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Oceana Magazine Winter 2011: CEO's Note: A Chilean Teddy Roosevelt?

“What we need is a Teddy Roosevelt for the oceans.” It’s a sentiment I’ve often heard from blue water colleagues. We may now have one. He grew up abroad, took office recently, is a Harvard graduate and has a name that is hard for Americans to pronounce. It is not Barack Obama.

President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid (if nearsighted) hunter and outdoorsman, put policy-muscle into the inchoate yearnings of a young conservation movement. His leadership created not just protected places, but defined a philosophy to sustain nature against industrial-scale exploitation. His conservation achievements earned him a station in the small pantheon of people who make a fundamental and permanent contribution to the planet. But Roosevelt’s conservation agenda ended at the water’s edge. He left 71 percent of the planet’s surface available to a successor who might aspire to join him in the pantheon by becoming a salt-water conservation hero.

But the “Teddy Roosevelt for the oceans” title will not be easily won. During his tenure in the White House, Roosevelt designated 150 national forests, five national parks and  the first 18 national monuments. Altogether, he provided federal protection for almost 230 million acres, a land area equivalent to the east coast from Maine to Florida. Perhaps no one since has seized that opportunity because it was just too intimidating.

From the south comes a candidate to meet the Roosevelt standard. He governs a country seemingly designed by an oceanic obsessive – it is 2,600 iles long and an average of only 110 miles wide. Its Pacific Ocean territory is more than twice its land area. Equally important, his country is home to one of the world’s most productive fisheries. Its economy is booming. Its democracy is young.

The place is Chile. The man is President ebastián Piñera. And the moment in the history of this country would seem very familiar to the young American president from a century ago.

In four decisions this year, President Piñera has begun to chart a marine policy-making course that merits a comparison with President Roosevelt. He created the fourth-largest “no take zone” in the world around Sala y Gómez Island. He stopped the construction of a huge power plant near Punta de Choros that would have destroyed a marine sanctuary. His government has established sensible regulations on the salmon farming companies whose overcrowded ocean pens spawned a fish epidemic of viral anemia. And his economic minister has, for the first time, cut the quota for the country’s most mportant commercial fishery – jack mackerel – so that it’s in line with scientific recommendations.

Although there is much more to be achieved, this is not a bad start. I commend President Piñera for his extraordinary leadership in ocean conservation. He has taken actions that will benefit the millions of Chileans who depend on healthy and abundant oceans for jobs or food. And we hope hat other presidents – perhaps even that other Harvard graduate with the strange name – will be inspired by his example. It’s time Teddy Roosevelt had some company up there on the conservation pantheon.

Thank you, as a supporter of Oceana, for your help while we have campaigned in Chile for victories that restore and protect abundant oceans. Our campaigns – together with our allies – set the stage for President Piñera. We could not mount them without your generous support and continued loyalty.


For the oceans,