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A Rapa Nui Welcome

Alex Muñoz Wilson, Executive Director of Oceana in Chile, discusses the encouraging meetings he and National Geographic Fellow Enric Sala have had with Rapa Nui officials at the outset of the expedition, as well as the extraordinary work they’re doing with the Chilean Navy.
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Chilean Navy vessel Comandante Toro
By Alex Muñoz Wilson
Yesterday we met with local authorities, including the governor of the province, Carmen Cardinal, and the mayor of Hanga Roa, Luz Sasso Paoa. Our intention was greet them formally, explain in detail why we were visiting Easter Island, and then review our work plans for Salas y Gómez. We also hoped to to learn more from them about the relationship the Rapa Nui have with the ocean.
We were pleased that both the mayor and the governor wanted to protect the Rapa Nui marine ecosystem and local fisheries. They know the area well but told us they want better scientific knowledge of what lies around the island. They were enthusiastic about our visit and the studies we’ll conduct; I think we couldn’t have had a better start to our expedition.
The local authorities expressed concern about the decline of marine resources at Rapa Nui. They grew up on the island, and told us that when they were young, fish were abundant. Now they’re worried that there’s a visible and significant decline in the fish that can be found.
They told us that they favored adopting measures and taking action to reverse the situation and leaving a better future for their children. They don’t want the declining trend to continue, and they’d like to see drastic change in the way the fisheries have been managed thus far.
Clearly they were pleased that the waters around Salas y Gómez are protected as a marine park. We hope the Rapa Nui people stay very involved in this project – their traditions and authority here are key to understanding the situation.
We gained yet more insight when we met with Uri Pate, a Rapa Nui community leader, traditional dancer and an employee in the Chilean Navy’s Easter Island office. He told us that he’s very excited about going to Salas y Gómez because for him, stepping on the island would be not only special, he said, but also a spiritual moment for him, an act of `purification`.
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Uri Pate, a Rapa Nui community leader, traditional dancer and an employee in the Chilean Navy’s Easter Island office
We are so fortunate that the the Chilean Navy helped with the complicated logistics of this expedition as well as giving us use of one of their most modern boats–one designed to have minimal impact on the marine environments below, and thus not to damage either island’s precious ecosystems.
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