The recommendation to create the marine park stretching 200 nautical miles around the island - about 380 km east of Easter Island in the South Pacific – was a unanimous decision of the Senate’s Committee on Maritime Interests, Fisheries, and Aquaculture.
At about 240,000 square kilometres WWF-Chile estimates the new marine park would be the planet’s second largest such area, following the recently declared Chagos no-take marine reserve under UK jurisdiction in the Indian Ocean. Under Chilean law marine parks only allow activities such as observation, investigation, and research with permits, with due respect for freedom of navigation according to international law.
“This is really good news, and we hope that it will pave the way to protect other kinds of marine ecosystems in Chile which lack legal protection in the face of great threats, like the Corcovado Gulf, home of the endangered blue whale,” said Mauricio Galvez, WWF Chile’s Marine Conservation Coordinator.
Relatively little explored or fished, the area is a geological hotspot as well as an area of rare biodiversity. About 40 seamounts, 1200 to 2900 meters high and ranging from 8.4 to 13.1 million years old have been identified as sites for deep sea stony corals and sponge fields.
Expeditions to neighbouring seamounts by the former Soviet Union indicated that the fish communities are highly specific to the seamounts with more similarities to fish communities off Japan and Hawaii than the Pacific coast of South America.
A recent Oceana and National Geographic expedition found schools of big fishes and sharks, generally taken as proof of a healthy ecosystem.
“We understand that this initiative emerges from several areas, including the Undersecretariat for Fisheries, Committee President Senator Antonio Horvath, Oceana and, of course, WWF Chile. The visions shared by the different actors make this initiative even more valuable,” said Galvez, author of a scientific paper in the Latin American Journal of Aquatic Research earlier this year in support of the initiative.
WWF sent a technical document to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which demonstrates that the seamounts of Nazca and Salas y Gomez fulfill CBD criteria for identifying Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas in need of protection.
Galvez said it was vital that Salas y Gomez be given the legal status of Marine Park under Chilean Fisheries Law since it offers the highest level of protection for marine ecosystems; requires a management plan and is administered and managed by the National Fisheries Service.
“This allows a public agency to manage the area effectively, allocating funds for monitoring, control, and surveillance,” he said.