Pro­tect­ing the Ocean


Patagon Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By JIMMY LANG­MAN

The Pi­ti­palena- Añi­hué Marine Pro­tected Area on Chile’s south­ern Patag­o­nia coast was cre­ated in 2014. And at the small vil­lage of Raúl Marín Bal­maceda, pop­u­la­tion 250, the res­i­dents are filled with ex­pec­ta­tion for the years to come. They’re now bor­dered on land by the plush, wild na­ture at the new Cor­co­v­ado Na­tional Park, and by sea with this ex­ten­sive new marine pro­tected area cov­er­ing 238,62 km2. They are pre­serv­ing this spe­cial part of the world for na­ture’s sake and in­sert­ing the town into the sus­tain­able tourism in­dus­try. Ev­ery­one is in­volved. The town’s fish­er­men, some of them at first wary of re­stric­tions on their trade, have since bought-in to the idea of reg­u­lated fish­ing to en­sure that they have a liveli­hood with a fu­ture. “There has been a cul­tural change. There is a new way of look­ing at how we live to­gether with na­ture,” said Ro­drigo Parra, 58, di­rec­tor of the com­mu­nity’s foun­da­tion set up to co-man­age the marine pro­tected area to­gether with Chile’s Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment.

Just north of the Pi­ti­pale­naAñi­hué Marine Pro­tected Area, or MPA, Ro­drigo Hucke-Gaete, a marine mam­mal bi­ol­o­gist and di­rec­tor of the Val­divia-based Blue Whale Cen­ter, has been propos­ing the creation of a marine and coastal pro­tected area off the coast of Cor­co­v­ado Na­tional Park and the Chiloé Ar­chi­pel­ago since 2004. The area is an im­por­tant feed­ing ground for the world’s largest mam­mal, the blue whale. In fact, some sci­en­tists spec­u­late that in 10 to 20 years it could po­ten­tially be­come the last refuge for blue whales in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. The rea­son? It is pre­dicted that cli­mate change may cause an 80 per­cent re­duc­tion in the krill pop­u­la­tion around

Antarc­tica, and the blue whale, al­ready en­dan­gered, feeds al­most en­tirely on the tiny krill.

Still, the chal­lenge of cre­at­ing an MPA in that area is much more com­plex. For one, the salmon farm­ing in­dus­try dom­i­nates much of the Chiloé coast, bring­ing with it mul­ti­ple en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion con­cerns. There is also greater boat traf­fic in the area, in­clud­ing the Chilean navy, small fish­er­men and oth­ers. Hucke-Gaete re­mains op­ti­mistic, how­ever, that one day his dream will come true. “If the MPA in Pi­ti­palena goes well, it could be an ex­am­ple for other places that fear marine con­ser­va­tion,” he said. “Con­ser­va­tion is re­ally about us­ing re­sources ap­pro­pri­ately. We must show peo­ple that it will not be bad for them, rather it will come with new op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

At the Fourth In­ter­na­tional Marine Pro­tected Ar­eas Congress (IMPAC4) in La Ser­ena, Chile, in Septem­ber 2017 the main theme is “bring­ing the peo­ple and ocean to­gether.” The in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ing, or­ga­nized jointly by the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) and a host coun­try ev­ery four years, will this year fo­cus on “the in­tri­cate na­ture of the ocean-hu­man re­la­tion­ship and the ben­e­fits of marine pro­tected ar­eas and the ocean for mil­lions that de­pends on their ecosys­tem ser­vices.”

For sure, pro­tect­ing the ocean yields eco­nomic, en­vi­ron­men­tal, phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual ben­e­fits for peo­ple. Most im­por­tantly, half of the oxy­gen in the air

we breathe is pro­duced by ocean plants. The ocean helps mit­i­gate global warm­ing, ab­sorb­ing about a third of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions pumped into the at­mos­phere by peo­ple. It pro­vides the world’s 3 bil­lion peo­ple with al­most a fifth of their pro­tein. The UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) es­ti­mates that the fish­ing sec­tor makes up the liveli­hood for about 12 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. There is also great po­ten­tial for tourism: in the United States, 3 out of 4 ocean econ­omy jobs are in tourism and recre­ation.

Ex­tinc­tion is for­ever

The ocean is sim­ply a vi­tal part of the web of life. But for mil­len­nia, hu­man so­ci­eties have per­ceived the ocean as a vast, un­lim­ited re­source that we can take from and dump in seem­ingly with no end. In­deed, it is vast - cov­er­ing 71 per­cent of our blue planet - but the world’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion has be­come ever more ef­fi­cient in ex­ploit­ing the ocean while con­sumer waste has soared in re­cent decades. For most of us, the sea is out of sight, out of mind, and the dam­age done is only vis­i­ble to the ex­tent that en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates bring it into view.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal news is not good. The FAO says nearly 90 per­cent of global fish stocks are cur­rently ei­ther fully fished or over­fished. And ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port from the World Wide Fund for Na­ture (WWF), the pop­u­la­tion of marine mam­mals, rep­tiles, birds and fish have de­clined by nearly half since 1970. “In the space of a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion, hu­man ac­tiv­ity has se­verely dam­aged the ocean by catch­ing fish faster than they can re­pro­duce while also de­stroy­ing their nurs­eries,” says Marco Lam­ber­tini, head of WWF In­ter­na­tional.

The cur­rent trends are part of what sci­en­tists be­lieve is a “sixth great mass ex­tinc­tion.” Re­search shows that ver­te­brate species are dis­ap­pear­ing 100 times faster over the past cen­tury than in any other pe­riod. A pa­per pub­lished in the jour­nal Science last year about the “emerg­ing mass ex­tinc­tion in

“Con­ser­va­tion is re­ally about us­ing re­sources ap­pro­pri­ately. We must show peo­ple that it will not be bad for them, rather it will come with new op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

the oceans” found that large marine mam­mals were most at risk of go­ing ex­tinct and be­cause of their greater im­por­tance to ecosys­tem func­tion their pos­si­ble dis­ap­pear­ance would “dis­rupt ecosys­tems for mil­lions of years.”

Over­fish­ing is only part of the prob­lem; cli­mate change-in­duced ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and pol­lu­tion are also de­grad­ing marine habi­tats and killing ocean life. The oceans help slow cli­mate change by ab­sorb­ing man-made car­bon diox­ide (CO2), but when the CO2 dis­solves in wa­ter it forms a mild acid. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), if cli­mate change con­tin­ues apace, ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion is pro­jected to worsen by a fac­tor of five by the end of the cen­tury. Un­der that sce­nario, shell-form­ing species such as oys­ters, shrimp, crabs, clams and lob­ster will likely be wiped out. The im­pacts of ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion are al­ready de­stroy­ing coral reefs in some places.

Roger Payne, the pi­o­neer­ing whale ex­pert and founder of the Ocean Al­liance, calls pol­lu­tion the great­est threat to whales and other marine mam­mals. On a re­search trip Payne’s or­ga­ni­za­tion made around the world, they col­lected tiny sam­ples of skin and blub­ber from al­most 1,000 sperm whales, from ev­ery ocean. He says they never found a whale that had less than sev­eral times the ac­cept­able dose of mercury and lead, but more sur­pris­ing was the pres­ence of chromium. “In the Kiri­bati ar­chi­pel­ago in the cen­tral Pa­cific, about as far from in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion as you can get on this planet, in those re­mote wa­ters

“In the space of a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion, hu­man ac­tiv­ity has se­verely dam­aged the ocean by catch­ing fish faster than they can re­pro­duce while also de­stroy­ing their nurs­eries.”

we found sperm whales which have more chromium in them than work­ers who have worked in chromium plants for 20 years and died of lung can­cer that they con­tracted be­cause of that work,” Payne told Patagon Jour­nal.

About half­way be­tween Chile and New Zealand lies Hen­der­son Is­land. Seven sci­en­tists from the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia vis­ited this small, coral is­land in 2015 and dis­cov­ered green toy sol­diers, red ho­tels from the Mo­nop­oly board game, cig­a­rette lighters, tooth brushes and so much more. The re­searchers counted more than 53,100 pieces of trash, al­most all of it plas­tic. Sit­ting on the edge of an ocean cur­rent that picks up trash called the South­ern Gyre, the un­in­hab­ited is­land was de­clared a World Her­itage site in 1988 be­cause of its pris­tine state and four en­demic bird species. Now, it’s a mon­u­ment to our world’s run­away, care­less overuse of dis­pos­able plas­tics.

The is­sue of plas­tics is a full-bore cri­sis. Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port by the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, if cur­rent trends hold, in 2050 there will more plas­tic than fish by weight in the ocean. The toxic plas­tics don’t just wash ashore to places like Hen­der­son Is­land, but some of it breaks down into tiny frag­ments called mi­croplas­tics. NOAA has found that at least 100 species of fish are con­sum­ing the mi­croplas­tics, which even­tu­ally make their way up the food chain to peo­ple. Mean­time, Bel­gium’s Ghent Univer­sity finds that reg­u­lar seafood eaters in Europe are cur­rently in­gest­ing up to 11,000 mi­croplas­tics a year.

Marine Pro­tected Ar­eas

While the state of the oceans is grim, the good news is that over the past few years we have seen ma­jor steps for­ward in ad­vanc­ing marine pro­tected ar­eas around the world. Ac­cord­ing to the Sec­re­tar­iat of the Con­ven­tion on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity (CBD), more than 10 per­cent of the ocean will be in marine pro­tected ar­eas by 2020, thereby sur­pass­ing the ac­cord’s Aichi Tar­gets.

The most im­pres­sive achieve­ment to date was in Oc­to­ber 2016, when 24 coun­tries agreed to pro­tect 1.55 mil­lion km2 of the Ross Sea around Antarc­tica – that’s more than 3 times the size of France - with 72 per­cent of that in “no-take” zones in which all types of fish­ing are banned for the next 35 years. Sci­en­tists have called this stretch of ocean “the least altered marine ecosys­tem on Earth,” with sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tions of minke and killer whales, Adele and em­peror pen­guins, leop­ard seals, and some 16,000 other species.

That said, the Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts say the next step must be es­tab­lish­ing a net­work of largescale marine pro­tected ar­eas in other vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas through­out the South­ern Ocean sur­round­ing Antarc­tica, be­gin­ning with pro­posed MPAs for the Wed­dell Sea, East Antarc­tica and West Antarc­tic Penin­sula. Home to 15 per­cent of the global ocean, the South­ern Ocean is eco­log­i­cally im­por­tant not only for its pris­tine con­di­tions and

thou­sands of species found nowhere else, but also be­cause it pro­duces about three-fourths of the nu­tri­ents nec­es­sary to sus­tain life in the rest of the world’s oceans.

Just prior to the Ross Sea an­nounce­ment, in Au­gust 2016, ex-U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama cre­ated what at that time was the largest MPA world­wide, by qua­dru­pling in size the ex­ist­ing Pa­pahã­naumokuãkea Marine Na­tional Mon­u­ment of the Hawai­ian Is­lands to 1,510,000 km2. That said, Obama’s pres­i­den­tial de­cree is now un­der re­view by the gov­ern­ment of U.S. Presi-

“Chile is now among the top 5 coun­tries in the world for to­tal ocean area un­der some form of pro­tec­tion.”


Above / Ar­riba: Pen­guins in the Ross Sea of Antarc­tica, which is now the home of the largest marine pro­tected area in the world. Pingüi­nos en el Mar de Ross en la An­tár­tida, en la que ahora es la mayor área ma­rina pro­te­gida del mundo. Far right /...


Re­searchers counted more than 53,100 pieces of trash, al­most all of it plas­tic, on Hen­der­son Is­land in the south­ern Pa­cific. In­ves­ti­gadores en­con­traron más de 53.100 piezas de ba­sura, casi todo de plás­tico, en la isla de Hen­der­son, en el Pací­fico Sur.




Pho­tos / Fo­tos: The Gulf of Cor­co­v­ado in south­ern Chile is a refuge for the great blue whale and nu­mer­ous other marine species, such as the en­demic Chilean dol­phin. El Golfo de Cor­co­v­ado, en el sur de Chile, es un refu­gio para la gran bal­lena azul y...


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