Chile sets aside 58,000 square miles for marine reserve

The Sala y Gomez preserve is roughly the size of Greece.
The Sala y Gomez preserve is roughly the size of Greece. (Courtesy Oceana)
By Juliet Eilperin
Thursday, October 7, 2010

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 an 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 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.

The marine park, roughly the size of Greece, expands Chile's 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 push for 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."

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