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.
Earlier this year, Oceana and National Geographic completed an expedition to Sala y Gómez Island, an uninhabited Chilean island near Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.
It was a follow-up to our first journey in October 2010, which was instrumental in the creation of a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around the island. Sala y Gómez is part of a chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity.
And after months of patiently waiting, we now get to see some of the biodiversity that our colleagues discovered on their expeditions. NatGeo is releasing a documentary about Sala y Gómez, featuring Oceana campaigners as well as Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who has called Sala y Gómez “one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
Check out the trailer:
The dive team glimpses 15 Galapagos sharks and scads of slipper lobsters – and that’s just in this three-minute clip! You can catch the full documentary on January 19th at 8 pm on NatGeo WILD.
Oceana and National Geographic are currently aboard a Chilean naval ship, the Comandante Toro, on a scientific expedition in the waters of the newly created marine park around Sala y Gomez island (FYI, an alternate spelling is Salas y Gomez). Author Alex Muñoz Wilson is the Executive Director of Oceana Chile. This blog dispatch was originally posted at National Geographic.
We woke up this morning to a startling sight: Overnight, a small commercial fishing boat from Easter Island entered the protected waters of the marine park and dropped its lines within site of the Comandante Toro.
The fishing boat's captain was either brazen (why make an illegal fishing foray in plain sight of a large naval patrol ship?) or unaware of the existence of the new park (which would also be surprising, given the substantial publicity in Chile--particularly on Easter Island--surrounding the park's creation).
The Navy captain dispatched a team in one of the Toro's fast boats to interdict the fishing vessel, inspect it, and put a stop to the illegal fishing. According to the captain's report, this was a small commercial fishing boat with tuna in the boat's hold.
The fishing boat's owner said he was aware of the existence of the marine park, and that he was still planning to fish in this area. The navy showed him maps which made it clear that he was harvesting marine life inside the park in a no-take zone where all commercial fishing is banned.
This was the first enforcement action inside the new marine park.
The winter issue of the Oceana magazine is now online for your reading pleasure!
* Visit lovely Punta de Choros, Chile, where we recently achieved a dramatic victory in stopping the construction of a coal-fired power plant.
* Sail into the Gulf of Mexico with the Oceana Latitude expedition.
* Explore Chile’s Sala y Gomez Island, whose waters were recently declared a no-take zone after our preliminary expedition there.
* Dive in with actress January Jones in her second trip with Oceana to swim with sharks. This time? The majestic whale shark.
It’s that time of year when “best of” lists abound, so what better reason to sing the ocean’s greatest hits of 2010?
Raise your eggnog glasses high for these ocean victories that we helped accomplish this year, with your generous support and enthusiasm: