Chile's Sala y Gómez Island Turned Into Huge Marine Preserve

chile marine preserve photo

Photo credit Oceana/Matthias Gorny

Marine preserves are one of the most significant ways a government can help keep its coasts and marine species safe from the negative impacts of overfishing, pollution and other problems. Still, only a minute fraction -- about 2% -- of the ocean is considered protected. That's why every move a government makes to expand its protection of the sea is considered a big victory for marine life. Yesterday, that happened in Chile when President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of Sala y Gómez Marine Park, a new no-take marine reserve of 57,916 square miles around Sala y Gómez Island. The announcement expands Chile's total marine protected area by more than 100 times.
Sylvia Earle calls marine preserves "hope spots" for the oceans, places where there is still a glimmer of a chance that marine flora and fauna can be brought back from the decline they've faced after decades of human damage. But of course governments must first recognize, and enforce, marine protected areas. In Chile, the new area helps protect shards and lobsters, which have both been overfished.

"This marine park is a huge step forward in Chile's thinking about the ocean's value for the country. We're delighted to see that our government has started to focus on the need for sustainable use of our ocean resources. Chile has many other important ecosystems in this -and other- areas. Our commitment is to keep contributing with new data to increase the number of areas under protection," says Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana in Chile and South America.

While Oceana and National Geographic advised Chile that 411,717 square kilometers around the island needed to be protected, the 150,000 square kilometers of protected area announced yesterday is still a huge victory.

"Sala y Gómez is one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean. The island and its surrounding ocean ecosystem, which includes deep seamounts with unique marine life, have global value. These seamounts are very vulnerable to fishing activities, and this inspirational step marks Chile's potential as a global leader in ocean conservation," said Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow.

Marine reserves have been proven to help plants and animals recover their numbers and health. From corals to sharks, protected areas not only help marine species, but also the people who depend on them for a healthy economy. In some ways, Chile is ensuring its own successful future by ensuring successful seas.

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