Two faces of a tragedy

By Cristian Ascencio Ojeda & Roberth Orihuela Quequezana

South American team awarded HSF grant to investigate damage to marine forests by the illegal extraction of algae

Cristian Ascencio

Roberth Orihuela

A team of investigative journalists in Chile and Peru have been awarded a Historias Sin Fronteras reporting grant for a cross-border ocean conservation project that will explore the damage being done to underwater forests off the coasts of Chile and Peru by the illegal extraction of algae.

InquireFirst, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Department of Science Education, awarded the grant to:

Cristian Ascencio, member of the editorial board of and award-winning journalist who previously served as an editor of the daily newspaper El Mercurio of Antofagasta.

His work focuses on science, the environment and immigration and has been recognized with numerous journalism awards.

His project titled “An archeological puzzle hidden in 300 fabrics” received a science journalism award from the Andres Bello University and his project titled “The New Latin America Exodus” was awarded the Inter-American Relations Award by the Inter American Press Association. In 2022, Ascencio focused his work on open source Intelligence and satellite tools to investigate climate change.

Roberth Orihuela, an investigative journalist with the online media organization Convoca who also collaborates with the online Latin American news platform

Orihuela has worked as a reporter at the daily newspaper El Pueblo in Arequipa, as director of the weekly news organization En La Mira, as head of the investigative unit of the newspaper Viral and as a reporter with the southern Peru edition of La Republica.

His coverage focuses on corruption and socio-environmental problems caused by mining in Peru. His 2021 investigative report, “Dead Rivers: Scars of mining in southern Peru,” was recognized with the Best Environmental Reporting Award by the Inter American Press Association.

In response to our call for proposals for ocean exploration and conservation projects, Historias Sin Fronteras received outstanding project ideas from cross-border teams of journalists throughout Latin America.

In selecting the proposal by Ascencio and Orihuela, which focuses on the destruction of marine forests in Chile and Peru due to illegal algae extraction, the judges noted the project is international in scope because it shines a light on the China – the chief export market for the algae.

In making their decision, the judges wrote, “This project proposal perfectly matches the goals of Historias Sin Fronteras where this binational collaboration will investigate and expose the potential illegal harvesting but also explore solutions. It is key to have the international context on who is buying the algae.”

“We’re excited to see what you uncover in this investigative piece,” the judges added, “and we look forward to the incredible underwater images and videos this project will produce.”

The project will be published in April 2023.

Iván Carrillo, a Mexico-based science editor and writer and co-founder of Historias Sin Fronteras, will serve as project editor. Carrillo is part of the 2016-2017 generation of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT. He is a contributor to National Geographic and the Latin American editions of Newsweek and has collaborated with the Discovery Channel and CNN en Español.

By supporting this regional initiative, InquireFirst and HHMI’s Department of Science Education aim to convene, inspire and encourage the work of science writers in Latin America.