Salas y Gómez Expedition: Marine Protection for Rapa Nui

Oceana’s Alex Muñoz Wilson and National Geographic’s Enric Sala met this afternoon with Rapa Nui community representatives on Easter Island to discuss their ambition to create a marine protected area off the island’s only town, Hanga Roa. In time, such a park might restore some of the abundance recalled by long-time Easter Island residents and documented by the science team at Salas y Gómez.
Moai stand silent watch against the blue of Hanga Roa Bay.
By Alex Muñoz Wilson, Executive Director, Oceana – Chile
Today we had an extraordinary meeting with representatives of the Rapa Nui chamber of tourism and other members of the local community. They told us of their project to create a marine preserve right off Hanga Roa Bay, which they said is a critical initiative for them. They know that Hanga Roa concentrates incredible marine life. Also, it’s one of the most beautiful spots here for divers, as indeed for any island visitors, which makes it both ecologically and economically important.
Expedition team members meet with community leaders to discuss Rapa Nui efforts to create a marine protected area off Hanga Roa Bay.
The Rapa Nui community formally presented this proposal to the Chilean government a few years ago, but unfortunately it was turned down. Now they want to explore a collaboration with us and see if we would be interested in supporting them in an effort to present this project again.
We’re very interested in their proposal, which we believe was well thought through. It’s aimed at protecting an area that, thanks to the expedition we’ve undertaken, we now know is important from an ecological point of view. I only see benefits from the eventual creation of a protected area at Hanga Roa.
Hanga Roa Bay lures swimmers, surfers, sailors, and divers on long summer afternoons. The site of several of the expedition science team’s dives, it also harbors abundant coral and a wealth of endemic marine species. But fishing has removed the large fish and lobsters that long-time Easter Island residents remember from their youth.
We are enthused at the prospect of collaboration, and feel confident based on what we’ve learned that we can offer scientific evidence to support their original proposal. Those of us with Oceana could also apply our experience proposing marine protected areas in different parts of Chile and assist them in navigating the political process that it takes to get one of these preserves designated by the government. We will review their proposal and recommend next steps to help the community succeed with the creation of this marine protected area that they want so much.
I think the Rapa Nui understand that mistakes were made in the past, and now they would like to change the trend and recover the state of the marine ecosystem here as they remember it when they were children–healthy and vital.
Large sea turtles frequent the waters near shore at Hanga Roa, where they graze on algae covering the rocks.
We’re fortunate that the community is the main actor proposing and driving the process. Many times, we need to work a long time with a community to convince them of the benefits of protecting the ocean. But here, the local community is leading the process. And if we can get this done, we’ll have established a partnership that will help us do even more to protect the marine life of Rapa Nui and Salas y Gómez together in the future.
Photos by Ford Cochran
The science team will share frequent updates and media from the expedition, including photographs, videos and links to Google maps, here on the National Geographic News Watch blog. You can also follow the expedition on Google Earth by clicking on the blue ship icon located where the expedition begins near Easter Island, roughly 2,000 miles (3,300 km) northwest of Santiago, Chile. (Make sure the “Places” layer is turned on).
National Geographic and Oceana are members of Mission Blue
View all dispatches from the Salas y Gómez expedition here

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