In October, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the creation of the largest marine park in the Americas, Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park. The new park extends for 297,518 square kilometers (114,872 square miles) and is a no-take zone, meaning that no fishing or other extractive activities are permitted.
With the formation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, Chile will now protect 12 percent of its marine suface ara, an increase from 4.4 percent. Oceana and National Geographic played a critical role in exposing the unique biodiversity and ecological significance of the park after a joint expedition to the Desventuradas in 2013. Based on the expedition, Oceana and National Geographic created a comprehensive scientific report on the marine life and habitat of the Desventuradas and an accompanying proposal to create a large marine park surrounding the islands, expanding beyond the area where fisherman from the Juan Fernandez archipelago have caught lobsters since 1901.
Oceana and National Geographic's goal was to protect this unique ocean habitat and help rebuild important depleted fisheries in the South Pacific Ocean, including those catching jack mackerel, while ensuring the future of the Juan Fernandez community's artisanal lobster fishery. The Juan Fernandez community supported the proposal and ultimately presented it to the Chilean government.
Earlier this year, Oceana received welcome news from the Chilean government when officials finally released a regulatory map covering each of the 117 seamounts where bottom trawling is banned on a permanent basis. The ban covers almost 70,000 square kilometers of Chilean waters, including Juan Fernandez.
The ban was a result of nearly six years of campaigning by Oceana, which first proposed amendments to the Chilean Fisheries law in 2009. At that time, Oceana called on the government to protect all vulnerable marine ecosytems, including closing seamounts (ie. underwater mountains) to fishing gear that could have an irreversible or long-term impact.
On the heels of Chile's Undersecretary of Fisheries issuing final regulations to protect the country's seamounts (including those in Juan Fernandez), Oceana continued to publicize the need for a larger, fully protected area around the entirety of the Juan Fernandez Islands. The highlight of these activities took place on March 14 when Oceana deployed an ROV (remote operated vehicle) to the remains of the Dresden exactly 100 years after its sinking in World War I. Images captured from Oceana's ROV are the first high quality images of the infamous German warship, which was chased from Europe to Robinson Crusoe Island and finally sunk by three British ships on March 14, 1915.
Sadly, the need to fully protect the Juan Fernandez Islands was reinforced just after the Dresden dive when two fishing vessels ran aground near Alexander Selkirk Island on March 19. Fuel leaked into the waters around the archipelago and threatens to impact the areas artisinal lobster fishery.
Earlier this month, Oceana completed an expedition to the Juan Fernandez islands to document habitat with its ROV and complete publicity work with world-class freediver Carlos Coste. The ROV, piloted by Oceana Chile Science Director Matthias Gorny, captured never before seen images of Juan Fernandez's deep sea habitat and marine life at over 500m depth.
Joining Oceana for the trip to Juan Fernandez were Coste and other freedivers who put on an exhibition intended to help establish the Juan Fernandez archipelago as a premier worldwide destination for freediving training and competitions. By spotlighting the area's vibrant habitat and encouraging additional recreational uses for the area, Oceana hopes to increase national support for the protection of these essential habitats from industrial fishing activities.
Coverage of the freediving exhibition was picked up in several Chilean publications, including Publimetro and BioBio, and will help drive interest in an upcoming Juan Fernandez event on March 14 - the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the SMS Dresden at the Battle of Mas a Tierra. Similar to the freediving exhibition earlier in the month, the Dresden event aims to bring much needed attention to Juan Fernandez's vibrant underwater habitat and reinforce the area's economic viability as a premium ocean recreation destination, rather than industrial fishing area.
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