Overview: Global Ocean Legacy - Easter Island

Protecting the ‘belly button' of the world

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Islands have a special connection to the ocean. They are defined physically and culturally by the vast blue expanse surrounding them. This is particularly true of Easter Island, one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth.

Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, Easter Island—or Rapa Nui, as the island, its indigenous people, and their language are known—lies about 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) to the east of the Chilean mainland.  Rapa Nui's closest neighbor, the Pitcairn Islands, is located nearly 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) to the west.

A special territory of Chile, Easter Island covers a land area of 163 square kilometers (63 square miles). Its population is about 5,000, roughly half of whom are Rapa Nui of Polynesian heritage.

The province of Easter Island includes its namesake island and Salas y Gomez, lying 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east, which holds spiritual importance for the Rapa Nui. Salas y Gomez is also the site of the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, declared by the Chilean government in 2010. Together, Easter Island and Salas y Gomez are the only undersea mountains of the vast Salas y Gomez ocean ridge that emerge from the waves. The waters surrounding both islands out to 200 nautical miles cover an expanse of approximately 700,000 square kilometers (270,271 square miles).

World famous for its remarkable monolithic human figures, or moai, Easter Island is also recognized for its unique marine life. These waters support wide-ranging populations of fish species such as tuna and swordfish. Ancient Polynesians expertly navigated these waters guided by the stars and the ocean, giving it the name “the belly button of the world”. From one generation to the next, they passed along their impressive seafaring skills.

Though still largely unexplored, the waters of Easter Island are known to contain geological hot spots and areas of rare biodiversity. Highly migratory fish species, hydrothermal vents, and seamounts ranging from 8.4 million to 13.1 million years old are found here. Additionally, research expeditions to neighboring seamounts indicate that many fish communities are highly local, but that they bear a closer resemblance to Japanese and Hawaiian coastal fish communities than to those of South America's Pacific coast.

In 2011, Pew's Global Ocean Legacy program began exploring the concept of a large marine park within Easter Island Province's Exclusive Economic Zone, in consultation with the Chilean central government and Rapa Nui representatives. A marine park would not restrict current Rapa Nui fishing around Easter Island, because it would  include only the area outside the current fishing zone and encompass Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park.  This would create a very large conservation area that could cover a significant portion of the province while protecting local fishing around Easter Island.


Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group and its partners, aims to protect and conserve some of the Earth's most important and unspoiled marine ecosystems through the establishment of very large, highly protected marine reserves, where extractive activity is not allowed.

In 2011, Pew's Global Ocean Legacy program began exploring the concept of a large, no-take marine park in the waters of the Province of Easter Island, in conjunction with the Chilean government and Rapa Nui community representatives to achieve adequate biodiversity protection as well as safeguard Rapa Nui interests, particularly those of local artisanal fishermen. 

We believe that it is possible to establish a large-scale, no-take marine park in the Province while at the same time ensuring that Rapa Nui fishermen can maintain their current practices. This model (inspired by our initiative in Bermuda) would create a park covering the Province of Easter Island's waters, while leaving open an inner band of water stretching from the shoreline to well beyond the furthest point where Isla de Pascua fisherman currently travel to fish. This inner fishing area could range from 20, 30 or even 60 kilometers from the shoreline and still allow for the creation the world's largest marine park. It would be up to the local fishermen on Isla de Pascua and the Chilean Government to determine the size of this area.

We believe that a marine park which closes all fishing and other extractive activities in the outer waters of the Isla de Pascua Province – starting beyond where local fishermen now fish and extending out to the edge of the 200 nautical mile EEZ – would provide tremendous benefits to local fisherman and serve to clearly distinguish between the activities of legally authorized Isla de Pascua fishermen and any industrial offshore fishing fleets that may be unlawfully taking advantage of the lack of monitoring and enforcement in the area to take Easter Island's fish.


Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group, and its partners, aim to protect and conserve some of the Earth's most important and unspoiled marine ecosystems through the establishment of very large, highly protected marine areas, where extractive activity is not allowed, while ensuring the local and indigenous communities are allowed to continue practicing their ancestral fishing activities.

Media Contact: Veronica OConnor

Topics: Oceans, Environment

Project: Easter Island