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Life & Glaciers in the Furthest Reaches of South America’s Patagonia

Patagonia’s Untold Stories About Bugs, Rafts, and Rivers

R. Isaí Madriz is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow. Check out his latest blog post on National Geographic’s Voices blog.

A field entomologist and PhD candidate, Reuben Isaí Madriz, aka “Isaí” focuses on biodiversity surveys of aquatic insects of secluded areas of the Americas. He received a 2017-2018 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, and fall 2017 through summer 2018 he will explore the wilds of southern Patagonia, Chile.

Guided by National Geographic editors,  Madriz says his project will tell the story of deglaciation of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field (NPIF) in southern Chile’s Aysén region, focusing on its vanishing aquatic insect diversity through images and stories of exploration, science, and human connections.

“Most field work will involve hiking through unexplored areas to the base of remote glaciers and rafting down to further sample streams and rivers surrounding the NPIF,” Madriz says. “A pivotal component of this project will be a two-month, three- to four-person expedition to the secluded western fjords of the NPIF.”

His project will be featured in real time on the official National Geographic website throughout the duration of the project and possibly will appear in National Geographic Magazine. We recently sent Madriz a message asking about his current status and latest adventures. Check out our Q&A with him below.

Alpacka Raft: How has your trip been so far? What are some successes you’ve had? Any failures?
R. Isaí Madriz: Thus far (one-third of the way into the project) I have discovered two new species of insects, six possibly new species, and the likelihood of a new genus. The scientific process for corroboration of these is lengthy. Thus far I have not had any failures because even when an expedition doesn’t go the way I envision, good things come, such as discovering new species, as was the case with the flightless crane fly depicted in my third story. I keep an open mind.

AR: What got you interested in the topic in the first place?
RIM: When I became aware that the aquatic insect fauna of the intricate water ways, especially fjords and small rivers, have barely been explored, I knew I wanted to devote the rest of my career documenting the endemic biodiversity of Patagonia.

AR: Have you learned anything surprising?
RIM: In a pinch, aquatic insect larva can be a great source of food!

AR: Where are you right now? 
RIM: At this moment, I am in Explorer’s Valley looking for a highly rare primitive crane fly. I spent the duration of December on a few more expeditions, collecting and studying aquatic insects at the bases of remote glaciers and packrafting down glacial rivers.

AR: Can you describe how you came up with the idea for this trip and why are you are incorporating Packrafting into the project?
RIM: During my PhD field work I encountered the barrier of not being able to access secluded areas and waterways of Patagonia where I was certain new species of aquatic insects existed. I chose to incorporate Alpacka Raft specifically because of the quality materials designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the glacial-fed rivers. Alpacka Raft boats have allowed me to reach highly secluded areas only accessible by small boat.

AR: Is there anything I’m not asking you that you want to share with our audience?
RIM: During my last expedition I dislocated my ankle and popped it back into place. I continued on carrying my 50 pound backpack and finished what I had set out to do, regularly using glacial waters to relieve the pain. I spent the following week resting the ankle and writing. It feels great to be back out in the field.

Stay tuned… summer 2018 Madriz will be writing a blog post on how to clean and care for your packraft to avoid spreading invasive species.