Salas y Gómez Expedition: An Exceptional Mission

Comandante Andres Rodrigo, commanding officer of the Comandante Toro, shares his thoughts on the Chilean Navy’s first patrol of the new marine park surrounding Salas y Gómez and on hosting a civilian expedition team aboard his ship.
Andres Rodrigo scans monitors
Chilean Navy Comandante Andres Rodrigo scans monitors on the bridge of the OPV Comandante Toro.
By Ford Cochran
As the expedition team prepares to disembark the ship Comandante Toro at Easter Island, I spoke with its commanding officer, Andres Rodrigo, about his crew’s collaboration on our unique journey and his thoughts on the future of Salas y Gómez.
This first patrol to the new marine park at Salas y Gómez Island has been an extraordinary undertaking, involving a commitment of this ship and its crew on a lengthy journey. Is it unusual for the Chilean Navy to bring a team of scientists–or any non-naval personnel–out on a ship such as this one?
On this ship, it’s certainly not common to take on this sort of mission. But the Comandante Toro has a lot of bunks, a mess, and equipment that make it possible to do this. Now the navy is building its own dedicated research vessel that will often be involved in projects such as this, but in the meantime we’ve been able to host the mission quite comfortably aboard this ship.
Chilean Navy ship OPC Comandante Toro
I understand that this mission was viewed as something of a prize assignment, and that different crews competed to be a part of it. How many of the sailors we’ve been traveling with volunteered for this assignment?
All of the crew are volunteers, including two soldiers from a different branch of the service: two marines who volunteered to help support the expedition. They’re helping with both the science and film teams’ logistics. For them, it’s both the first time aboard this ship and their first time visiting Easter Island.
Easter Island is part of Chile, but still a long (more than five hours) and expensive flight from the Chilean mainland, an even longer journey by ship. So it’s an exotic destination even for the crew, correct?
Absolutely. Many members of the crew are seeing Easter Island for the first time in their lives. The people and the culture here are quite different from back on the continent. For us, it’s an exciting adventure.
The crew of the Comandante Toro gathers on deck to divy up the day’s assignments.
Chile has a long Pacific coastline, thousands of miles, more than 4,600 kilometers from the tropics to Antarctica. In the course of your travels with the navy, have you covered the length of that coastline?
Yes, from Arica to Cape Horn and on to Antarctica. I can definitely say that I know my country and I know my sea.
Had you been to Salas y Gómez before?
Yes, twice, but only around the island, never on it, because normally the weather conditions make getting on and off the island quite complicated–as you saw!
Being familiar with the seas around Salas y Gómez helped when I applied to host this expedition. It made me a good fit, and I’m sure it’s part of the reason why I was picked for this mission.
You and your crew witnessed illegal fishing in the park and put a stop to it for the first time, correct?
Yes, that was the first time a team made this sort of evaluation in the park, paid a call on a boat, registered what it was doing, and made it return to its home port (in this case, Hanga Roa here on Easter Island). That incident underscored the need for the government to figure out what procedures it will put in place to protect the park.
Angelica Aravena interviews Andres Rodrigo
Angelica Aravena interviews Andres Rodrigo about his ship’s patrol to Salas y Gómez for Radio Manukena–Easter Island’s only radio station.
The marine protected area is large, particularly to the east of Salas y Gómez. Will the navy be even more involved in protection here in the future?
The Navy has plans to commission a new boat here, and soon I expect there will be a fast patrol boat with a crew on hand to help enforce the regulations, and also for search and rescue when needed.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
One other thing: I’ve spent 28 years in the navy, a long career. This mission has been one of the most important and most exciting of that career, a highlight. I will never forget our time here together–National Geographic, Oceana, and the Navy–working as a team to document Chile’s new marine park.
Andres Rodrigo discusses plans for tomorrow’s dives with Enric Sala and Carlos Gaymer.
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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