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.
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.
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.