Marine conservation organization, Oceana, submitted the outcomes of a report of two unprecedented expeditions carried out in 2014 and 2015 to Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara islands, and to seamounts JF1 and JF2 at the Juan Fernández Archipelago. The study suggests that the islands have the highest levels of endemism observed in marine ecosystems globally.
The Mayor of Juan Fernández, Felipe Paredes, welcomed the report by stating that “we were missing a scientific study that could provide details about the actual amount of life existing in our marine ecosystems. The outcomes were quite surprising for us. While we had some idea, we were surprised to learn about the enormous amount of life thriving in these waters. This certainly poses a challenge in terms of managing and preserving these ecosystems for future generations”.
The report called “Benthonic Marine Biodiversity at the Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara Islands and Seamounts JF1 and JF2” was based on expeditions conducted by Oceana, with a team made up by internationally renowned experts such as Dr. Alan Friedlander, professor at University of Hawaii and member of the Pristine Seas Program, National Geographic; Carlos Gaymer from Universidad Católica del Norte and the Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands ESMOI; Dr. Matthias Gorny from Oceana; and Dr. Álvaro Palma from Fisioaqua.
Scientists found that Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara islands are a fish biodiversity hotspot with the highest levels of marine ecosystem endemism found to this date globally. Fish types accounted for 87.5% of endemic species, similar to those found in Desventuradas islands and higher to what has been reported in landmark sites such as Easter Island and Hawaii.
"About 62% of reef fish species known in Juan Fernández and Desventuradas only live there. This is two to three times higher than in other areas known for their endemism, such as Hawaii and Easter Island, where 25% and 22% of fish, respectively, are endemic,” said Alan Friedlander, scientist from the University of Hawaii who led the expedition to the islands.
The research also shows the status of seamounts JF1 and JF2 after more than 10 years of destructive trawling to catch alfonsino and orange roughy. Experts used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to shoot at 279 and 486 meters under the ocean. The impacts of trawling were apparent given the lack of alfonsino and orange roughy, and only few large corals, considering that they measured less than 10 centimeters and that they can take hundreds of years to grow. The lack of top predators also caught the attention of researchers, including sharks and cods, with only four individuals of shortspine spurdog (Squalus mitsukurii) found.
There are signs of recovery, however. Small corals similar to those existing in Desventuradas islands were observed, which could become a “seedbed” for these marine ecosystems. The presence of dwarf lobster and Callanthias fish in seamounts JF1 and JF2 would also suggest an important connection with Desventuradas, were both species have been found.
In October 2015, the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, announced the creation of the largest marine park in the Americas –the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park– extending for 298,000 square kilometers. This park will enable the protection of the islands and the recovery of species in nearby areas.
“Juan Fernández is an oceanic treasure, not only for its natural riches but for its people, who have been able to care for such a unique ecosystem. We hope Chile can support the community who wants to protect the area,” stated Alex Muñoz, Executive Director with Oceana.