Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

Sociedad Contractual Minera El Abra

Calama, Antofagasta, Chile

Certified Silver through 2022

Project Name
Project Type
Censo simultaneo de flamencos altoandinos
Estudio genético de Heleobia ascotanensis
Other Species
Estudio de tasas de crecimiento anual de humedales
Wetlands & Water Bodies
About the Program
The Sociedad Contractual Minera El Abra program site is located in the Antofagasta region in northern Chile, near the border with Bolivia. The site encompasses a salt flat in the arid Atacama Desert. It is bordered by several high altitude volcanoes. The aridity of the site causes the vegetation to grow sparsely, but there is a diversity of animal life, including flamingos, guanacos, and many reptile species. The El Abra team seeks to aid the conservation of the region's wildlife and habitat by primarily monitoring and studying the current state of the ecosystem. The team also seeks to restore a fragile spring in accordance with regulatory requirements. 

Practices and Impacts
  • Monitoring of Flamingo Populations: Some of the most charismatic animals that inhabit the salt flats are three species of flamingo. In order to support conservation of these three avian species, the team conducts a census of the flamingos in several sites twice per year. The team then uses the data collected to estimate the abundance of the different species and to model their population dynamics. 
  • Study of Gilled Snails: Within the springs of the salt flat, there are endemic aquatic species, such as a species of gilled snail with a constricted geographic range. This snail species is an important part of the wetland ecosystem, but little research has been conducted on it. The team collected samples from multiple gilled snail populations, and they studied their genetic diversity. They discovered that the seemingly homogenous species has significant genetic variation and several varieties that differ from pool to pool.
  • Study of Growth Rates of Vegetation: In order to gain a better picture of the overall functioning of the salt flat ecosystem, the team comprehensively studied 7 springs in the site area. The team paid special attention to measuring the growth rates of the plants that make-up the grassland areas of the site. The team found that the growth rate of the plant species tends to be very low, which suggests that the carrying capacity of the site is low for large mammals, like guanacos and livestock. These results also suggest that the grasslands can be easily overgrazed if grazing pressure is increased. 
  • Community Involvement in Propagation Efforts: An indigenous community has inhabited the salt flat where the program site is located for generations. In order to encourage an exchange of knowledge between the team and the community, the team has sought to involve two community members in an effort to grow native plants and then transplant them to a spring to restore its vegetation. This involves training in multiple techniques of plant care. 
  • Environmental Management of Low Mobility Species: As part of a mitigation effort, the team has trapped and relocated small mammal and reptile species from an at-risk area. The individuals were moved from an area that will soon be converted by human use to an area that the team has determined has suitable habitat to support the added population.