The world of ocean conservation is still in shock today after they were sent reeling by some truly incredible news. The fight to protect the world’s seas and oceans is a slow and steady one, full of minor victories and large defeats. But recent news from Chile and the small island state of Niue have buoyed the environmental community.
Niue is only a tiny little island in the South Pacific, with a population of approximately 1,600 people. Yet it’s decided to turn a full 40% of what’s known as its ‘exclusive economic zone’ into a marine park. While the South American country of Chile has decided to add two brand new marine parks off its coasts. Parks that have strict rules and law about fishing. In other words, fishing is totally banned.
In total, the three new marine parks account for some 290,000 square miles of ocean. An incredible amount. To put that into some kind of size perspective, that’s double the size of Germany.
The Director of the Niue Ocean Wide (NOW) project, which is a public/private sustainability initiative in Niue is a man called Brendon Pasisi. He says this about the amazing work of the small island nation: “It is no small feat for a small-island developing state to make such a tremendous and tangible contribution to ocean conservation.”
University of Hawaii biologist Alan Friedlander is the chief scientist for Pristine Seas. Here are his thoughts on it all:
“We found some of the highest densities of reef sharks anywhere on Earth. Shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent globally, so this new MPA (marine protected area) is an important spot for these highly threatened species. We were amazed by what we found at Beveridge Reef — there were more sharks recorded by my BRUVS underwater video system at Beveridge Reef than had been recorded anywhere in the world to date.”
Chile and Niue both unveiled their exciting new projects, their fantastic marine protected areas (MPAs), at a recent conservation conference called the ‘Our Ocean’ marine conference, in Malta. The three reserves were universally welcome and deemed as great ideas by the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project, who will also be scientifically supporting the two projects.
“Chile is a fishing country, and most fisheries there are fully exploited or overexploited, but this government has realized that there is no future of fisheries without significant protection,” says Enric Sala, who is the executive director of Pristine Seas.
“This process has been one of the most extensive that I’m aware of,” says the Director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, a man named Matt Rand. They consulted on the reserve and give it their full backing. “There were very long nights with many a cerveza, sitting with gruff fishermen who were very skeptical and we worked on the island for a long time, bringing scientific analysis into the conversation,” Rand went on.
The new marine park off the Chilean coast will be found off the Juan Fernández Islands. It will easily be the largest of its kind in the whole of South America (at an hugely impressive 187,000 square miles in total).The entire locale’s fish species are unique to the area, which is why their conservation is so important.
The fishermen who live and work in the Juan Fernández Islands have always been commended and highly praised for their humane and excellently-run lobster fisheries, something that locals hope the new marine park will do their utmost to help to sustain.
Sebastián Yancovic Pakarati is a member of a conservation-focused committee of Rapa Nui business leaders, fishermen and local firms called Mesa del Mar. “Our people live from the ocean and for the ocean,” he says. “This opportunity that we have now is the best and easiest way to take control of our own territory.”
We think this is a truly wonderful announcement and we take our hats off to the good people of both Niue and Chile. Well done!