Friday, February 25, 2011

Flagship Expedition to Easter Island and Salas y Gómez


SANTIAGO, Chile, February 2011 - National Geographic Society and Oceana, together with the Chilean Navy, began a scientific expedition to the marine ecosystems that surround the Chilean island Salas y Gómez (Motu Motiro Hiva) and Easter Island. The results of this unprecedented collaboration will be the baseline for monitoring Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, whose creation was announced last October by the Chilean government. Studies also will be carried out in the marine area surrounding Easter Island to assess its current state of conservation and need for new protection measures.

 The Chilean Navy will contribute one of its most modern vessels, the offshore patrol vessel (OPV) Comandante Toro. The scientists aboard will study one of the most pristine ecosystems of the Pacific Ocean and document the marine diversity surrounding the Salas y Gómez Island. They will also explore the deep seamounts and ecosystems that are part of Easter Island’s exclusive economic zone and which are currently unprotected.  

“Salas y Gómez Island will be like a time machine in terms of research, enabling us to see what the ocean — and Easter Island — was like hundreds of years ago. This extraordinary baseline will be key to measuring the impact of human activities on Easter Island and elsewhere,” said Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Fellow.

The expedition was preceded by a preliminary scientific expedition to the Salas y Gómez Island in March 2010, supported by the Waitt Foundation. That trip provided information that prompted the Chilean government to create the 150,000 square-kilometer Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, which covers an area larger than Greece.

 “The creation of the marine park that now surrounds the Salas y Gómez Island allows Chile to extend the surface of protected marine areas from 0.03 percent to 4.4 percent of its exclusive economic zone. This figure should reach 10 percent by 2020 if we are to fulfill Chile’s commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity,” said Carlos Gaymerprofessor at Universidad Católica del Norte and a member of the expedition.

In order to study the marine ecosystems of Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park and surrounding areas, including Easter Island, the expedition will use high-tech equipment including a remotely operated vehicle that can capture high-definition images 300 meters below sea level, four spherical drop cams for remote deep-water filming to 4,000 meters below sea level, and three satellite tags for tracking the migratory movements of sharks.

Additionally, the OPV Comandante Toro has its own high-tech equipment for low fuel consumption and emissions that comply with international regulations. The vessel can operate for 30 days without refueling and cover approximately 16,000 kilometers — the equivalent of two round trips from Valparaíso to Easter Island.

According to the ship’s captain, Andrés Rodrigo Ramírez, “With this unit and its twin, the Piloto Pardo, the Navy now has a more permanent presence and can better protect our marine resources. We aim to patrol and control marine activities in territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone, and the so-called Chilean sea.”

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