Last week, in a culmination of several years of work, our European colleagues presented a proposal to protect 15% of the marine area around Spain’s Canary Islands. If the proposal is accepted, it would multiply the current protected area by 100.
Here’s the back story: In 2009 the Oceana Ranger, our research catamaran, sailed to the Canaries, which are off the coast of Morocco. Over the course of two months, the crew documented the seamounts and seabeds of the archipelago, and found a dozen species never before seen in the area, and filmed many rare species, including three-foot-tall glass sponges, Venus fly-trap anemones and lollipop sponges. (For more on the Canaries see this piece from our magazine last winter.)
We were hoping this day would come, and today, it did!
In a huge victory this morning for Chile’s marine health and our Chilean colleagues, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of Sala y Gómez Marine Park, a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around Sala y Gómez island.
Sala y Gómez is an uninhabited island that’s part of a biodiverse chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity. Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, called Sala y Gómez “one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.”
Last March, Oceana, National Geographic and the Waitt Foundation conducted a preliminary scientific expedition to the island and found abundant populations of vulnerable species such as sharks and lobsters, much larger than in the depleted ecosystem in nearby Easter Island, which is not protected from fishing. In addition, the scientists found unexpectedly high biodiversity in deeper waters.