Thursday, October 19, 2017

Changing Tides for New Chile Marine Preservation

By: Trianna Connolly
Produced & Edited By: Lindsey Curnutte

Chilean marine life. Photo via

Climate change, fishing, pollution – these are all major reasons the waters surrounding Chile’s coasts need protection. That is exactly what Miriam Fernandez spends her days working to accomplish.

Fernandez is the director of Centro de Conservacion Marina at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. Her research centers on diversity and reproduction in coastal species throughout Chile. The information her team gathers helps design marine reserves and works towards the preservation of marine life.

“Protecting the ocean implies setting a diverse set of tools, but preserving marine life implies higher levels of protection severely limiting human impacts,” she said.

Fernandez believes that it is important that Chileans are aware of marine preservation because most of the ocean is impacted by human activities. According to her, there needs to be approaches made to preserve ecosystems, but these approaches don’t have to be invasive.

“Marine protected areas are one of those approaches, but conservation does not necessarily imply removing humans from the ecosystem. Rather, regulate their actions,” she said.

Marine Life in Chile
The marine life throughout Chile is full of diverse ecosystems, ranging from the most productive to the poorest in the world. Through the guidance of the government, Chile has made significant advances protecting the ocean in recent years. The focus has been on isolated ecosystems, though, which Fernandez says is not good.

“We need more conservation efforts in regions where human activities are deteriorating marine ecosystems such as central Chile where the population concentrates or southern Chile where fishing is higher,” she said.

A new marine reserve off the coast of Chile has recently been approved and it is called Rapa Nui Rahui. It is considered one of the world’s largest marine protection areas, located near Easter Island.

The reserve is nearly as big as the Chilean mainland and protects roughly 142 marine species such as the Easter Island butterfly fish. The area is also home to twenty-seven endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Many of the Pacific Ocean’s fish population is in this ocean region and recent discoveries have found new species yet to be identified.

Emily Owen, an officer with the Pew Bertarelli OceanLegacy Project, manages the program’s Easter Island campaign. She says the reserve will help reduce illegal fishing activities around the island.

“The Rapa Nui, who depend on traditional, non-industrial fishing practices, became concerned with protecting their ocean after witnessing a decline in marine species as well as observed constant debris and pollution that wash ashore,” Owen said. According to her, one in every five fish is caught illegally.

Chile is known to be a fishing country, but marine parks forbid these forms of extractive activities. The only exception has been with the new reserve. The Chilean government released a statement saying the only way the marine park could exist is through working with the traditions of the Rapa Nui locals.

According to PR Newswire, the minster of the Environment of Chile, Marcelo Mena, stated “public participation leads to a better policy with a deeper connection with those affected.”

The co-management of the new park between the Chilean government and the locals of Rapa Nui will allow fishing from only local, professional fishermen. The locals believe this will help protect the island’s waters and not take away their lifestyle.

“We are very happy with this agreement but we have to follow up so that the official decree respects the agreements generated between the state and the Rapa Nui community,” Ludovic Burns Tuki said.

Vina del Mar in Chile. Photo via Digital Journal

Mesa del Mar
Tuki is the executive director of Mesa del Mar, a conservation-based coalition of community leaders and businesses on Rapa Nui. They are dedicated to the protection of the marine life surrounding their island and are working to show the historical advancements of marine preservation.

"The vision of our organization is to provide sea advice, create a marine protected area, restore ancient laws that help protect marine life (Tapu, Rahui, Mo’a), have a greater control on industrial fishing and overall education,” Tuki said.

Unlike the Rapa Nui people, Fernandez says many Chileans are resistant towards the establishment of marine reserves. “They resist the short-term restrictions and know little about the long-term benefits – the eventual repopulation of the ocean,” she said.

Conservationists such as Owen and Fernandez believe that with prohibiting industrial fishing and extractive activities around Easter Island, Chile is making an enormous contribution to the planet.

Although the intentions of groups such as Mesa del Mar are good, Fernandez believes a more official establishment should be formed.

“We urgently need to have a national service to administer marine protected areas. Until we have such an agency, all the decrees creating marine protected areas are just papers,” she said.

This is what drives Fernandez to continue what she is doing. She promises to not stop her research because not only the results are worth the wait, but it’s a way to bring a region together.

“It is rewarding to see the benefits on the ocean, but also the compromise of local communities to protect the ocean. The community of Easter Island is an excellent example of persistence to manage the ocean,” she said.

**Global Spotlight is a nonprofit educational production, constituting a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law.

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