Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth. A special territory of Chile, it is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) west of the Chilean mainland.
Famous for its Moai statues, Easter Island—or Rapa Nui, as the island, its indigenous people, and their language are known—is also celebrated for its remarkable marine life. A Pew-commissioned analysis of Easter Island’s marine environment, one of the most comprehensive to date, found the island’s waters to be some of the most unique in the world, featuring:
- Vitally important spawning ground for many species, including tunas, sharks, marlins, and swordfish.
- 142 species found nowhere else on Earth. Compared with the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island’s waters have a greater level of indigenous species in groups such as fish, mollusks, and sponges.
- 27 species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Ten of these species are in critical condition, such as the endangered loggerhead turtle and blue whale, and the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna.
- The only hydrothermal vents in Chilean waters. Scientists believe that the hot, mineral-laden waters emitted by these vents may help create the species-rich communities that inhabit these extreme environments.
Unfortunately, Easter Island’s isolated location and rich marine biodiversity make its waters particularly vulnerable to illegal fishing. Rapa Nui fishermen have long claimed that foreign vessels are fishing illegally in their waters. They report seeing what they believe to be fishing vessel lights in their waters at night. In addition, they often find buoys and various longline materials, which they do not use, washed ashore.
In 2014, the Rapa Nui launched a community-led effort called Te Mau o te Vaikava o Rapa Nui to determine the best ways to protect their waters. After a year of work, they proposed the creation of a marine park that would be among the world’s largest fully protected areas.
In October 2015, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the government’s intent to move forward with the Rapa Nui proposal, which also creates a complementary area in which the islanders can continue centuries-old subsistence fishing practices.
Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project, in collaboration with the Bertarelli Foundation, has supported the Rapa Nui’s efforts to protect their ocean waters since 2012. Starting in 2017, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project continues that work. Efforts include one of the largest scientific assessments ever completed of the island’s marine environment, an economic analysis of the impact of a marine protected area, education and training for the local population, facilitation of cultural exchanges with other native Polynesian people, and assistance with monitoring for illegal fishing activities.