Chile Creates The Largest Marine Reserve In The Americas

The Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park constitutes about 8% of the ocean areas worldwide that have been declared off-limits to fishing and governed by no-take protections.

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On Monday, the Chilean government announced that it has created the largest marine reserve in the Americas by protecting an area hundreds of miles off its coast. The reserve – which is roughly the size of Italy – is called the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park. According to Russel Moffitt, a conservation analyst with the Marine Conservation Institute in Seattle, Washington, it constitutes about 8% of the ocean areas worldwide that have been declared off-limits to fishing and governed by no-take protections.

Reports National Geographic, the marine protected area (MPA) encompasses roughly 115,000 square miles (or 297,000 square kilometers) of ocean around San Ambrosia and San Felix islands. Together, they create the Desventuradas Islands, which are part of the underwater Nazca Ridge, which runs southwest from Peru to Easter Island.

Alan Friedlander, chief scientist for National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project relays that the islands had been subject to a modest amount of fishing before the creation of the new park, but will be protected in partnership with Oceana to promote designation of the new MPA.

A small amount of fishing will be allowed to continue in an unprotected wedge-shaped area that gives the new MPA its distinctive shape, and a small lobster fisher (which has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, an international organization) will continue in a small area outside of the reserve.

The groups pushed for the new MPA to protect an intact ecosystem because saving pristine ecosystems give scientists a good idea of how marine communities are supposed to function, explains Friedlander. In addition, it is is helping to preserve a unique oceanic environment that harbors a mix of tropical and temperate species.

Much of the park’s marine life is endemic, or found nowhere else in the world, says marine ecologist Enric Sala. Endemic species include Juan Fernández fur seals, the Chilean sandpaper fish, and Juan Fernández trevally. The marine biologist who heads the Pristine Seas project reports that about 72% of the species found around Desventuradas and an island chain known as the Juan Fernández archipelago (about 466 miles or 750 kilometers to the south) is endemic.

With this news, Chile is becoming a leader in marine conservation. The country has been one of the world’s most important fishing countries in recent years, but that activity has led to a depletion of its marine resources. “With the creation of this marine park around Desventuradas, we’re also becoming a leader in marine conservation,” said Muñoz.

The vice president of Oceana in Chile shares that the country’s navy will play a small – but important – part in helping to enforce the no-fishing rule and ensure the integrity of the park.

While countries around the world still have a long way to go to meet the United Nations’ goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, this declaration by Chile is a step in the right direction, one sure to help preserve and protect countless species in the ocean.

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