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.
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 today: The Chilean Government announced its intention to expand the Salas y Gómez marine reserve and to create a smaller reserve in Hanga Roa Bay – the harbor right off the main town and capital of historic Easter Island. This new marine conservation plan for Easter Island is set to be established by the end of the year.
The government also announced the plan to develop an assessment and status report of the main fisheries of Easter Island.
Following an expedition in 2010 to Salas y Gómez Island, led by Oceana, National Geographic, and the Waitt Foundation, the Chilean President announced the creation of the original Salas y Gómez marine reserve. This no-take reserve protects 150,000 square kilometers around the island – an area larger than Greece.
In 2011, Oceana and National Geographic Society partnered with the Chilean Navy and conducted an unprecedented expedition to study the marine area surrounding Easter Island and Salas y Gómez Island to assess their current states of conservation and potential need for new protection measures. Using the baseline study developed from this collaboration, Oceana proposed the expansion of the Salas y Gómez marine reserve, Motu Motiro Hiva, to an area of 411,000 km2, making it the second largest no-take marine protected area in the world.
These marine protected areas can only officially be declared after a referendum is conducted for the people of Easter Island, known as the Rapa Nui, and they give their approval for the proposals.
Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its stone statues, called Moai. Salas y Gómez Island is a small uninhabited island 250 miles east of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was described by Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, as one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
We’re excited to hear that Chile is electing to protect its invaluable marine resources in Easter Island and Salas y Gómez – and we’ll keep you posted as things progress.
Oceana and National Geographic are currently on a scientific expedition to Sala y Gomez Island and Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui). Author Alex Muñoz is the Executive Director of Oceana Chile. This blog dispatch was originally posted at National Geographic.
Today we had an extraordinary meeting with representatives of the Rapa Nui chamber of tourism and other members of the local community. They told us of their project to create a marine preserve right off Hanga Roa Bay, which they said is a critical initiative for them. They know that Hanga Roa concentrates incredible marine life. Also, it's one of the most beautiful spots here for divers, as indeed for any island visitors, which makes it both ecologically and economically important.
The Rapa Nui community formally presented this proposal to the Chilean government a few years ago, but unfortunately it was turned down. Now they want to explore collaboration with us and see if we would be interested in supporting them in an effort to present this project again.
On Sunday Oceana and the National Geographic Society, in an unprecedented collaboration with the Chilean Navy, launched a scientific expedition to the waters that surround Chile’s Sala y Gómez Island and Easter Island.
The expedition comes after a preliminary trip by Oceana and National Geographic last March. The results of that initial journey, as you may recall, led the Chilean government to create a no-take marine reserve, Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, around Sala y Gómez. At 150,000 square kilometers, the park increases Chile’s protected marine areas from 0.03% to 4.4%.
The scientific results of this expedition will be crucial in monitoring the new marine park, and the scientists will assess the health of the waters surrounding Easter Island to determine the need for new conservation measures. Easter Island’s EEZ includes currently unprotect underwater mountains.
Big news for a pristine patch of ocean off the coast of Chile: Last week the Chilean Senate’s Fisheries Committee unanimously agreed that the Chilean government should establish a 200 nautical mile marine protected area around the Island of Sala y Gómez, near Easter Island.
Oceana and National Geographic have been promoting the protection of this area, which still remains virtually unexplored, and which may well be one of the last pristine vulnerable marine ecosystems in the Pacific.