Chile creates largest marine preserve in the Americas

 Photo courtesy Enric Sala/National Geographic
A new marine park off the coast of Chile will help protect important ocean resources. Photo courtesy Enric Sala/National Geographic.

‘A gift to the world …’

Staff Report

The creation of the world’s largest marine park in the Americas could help rebuild fish stocks off the coast of South America, ocean experts said this week, hailing Chile’s announcement that it will protect 297,518 square kilometers as a no-take zone. With the formation of Nazca-Desventuradas, Chile will now protect 12 percent of its marine surface area

 “Chile is one of the world’s primary fishing countries,” said Alex Muñoz, vice president for Oceana in Chile. “With the creation of this large marine park, Chile also becomes a world leader in marine conservation.”

The designation comes after Oceana and National Geographic conducted a joint expedition to the Desventuradas, which includes the islands of San Félix and San Ambrosio, where scientists documented one of the most pristine marine environments in South America.

They found undulating kelp forests; abundant fish populations, including enormous amberjacks, yellowtail jacks and deep sea sharks; and fragile deep corals. Huge lobsters were also among the highlights of the expedition. The team observed massive specimens — some of the largest lobsters measured nearly 2 feet long and weighed 15 pounds. The deep sea bottoms in this area were found to be in exceptional condition and showed no signs of human impacts.

“The new Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park is a gift from Chile to the world,” said Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and head of the Society’s Pristine Seas project. “It contains pristine underwater environments like nothing else in the ocean, including deep underwater mountains with species new to science, abundant giant lobster and a relict population of the once-thought-extinct Juan Fernández fur seal.”

The expedition resulted in a comprehensive scientific report on the marine life and habitat of the Desventuradas. The report included a proposal to create a large marine park surrounding the islands, expanding beyond the area where Juan Fernández’s small-scale fishermen have caught lobsters since 1901. Fishermen from the Juan Fernández archipelago, more than 800 kilometers south of the Desventuradas, fish for lobsters around the Desventuradas six months every year.

The Juan Fernández fishing community has waited for this marine park for a long time,” said Juan Fernández Mayor Felipe Paredes. “Its creation allows us to protect the biodiversity and richness of the sea surrounding the islands, which have provided us shelter and sustenance for many years.”

The creation of Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park provides an important scientific resource for the world. It is also a significant step for Chile and its commitment to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims to protect 10 percent of the world’s relevant coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Overfishing, pollution, climate change and mass species extinction are all fundamentally altering the ocean’s complex ecosystems. A few areas of the ocean remain relatively unaltered by humans. These pristine places, like the seas surrounding the Desventuradas, are key to the health of the global ocean ecosystem. The hope is that additional governments around the world will create protected areas in order to conserve and restore the richness of marine life and habitat.

 

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