By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 6:29 PM
Chile established an enormous marine reserve near Easter Island on Wednesday that will be off-limits to fishing and other extractive activities, providing a haven for vulnerable species such as sharks and lobsters.
The new Sala y Gomez Marine Park will cover nearly 58,000 square miles around the uninhabited island of the same name, which is in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists and conservationists began lobbying for such a reserve after a preliminary expedition to the island in March found abundant marine life there. The neighboring waters around Easter Island, by contrast, are not protected from fishing and have been seriously depleted.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the reserve, along with two other protected areas on land, will preserve "natural landscapes, biodiversity and species of flora and fauna that are in many cases unique in the world."
"Sala y Gomez is one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean," said Enric Sala, a National Geographic ocean fellow who took part in the expedition, adding that it is a place of "global value."
The marine park, which is roughly the size of Greece, expands Chile's total protected marine area more than 100-fold, to 4.4 percent of its waters. Alex Munoz, executive director of the advocacy group Oceana in Chile and South America, said environmentalists will continue pushing for even more "no-take" reserves.
"Chile has many other important ecosystems in this - and other - areas," Munoz said. "Our commitment is to keep contributing with new data to increase the number of areas under protection."