethnobotanic park, a place set aside for conservation, education and research from a biocultural perspective, which links environmental ethics with the ecological sciences.

The good results obtained in her research have earned her a nomination for the 2019 Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE), an initiative that seeks to recognize innovative studies that allow society to progress through "natural laboratories".

What is your research work about?

I study the way in which aquatic insects can or cannot adapt to global environmental changes, particularly climate change, and the effects of invasions resulting from the introduction of exotic species. 

Our team has spent ten years studying this process to try to understand how insects can give us clues as to what is happening on a global scale.

Who do you work with?

We are working on these subjects as a team formed by the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program, which is part of Universidad de Magallanes. Here at our study site, members of the team are also investigating how other species react to climate change, and how we can help to ensure that they are valued from an ethical perspective. They are living creatures and we have to help to look after them and recognize their value. 

What are the objectives of your work, independent of the competition?

We will continue studying how environmental change may affect the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve in the long term, since it is considered a natural laboratory, not just for Chile, but for the planet. 

We are in an area considered one of the most pristine on the planet, with some of its cleanest waters and where the flora and fauna have remained almost intact for the last 20,000 years. However, it is not exempt from global pressures, like climate change.  

Today the inhabitants of this region have the good fortune to drink the cleanest water on Earth, and we hope that this investigation will help to maintain this natural laboratory, which is unique in the world.

How much longer will you go on studying these subjects?

It is a long-term commitment. I plan to go on working here until I retire, because for me my commitment to this place is more than just a job. I want to go on throughout my life seeing how I can help to preserve this wonderful place, which is a world treasure. It is a way of life and I don't see myself stopping.

Tamara Contador is one of 15 nominees for the 2019 Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE). The prize-winner will be announced in Chile in August 2019, during the Third Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM3).

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Photos: Gonzalo Arriagada

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