Chile creates five new marine reserves

Pumalin Park one of Chile's conservation areas.

This week, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet signed a decree allowing the creation of the Network of National Parks of Patagonia and the protection of marine areas in different areas of the South American country, in a move to boost her legacy two weeks before leaving power.

The marine areas contemplate the areas of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, Diego Ramírez Islands, Rapa Nui, Seno Almirantazgo and Tortel, totaling eight marine parks and six coastal marine areas of multiple, reaching 42.4 percent.

In all, protections added during her four-year term cover some 1.3 million square kilometers (509,000 square miles) of ocean.

The Rapa Nui area alone accounts for some 720,000 square kilometers home to at least 142 species of marine life found nowhere else, of which 27 are threatened or in danger of extinction.

Industrial fishing will now be banned in these zones. Large fisheries from China had been especially active in the area around Easter Island and around the Juan Fernandez Islands. Most of the fishing was for lobster exported to China.

“It is super exciting what we are experiencing today. We are crowning a beautiful process by transforming the vision, will and action needed into bills,” Bachelet said during one of her last ceremonies at the La Moneda palace before handing over power on March 11 to conservative Sebastian Pinera.

The president indicated that this fact marks a milestone for the future, adding that “there is a sense of urgency that does not allow us to lower our arms, we are literally in a race against time: climate change, pollution of lands, rivers and seas , irrational predation or simple indifference must find on our side a frontal response”.

Bachelet’s decree multiplies by 10 the amount of marine areas protected, growing by 4.3 percent to 42.4 percent of Chile’s sea surface during the socialist president’s four-year term.

Her huge conservationist legacy now includes 14 new marine protected areas (eight marine parks and six coastal marine areas).

Last month, an order by Bachelet greatly expanded protected parkland in the country’s stunning southern Patagonia region by incorporating reserves owned by late American philanthropist Douglas Tompkins, who founded the North Face label.

The widow of Douglas Tompkins, who donated four thousand hectares, indicated that “it is very exciting because I believe we never imagined that this day was going to arrive , so for us it is an immense achievement”.

In all, 4.5 million hectares (11 million acres) are being added to Chile’s protected zones, with the ancillary aim of them also boosting tourism to the unspoilt reaches of South America.

Along with the creation of Juan Fernandez National Park, Bachelet decreed the expansion of its protected coastal marine area, where 130 important conservation species have been detected, of which 32 are threatened.