The international marine conservation organization Oceana called on the authorities to punish those responsible for the mass death of birds in Punta de Choros, in the Coquimbo Region in northern Chile, where more than 600 guanays and penguins were found dead on the beach.
“The death of these species could be associated with the activities performed by the seine boats. There has even been talk of the use of dynamite to kill the sea lions that eat their catches. If this is confirmed, the highest possible punishment should be levied against those responsible,” explained Alex Muñoz, Oceana’s Executive Director.
The citizen control that constantly monitors the area reported that, last Friday May 10th, there were ten fishing boats seen approaching the beach opposite the Los Choros ravine. According to the Movement in Defense of the Environment (MODEMA), two days later the first dead beached birds were found, amongst them Boobies, Yeco ducks, pelicans, and Humboldt penguins. The National Fisheries Service has already confirmed the death of these species on-site and the Chilean Navy is currently inspecting the vessels there.
This is not the first time that mass deaths have been registered in this area. In April 2012, almost 350 guanay birds were found dead on the beach, and in May 2012, the National Fisheries Service announced the beaching of 80 dead sea lions on the same place.
To deal with this situation, Oceana once again called on the authorities to approve the Coastal Marine Protected Area in La Higuera and Isla Chañaral, proposed in 2010 by the organization together with scientists from the Católica del Norte University and the Center of Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (Ceaza). This proposed reserve looks to protect the marine life in the area, promote sustainable activities, such as artisanal fishing or nature tourism, and avoid those that cause harmful impacts on the environment, such as bottom trawling and thermoelectric power plants.
Oceana’s proposal for a coastal marine protected area would cover the marine surface of 3,445 km2 and 294 km of coastline, extending from the Chañaral de Aceituno fishing ground, in the Atacama Region in northern Chile, to the Los Hornos fishing ground that is on the limit of the La Higuera community, in the Coquimbo Region. The largest population of Humboldt penguins in the world is found in this community, as well as colonies of bottle nose dolphins, sea otters, birds, and marine mammals, such as blue, minke, and humpback whales.
“Although there are already two existing marine reserves in the area, this ecosystem is much larger and has little protection against threats such as bottom trawling or the use of other destructive fishing methods, for instance those that apparently caused the death of these birds,” concluded Muñoz.