Lonely Planet Writer

Chile gives back more than 40% of its entire ocean area to nature

Chile has given back more than 40% of its entire ocean area to nature. Three new enormous marine protection areas have been signed into law by the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in one of the most far-reaching acts of environmentalism ever by a national government.

Easter Island is world-renowned for its Moai statues. Image by Eduardo Sorensen/The Pew Charitable Trusts

The new preserved zones will never be commercially fished and will be left exactly as nature intended for future generations to enjoy. It means that 42% of Chile’s entire open seas are now officially protected, the largest percentage of any country in the world. The new areas surround some of the most dramatic ocean landscapes in the world encompassing Easter Island, Cape Horn, and the Juan Fernandez Islands.

Easter Island’s waters are full of healthy coral reefs. Image by Eduardo Sorensen/The Pew Charitable Trusts

Altogether, the protected zones cover 450,000 square miles (almost the land mass of South Africa) and are home to hundreds of marine species found nowhere else on earth. The largest area will be around Easter Island and its famous Moai statues, where only traditional fishing will be allowed and the indigenous community were fully behind the conservation move.

Fishermen engage in traditional Rapa Nui fishing. Image by Eduardo Sorensen/The Pew Charitable Trusts

Max Bello of the Pew Charitable Trusts, an organisation that helped pave the way for the announcement, told Lonely Planet: “Chile has set a global standard for ocean conservation, preserving over 42% of its economic exclusive zone. It is a standard for other countries to follow, and an important stepping stone to save the ocean. As a Chilean, I’m proud to see the leadership of my country, showing the world that environmental protection is the core of sustainable development.”

The country’s approach to preserving the marine environment is also having ripple effects across the rest of the Americas. Mexico has recently announced the creation of the largest marine protection area in North America while Argentina and Brazil are also examining the development of enormous ocean protected areas as well.