Marine Reserve in the bay of hanga roa

According to the experts and the international NGOs that are dedicated to marine conservation, the oceans should be managed as ecosystems and not as a cornucopia that the fishing industry can harvest at will. In the entire world, there are around 4 million fishing boats which operate without any control or punishments. Studies have shown that if the present overfishing continues, the oceans will be depleted before 2050, that is, in no more than 39 years.
There is very little information on the biodiversity and ecology of the marine basins which were recently declared a marine park of 150 thousand square kilometers (58,000 sq.mi.) in size, which will be called Motu Motiro Hiva (“islet which looks toward Hiva”), which was the name that the Polynesians gave to the small Salas y Gomez Island along their ocean routes. In February and March of this year, the National Geographic Society and Oceana Chile made a scientific expedition to both Rapa Nui and Motu Motiro Hiva islands, also studying the sea between both, in order to compare both ecosystems and develop a base line for the implementation of a Marine Reserve in the bay of Hanga Roa O Tai. This is a preliminary study to obtain a description of the marine floor, determine the number of main species of algae, invertebrates, fishes and turtles, and recommend sites of importance for marine conservation.

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The results obtained by the study show an imminent need to enlarge the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park toward the west due to the vulnerability of the ecosystem, since Salas y Gomez Island is located close to the park borders. In additon, the majority of seamounts which show a high level of endemism are outside the Marine Park limits and are, thus, susceptible to pressure from fishing.

The need for the implementation of a Marine Reserve in the bay of Hanga Roa O Tai is urgent. The high grade of isolation of Easter Island and the low amount of fish and lobster which were detected make it necessary to establish policies for sustainable management of fishing and permit the resident fish to grow to full reproductive maturity in order to increase the production of eggs.

The project to set up a marine reserve at Hanga Roa O Tai was presented a few years ago by the professional diver, Michel García, and taken on by the Chamber of Tourism of Easter Island, which did the feasibility studies. The aptitud of this coastal zone was determined in 2004 by the Coastline Committee of the Isla de Pascua Development Commission (CODEIPA). In spite of all that, the proposal has languished for the lack of the necessary technical studies, a problem that has been overcome with the research done recently. However, Edgar Hereveri, former president of the Chamber of Tourism and a promotor of the project, asserts that nothing is gained in forcing through the project without an adequate Management Plan which would regulate and patrol the space. Who will administer it? What will happen with Ahu Tahai? And what happens with the ships which anchor in the area that is now being considered for a Marine Reserve?

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These are questions that are also being asked by the Fishermen’s Association, who have proposed other sites for the reserve; by Arturo Olivares-Tepano, current Port Authority at Hanga Pico, who wonders why the dive shops don’t change their contaminating motors for types that are more ecological. All are aware of the need to manage sustainable tourism and conservation of marine resources, but object to the lack of a Participative Management Plan for the project of a marine reserve in the bay of Hanga Roa O Tai.

At the end of 1999, the Under-secretary of the Chilean Navy dictated – with no community consultation – three Submarine Parks, which, to date, lack a specific management plan, probably due to the small size of two of them (Coral Nui Nui on the northern side of Hanga Roa Bay and Motu Tautara) and the difficult access to the third (Hanga Oteo). Today the Chamber of Tourism is proposing to enlarge the borders of the first of these already certified parks to include the area of Hanga Roa O Tai, which offers a complete and almost unique representation of the varied coastal habitats to be found on Rapa Nui. At a later date, the administration of the other two current submarine parks could be integrated, thus capturing the greater part of the biodiversity of the marine environment of Rapa Nui.

To conclude, Edgar Hereveri notes: “Actually, the National Fisheries Service (Sernapesca) on Rapa Nui does not have the technical capacity to administer these submarine parks, nor does it have the legal authority to delegate that task to semi-governmental corporations, leaving them with only the supervision of the management. For the moment, we have to wait for a constitutional revision which would allow us more autonomy of administration in relation to those topics which affect us directly. We mustn’t forget that in the past we had the “Tapu” (cultural prohibitions), which offered a system of management of marine resources and which still exist in the collective memory of the Rapanui; we would only have to remind them. In Polynesia, there are already several marine reserves which have been able to recover their islands from massive overfishing, so that today they offer recreation and ecotourism, becoming true centers of ecological information.”

Results of Study

National Geographic & Oceana Chile

1 Unique and irreplaceable biodiversity of reef fish: Coral reefs are the environments with the greatest diversity of marine life; both Islands in the study have some of the highest levels of endemism ever registered in oceanic islands (77% in Easter Island and 73% in Salas y Gomez).

2 Salas y Gomez has the greatest biomass of fish in the Pacific: Easter Island, in spite of offering excellent habitat, has only a third of the biomass of fish that is found at Salas y Gomez, probably due to overfishing. The same is happening with the populations of lobster and slipper lobster which have almost disappeared on Rapa Nui.

3 A rich community of fish is also found outside of the Marine Park: The submarine seamounts between Easter Island and Salas y Gomez are home to a rich community of fish; 46% of the species are endemic, including a species that is new to science (Chromis sp.nov.)

4 Alta cobertura de Coral Vivo en ambas islas. El 53% del fondo marino en Rapa Nui y el 44% en Salas y Gomez está ocupado por coral vivo en excelente condición.

5 High numbers of large predators at Salas y Gomez: They represent 43% of the total biomass of reef fish. On Rapa Nui, sharks were not observed and there is a general lack of other large predators, such as mackerel and yellowtail toremo, also probably as a result of overfishing.

6 Major Relevance of Algae Marine Life in Easter Island: It can be attributed to herbivore fish species from ocean wells in Salas y Gomez and the scarcity of that species in Easter Island.

7 The Manutara (Easter Island tern) still nests on Salas y Gomez: The protection of their area of reproduction and feeding around Salas y Gomez is vitally important to assure their presence on both islands.

 

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