Blog Tags: Chile
The coal-fired power plants in Las Ventanas in Chile look like something out of science fiction. They loom larger than life over the bay, their pipes extending like the legs of some huge prehistoric spider out into the water where they deposit contaminated waste into the ocean.
It was already dark when we arrived and as I ran my eyes upward along the hulking framework of lights that outlined the interconnected towers and building of the power plants, I realized there were no stars to be seen. Even when I look directly upward I couldn’t see any, as if someone had placed a blackout curtain as far as the eye can see. This is not an illusion, nor is it the result of cloud cover. It is the pollution that is made up of coal dust, smoke and the two billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted from these power plants each year.
The coastline of La Higuera and Isla Chañaral in Northern Chile is different from any other coastline I have ever experienced. I grew up in New York, next to the East River, with the Atlantic Ocean right around the corner. I have travelled along many different coastlines, from Italy´s Amalfi Coast, to British Columbia´s Queen Charlotte Islands. I am in Chile for the first time, interning at Oceana in Santiago for two months.
The difference between Chile and other countries is that Chile surprises you at every turn. The landscape and weather undergo dramatic changes kilometer to kilometer, minute to minute. We are in Northern Chile in order to further Oceana´s plan to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Alex Muñoz, Executive Director of Oceana Chile, and his team have been working with the local communities to achieve that goal since 2009.
Last month, in the Coquimbo region of northern Chile, more than 600 guanay cormorants and penguins were found dead on the beaches. The citizen control that monitors the area reported that on May 10, ten fishing boats were seen approaching the beach opposite the Los Choros ravine. Two days later, the Movement in Defense of the Environment (MODEMA) reports, the first dead beached birds were discovered – boobies, Yeco ducks, pelicans, and Humboldt penguins among them. The National Fisheries Service has confirmed the death of these species on-site, and the Chilean Navy is inspecting vessels there.
The question then becomes – what caused this mass death of birds, and are these fishing boats responsible?
Today we’re proud to announce that Oceana and National Geographic are embarking on a truly unprecedented expedition to one of the most remote and unexplored areas on earth, the Desventuradas Islands.
530 miles west of the desolate Atacama Desert in Chile are the islands San Felix and San Ambrosio, which together make up the Desventuradas. Apart from the occasional lobster fisherman and a small contingent from the Chilean navy the islands are uninhabited and the waters around them unexplored.
Assembling an all-star team of scientists and explorers, including researchers from the University of Hawaii, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Catolica del Norte in Chile, Oceana and National Geographic will launch into the depths of the Desventuradas using the one-of-a-kind DeepSee submarine, a three person vessel that will provide our team with 360 degree views of the underwater environment. The DeepSea can dive almost 1,500 feet, and features a separate tethered camera system that will allow us to investigate depths of over 13,000 feet.
The Desventuradas are one of the last truly wild places in the ocean and little is known about the ecosystem of this nearly pristine area. The expedition will provide the foundation of a scientific report that could help to establish a protected area. Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana and co-leader of the expedition, explains:
“If we do not know this ecosystem, we cannot gauge its actual value or whether it is exposed to damage from activities such as fishing. This scientific expedition will give us insight into its ecological importance and will determine if it requires some form of protection.”
The voyage will be similar to joint expeditions between Oceana and National Geographic taken in 2010 and 2011 to Sala y Gomez and Easter Island, also off of Chile, that documented the profusion of life inhabiting Chile’s seamounts, vast underwater mountain ranges where nutrient rich water upwells to fuel a kaleidoscopic abundance of marine life.
As a result of Oceana’s work in Chile’s waters the Chilean senate recently voted to stop bottom trawling on all 118 of Chile’s seamounts and to overhaul its fisheries with one of the most progressive and scientific management systems in the world.
Take a dive and witness one of the most remote but ecologically diverse habitats in the world: the seamounts off of Chile. Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges where nutrient-rich water from the depths comes up to the surface and fuels an explosion of colorful marine life. In these coral gardens fish and other animals concentrate to feed and breed before colonizing other areas of the ocean. The above video, put together by our office in Santiago captures this wealth of beauty and diversity and outlines its threats.
Thanks to the relentless campaigning of Oceana the protections discussed in this video came to pass last month as the Chilean senate voted to close all 118 of its seamounts to bottom trawling as a precaution and radically overhaul the country's fisheries regulations. Oceana supporter Ted Danson and Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless discussed these landmark changes in a recent Huffington Post article:
In the course of a year Chile has gone from a country in which the fishing industry makes its own rules, plowing unseen wonders to oblivion and driving species to the brink, to one in which the interests of the ecosystem come first. Ironically, when this approach is embraced it usually works to the advantage of fishing fleets, ending the boom and bust cycle of overfishing and actually increasing the yields of their fisheries.
Learn more about the great work our team in South America is doing.
As 2013 rapidly approaches, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year at Oceana. Thanks to your support, we were able to achieve more than a dozen major victories for the oceans! You signed petitions to lawmakers and companies, submitted seafood samples and participated in rallies and events, and it made a difference. Here are five of the major victories we won in 2012 as a result:
1. Alibaba.com stops selling manta ray products
When Oceana discovered that the online international marketplace Alibaba.com was selling manta ray products, we asked for your help in stopping it. Nearly 40,000 of you responded by signing our petition, and Alibaba listened, removing manta ray leather products from the website.
2. Victories for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle
2012 was a good year for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles. We helped establish the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks in continental U.S. waters this year. The government designated nearly 42,000 square miles of critical habitat off the West Coast. The Pacific leatherback was also designated as California’s official state reptile following a bill sponsored and supported by Oceana with the support of thousands of California citizens and more than 30 conservation groups.
As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, we’d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.
Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor, causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world. Although some of Chile’s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the country’s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chile’s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.
After the Chilean senate voted last month to ban bottom trawling on all 118 of its seamounts, after years of advocacy by Oceana, we thought it was an appropriate time to remind our supporters just what we've been fighting to protect.
Above is video shot by Oceana in 2011 off of the uninhabited Alexander Selkirk Island in the remote Juan Fernandez Island chain 400 miles off of Chile. The island, named for an 18th century shipwreck survivor who likely inspired Robinson Crusoe, is part of a volcanic archipelago surrounded by seamounts, or underwater mountain ranges that support a staggering variety of marine life.
Until now the Juan Fernandez archipelago was open to bottom trawling, an extremely destructive method of fishing which reduces the sort of complex habitat seen in this video to the appearance of "ploughed fields" according to a recent study in the journal Nature.
Oceana, along with our partners at National Geographic, have made a number of visits to the area in recent years to document this previously unseen abundance of life, and was instrumental in Chile's recent vote to close these wonders to the ravages of bottom trawling.
It has been a whirlwind few weeks in Chile, where Oceana’s hard work has paid off in some monumental policy victories.
Last week the Chilean senate passed sweeping new fisheries regulations that, simply put, place the health of the oceans ahead of the short-term interests of the fishing industry.
After being proposed by Oceana in 2009, the Chilean senate agreed last week to close all 118 of Chile’s seamounts to bottom trawling. Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges where nutrient-rich water upwells from the deep, fueling a staggering array of biodiversity. The greatest beneficiary of these new measures will be marine life, especially that of the volcanic Juan Fernandez Islands, a remote archipelago and a regular haunt of bottom trawlers.
The new laws will also impose science-based fishing quotas and drastically reduce the incidental capture and discarding of unwanted species, known as bycatch. To do this, the new laws require improved monitoring on Chilean fishing vessels. For the bottom fishing fleet, this means that 100% of ships will require on-board observers to collect information about vulnerable marine ecosystems.
These changes would not have happened without Oceana and during the passage of this historic legislation several senators as well as the Chilean Minister of the Economy singled out our organization for special commendation.
As our executive director of Oceana in Chile, Alex Muñoz, said: “Protecting the seafloor from destructive activities, such as bottom trawling, especially in seamounts and other vulnerable marine ecosystems, is a fundamental measure for responsible fishing.”
All this comes just after President Sebastian Pinera announced he would seek to expand the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park off of Easter Island. No larger than Washington D.C., Easter Island is the world’s most remote inhabited island on the planet—known chiefly to the rest of the world as the home of those inscrutable, stone-faced megaliths, the moai.
But the waters surrounding Easter Island hold treasures as well. Just over 200 miles to the northeast is Sala y Gómez, a desolate volcanic island - the rare mountaintop that pokes above the surface in a range of underwater seamounts. In 2010, after an expedition by Oceana and National Geographic uncovered thriving communities of red corals, Galapagos sharks, butterfly fish and more, President Piñera declared the 58,000 square miles of water surrounding Sala y Gomez a marine park, closed to commercial fishing.
Now, the president has announced that Chile will seek to expand that park to include the range of seamounts that link Sala y Gómez to Easter Island. The president and the government of Chile will next consult with the people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, and ask them to endorse this plan.
We have been advocating for the protection of these special places for years and, thanks to your support, future generations will be able to partake of their beauty and diversity.
Great news from Chile: A planned coal-fired plant, located dangerously close to several biodiverse marine habitats, was shot down by the Chilean Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Coal-powered thermoelectric power plants are notoriously dangerous to the environment. This plant was planned for the Punta Cachos area off of Chile’s northern coast, just a few kilometers from important habitats for Humboldt penguins, sea turtles, and one of Chile’s few seagrass meadows. As part of its operations, the plant would have released warm water into the ocean. This change in temperature could have affected the entire ecosystem, reducing the numbers of mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, algae, and sea grasses, all of which are food for the local sea turtle colony.
Despite initial approval by the local environmental commission, this power plant is opposed by the local community of Totoral and various other organizations, including Oceana. The community of Totoral fought against the plan and won a victory, getting their approval revoked, but the company appealed, bringing the case to the Supreme Court. We are pleased that, in the end, the Supreme Court sided with the community, and the oceans.
Oceana’s team in Chile has been working hard to fight against the pollution caused by plants and factories like this one, which affect the coastal ecosystems as well the safety of the local air and water. Congrats to all who helped win this victory for Chile's oceans!
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