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Sala y Gómez clears protection hurdle

A Chilean Senate committee unanimously recommends making waters surrounding the remote Sala y Gómez island a marine protected area.

By Ford Cochran

The waters off Sala y Gómez–a tiny Pacific island about 250 miles east of Easter Island–have come one step closer to becoming a marine protected area with the unanimous endorsement of Chile’s Senate Fisheries Committee.

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National Geographic Fellow Enric Sala, a marine biologist who supports no-take zones and other forms of protection for the planet’s last pristine ocean ecosystems, presented the case for Sala y Gomez to members of the Senate committee before the vote. National Geographic and Oceana have partnered with Chilean scientists to research and document sea life in the largely unexplored waters surrounding the island.

“Sala y Gómez has been identified by National Geographic as a remote place that represents a valuable ecosystem which is also part of a chain of seamounts. Current information is very scarce, but sufficient to believe that we are dealing with one of the few pristine marine ecosystems left on the globe”, said Sala.

Preliminary reconnaissance using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) near the island in March revealed an abundance of sea life, including densities for some species higher than those observed near Easter Island. The research team obtained the first high-definition imagery of the seabed near the island. National Geographic and Oceana hope to return to Sala y Gómez in 2011 to develop a baseline of biological information that will later allow for the design of a conservation plan for the area.

Sala has conducted similar expeditions in recent years to the Northern and Southern Line Islands and Cocos Island in the Pacific, and to some of the historic Mediterranean sites originally documented by Jacques Cousteau. “By carefully studying the function of marine ecosystems without human intervention, we can help recover those that are damaged and generally better preserve the oceans that cover more than two thirds of our planet”, he said.

Explore the ocean with National Geographic.

Photo courtesy Enrdes, Wikimedia Commons

Ford-Cochran.jpgFord Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild–a digest of Society exploration, research, and events–and the Ocean Now blog. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.

 

More posts by Ford Cochran

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