Chile creates Easter Island marine reserve at ocean summit
VINA DEL MAR, Chile - Chile and the United States declared huge new marine reserves on Monday, October 5, at the start of a major conference in Chile on protecting the world's oceans and fisheries.
Chile opened the Our Ocean conference by declaring a 243,630-square-mile (631,368-square-kilometer) sanctuary around Easter Island in the Pacific off its eastern coast.
The area is a source of food in the vast expanse of the ocean and a spawning ground for tuna, shark, marlin and swordfish and a food source for the Rapa Nui people of the island.
It joins reserves declared by the United States, Britain and New Zealand off the US Pacific Islands, Pitcairn and the Kermadecs, as areas protected from the depredations of unregulated fishing.
President Michelle Bachelet announced the plan to warm applause from international delegates and a traditional song from a Rapa Nui group.
"We commit to the creation of protected areas around the Rapa Nui islands," said the Socialist leader, using the territory's Polynesian name.
Charitable institutions the Pew Charitable Trusts and The Bertarelli Foundation welcomed the decision, which they said would protect 27 endangered species and the people who fish there.
"The Easter Island park protects one of the last near-pristine ocean wildernesses on Earth and one that holds great cultural, religious and economic importance to the Rapa Nui people," said Joshua Reichert of Pew.
Chile is hosting Our Ocean in the picturesque Pacific port city of Valparaiso, a second annual day-long get-together for states and foundations to pledge support for the marine ecosystem.
US President Barack Obama addressed the meeting in a video message to announce two new "National Marine Sanctuaries" in the United States.
An 875-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) area of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin that holds dozens of historic wrecks will be protected, US officials said.
Mallows Bay on the Potomac River in Maryland, a tidal wetland and a graveyard for scuttled warships since the Revolutionary War, will also become a reserve.
"And, in the coming months, I will look for even more opportunities to protect our waters," Obama said.
"We will leave our children a planet as full of possibilities as the one we inherited."
Several more countries and foundations are expected to pledge funds and propose initiatives to fight pollution, overfishing and the acidification of the ocean by carbon emissions.
Last year's conference in Washington saw $800 million pledged to support various environmental initiatives and this year's host Chile hoped for similar success.
But perhaps the initiative with the most long-term potential is a US plan to regulate the world fish trade.
According to a 2014 study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 29 percent of the world's fish stocks which have been adequately studied are overexploited.
Regulation and quota systems vary wildly around the world and some countries – particularly in Southeast Asia – have been accused of allowing large-scale unregulated fishing.
Targeting 'hot spots'
Part of the US plan, dubbed Sea Scout, will seek to unite governments around the world in the fight to identify illegal fishing vessels and fleets and bar them from landing catches.
Under the plan, experts will identify regional fishing sea "hot spots" and target them for enforcement by member states' fisheries protection teams, the White House said.
The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration will track suspicious fishing boats by satellite and alert authorities in Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries.
Meanwhile, Washington will make its own fishing industry and importers serving its huge market – Americans eat 4.6 billion pounds of seafood per year – track products from their origin.
Officials traveling with US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Valparaiso conference said rules coming into place next year will track species representing 80 percent of US seafood.
The United States will negotiate with its Asian partners to try to embed the seafood tracking system into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal it is currently negotiating.
The conference will also take on the problem of pollution from the land - such as agricultural pesticide and fertilizer run-off and waste plastics - hurting the sea.
And ministers and experts will address the acidification of the oceans, which are absorbing carbon from the atmosphere at a speed which threatens vulnerable ecosystems. - Rappler.com