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.
After the expedition, Oceana and National Geographic presented a proposal to President Piñera advocating the protection of the entire exclusive economic zone, a total of 411,717 square kilometers around the island. The Fisheries Committee of Chile’s Senate supported the recommendation unanimously.
The new park expands Chile’s total marine protected area more than 100 times, from 0.03% to 4.41%. Currently less than 2% of the global ocean is protected, although the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – including Chile – agreed to protect 10% of their exclusive economic zones by 2012
While President Piñera’s decision is a huge step forward in protecting one of the ocean’s last untouched places, Oceana hopes that Chile will expand the Sala y Gómez Marine Park to 200 miles, which would cover all seamounts in the exclusive economic zone around the island.
And be sure to stay tuned — Oceana and National Geographic are planning a scientific expedition to Sala y Gómez in 2011, to develop an exhaustive baseline of the ocean ecosystem and survey the seamounts that are not included in the current park.