The Humboldt archipelago off the northern Pacific coast of Chile is a "natural treasure" and refuge for unique species of fauna, including a particular type of penguin and an otter on the brink of extinction.But its fragile ecosystem is under threat, say environmentalists, from a $2.5 billion mining project on the nearby mainland that has stirred the debate in Chile between the economic benefits of mineral extraction and the need to protect the planet as a climate catastrophe looms.
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To make matters even more complicated, the Dominga Mining project in the Coquimbo region is also at the center of a corruption scandal that could topple President Sebastian Pinera.
The archipelago -- made up of eight islands, including three that form a national reserve -- is a "natural treasure" of biodiversity, Carlos Gaymer, an academic at the Catholic University of the North, told AFP.
As well as being home to 80 percent of the world's Humboldt penguins, a threatened species, the archipelago is full of eared seals, bottlenose dolphins and chungungos, the world's smallest otter, which is in danger of extinction.