- This area has great diversity and endemism: “72 percent of the species that live there are found nowhere else in the world; fish biomass is the highest of all the islands of the Pacific with 2.5 tons per hectare,” said the Chilean Minister of the Environment.
- In the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park species may reproduce and help contribute to the recovery of currently overexploited or depleted species in the South Pacific Ocean, such as mackerels.
- Two days after the Chilean government officially established the creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, U.S. president Barack Obama announced the extension of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument which now covers 1.5 million square kilometers making it the largest marine protected area in the world.
An area that includes the islands of San Félix and San Ambrosio — also known as the Desventuradas — is now officially protected. On August 24, the Chilean government announced the creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, located 911 kilometers west of the Chilean city of Caldera. Encompassing 300,035 square kilometers (115,844 square miles), it is now the largest protected marine area in the Americas.
“The protection of San Félix and San Ambrosio Islands, better known as the Desventuradas, is an unprecedented achievement for marine conservation in Chile, they not only have become the largest marine park the Americas, but our country will secure 12 percent of its sea surface,” Liesbeth van der Meer, Executive Director of Oceana Chile — a branch of the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization Oceana — told Mongabay Latam.
The Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park stands out for its diversity and endemism: “72 percent of the species that live there are found nowhere else in the world; fish biomass is the highest of all the islands of the Pacific with 2.5 tons per hectare,” Pablo Badenier, Chile’s Minister of Environment, told Mongabay Latam.
He also mentioned that the marine park’s endemism is unusually high among deep-sea species (41 percent of fish and 46 percent of invertebrates) and that the park has become a recruiting ground for mackerels (Trachurus murphyi and Pseudocaranx chilensis), species that are intensively harvested by humans.
Before the creation of the park, this ecosystem faced the threat of illegal fishing, Badenier said.
The marine park “is a no-take zone, so mining and industrial activities are off-limits, only research is permitted. Regarding conservation, it means the absolute protection of the resources that live there and enables what is known as the ‘spillover effect,’” explained van der Meer, referring to the over-production of fish that the area around the reserve will eventually gain.
In the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, species will be able to reproduce and contribute to the recovery of currently overexploited or depleted species in the South Pacific Ocean, such as mackerels, which van der Meer described as species “on the brink of collapse.”
The United States also celebrates
Two days after the Chilean government officially established the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, U.S. president Barack Obama created the largest marine protected area in the world. Obama announced the extension of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument which now covers 1.5 million square kilometers (579,153 square miles).
The protected area now includes various ecosystems, Maximiliano Bello, Public Policy Officer of Pew Charitable Trusts, told Mongabay Latam. Papahānaumokuākea is home to over 7,000 species, a quarter of them endemic and some newly discovered. In some of the deeper areas, scientists found 100 percent of the species to be endemic. Endangered species also live in the area, such as green turtles (Chelonia mydas), Hawaiian monk seals (Neomonachus schauinslandi), and even a deep-sea black coral of which scientists have identified an individual that is 4,265 years old.
Then, on September 15, Obama created the country’s first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean: the 4,913-square-mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles off the country’s northeastern coast.
The importance of marine protected areas
Marine protected areas have proven to be one of the best ways to mitigate climate change, according to Bello. “These ecosystems retain carbon, and when they are more protected, they are more resilient to other changes, such as climate,” he explained. He added that many species, “such as corals that live at impressive depths, fix carbon in a particular way that retains it there. If we maintain the health of these ecosystems, it will be better for us.”
Chile and the United States have sent a strong message about the value of marine protected areas. “The oceans are particularly neglected; they have been falling behind for a long time. Scientists say that at least 30 percent of the oceans should be protected, and we are only at 3 percent with this area in Hawaii,” Bello said.
He highlighted the symbolic meaning of the announcement by Obama on the centennial anniversary of the United States’ National Park Service. “After 100 years, parks are still the best idea. The idea of conservation has not only to do with the species that live inside [parks], but with our heritage, how we see ourselves apart from nature. If we do not protect what makes us human, nature, then we lose something of our humanity.”
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on September 1, 2016.