Santiago, August 13th 2010. - The Fisheries Committee of the Chilean Senate unanimously agreed to recommend the Chilean government to establish a 200 nautical mile marine protected area around the Island of Sala y Gómez, located east of 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.
The Fisheries Committee session was attended by Dr. Enric Sala, a renowned marine biologist and researcher at National Geographic, who was invited to Chile by the Committee to present the ecological importance of Sala y Gómez and the area that surrounds the island.
"Sala y Gómez Island has been identified by National Geographic as a remote place that represents a valuable ecosystem which is also part of a chain of seamounts. Current information is very scarce, but enough to believe that we are facing one of the few pristine marine ecosystems of the globe", said Enric Sala.
Oceana stressed the need for progress on the creation of new protected areas in Chile. "The declaration of a marine park around Sala y Gómez would help pay off a debt that Chile holds, regarding the protection of the marine environment. We expect the government to embrace the recommendation made by Chile’s senators and create a marine protected area in this unique place", said Alex Muñoz, Vice President for Oceana’s South American Office.
Both organizations are planning an expedition to the island in the first half of 2011, to develop a baseline of biological information that will later allow for the design of a conservation plan for the area, complementing the intention of the Fisheries Committee to protect 200 miles around the island.
Already in March of this year, National Geographic and Oceana participated in a preliminary expedition to this island located east of Easter Island. Through the use of an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), it was possible to record the first high-definition images of the seabed, more than 100 meters deep. On that occasion the science team, which also included Dr. Carlos Gaymer - professor of marine biology at the Universidad Católica del Norte - and Michel Garcia - resident diver of Easter Island and former member of Jacques Cousteau’s team - verified the presence of a great abundance of marine life, where some species are noticeably more abundant than in Easter Island, at a distance of only 415 km.
"The observations made during the Sala y Gómez expedition in March allowed us to obtain new information that together with the data we will collect on our next expedition, will be the basis for developing a good conservation plan for this area," said Carlos Gaymer, professor at the Universidad Católica del Norte.
Enric Sala is leading National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Project, which seeks to study and protect the last pristine places in the world's oceans. "By carefully studying the function of marine ecosystems without human intervention, we can help recover those that are damaged and generally better preserve the oceans that cover more than two thirds of our planet", said Sala.
Annelore Hoffens - Communications Oceana
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