A conservation area the size of France is being created around Easter Island to protect the fragile and unique marine life in the seas around the famous island.
The special zone will be entirely protected from any industrial fishing or other forms of extraction to preserve one of the ocean’s richest and most biodiverse environments. The only fishing that will be allowed is “artisanal” where the indigenous people of Easter Island use their traditional small open boats using hand lines and rocks as weights.
The new protected area was decided upon by all the people of Easter Island (known as Rapa Nui to its inhabitants) in a referendum. The Pew Bartarelli Ocean Legacy Project has been supporting islanders since 2012 to help convince the government of Chile to protect the waters.
Project director Matt Rand said: “It’s not often that communities choose conservation over exploitation. Hopefully, this sets the course for the rest of our world. Chile and the Rapa Nui are protecting an ecosystem that is home to some of the highest levels of endemism on the planet – there are more than 140 species found in the waters of Easter Island that can be found nowhere else in the world.”
The conservation area also protects no less than 27 threatened and endangered species as well as important spawning and breeding grounds for tuna, marlin, swordfish, and sharks. Matt Rand said: “Deep beneath the surface, this will also protect the network of underwater mountains – seamounts – and hydrothermal vents surrounding the island, which are home to an array of rare ocean life perfectly adapted to the extreme conditions of the deep.”
Easter Island is one of the most remote places on the planet and is best known of course for the 900 giant statues that dot the island. Life around the island has continued in splendid isolation for millennia with the island 3700km east of Chile and even now, a five-hour flight from Santiago.
The island itself, despite its grand reputation, is very small – only double the size of Manhattan and home to a permanent population of just around 6000.