A Community Vision to Protect Easter Island's Waters

A Community Vision to Protect Easter Island's Waters

When asked about the ocean waters surrounding Easter Island—or Rapa Nui, as the island, its indigenous people, and their language are known, Osvaldo “Singa” Pakarti looks to the future.

"I do not want a future where my children or children of other Rapa Nui see a lobster or tuna in pictures,” says Pakarti, a representative of the island’s development council. “I want them to get into the water and see the fish there."

His sentiments reflect a growing community effort on Easter Island to determine how best to protect the unique and largely unexplored sea surrounding it.

Located in the southeast Pacific about 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) west of the Chilean mainland, Easter Island's waters are known to contain geological hot spots and areas of rare biodiversity. Highly migratory fish species take refuge among seamounts that are millions of years old.

In recent years, Rapa Nui community members have expressed growing concern about the future health of their marine environment. Given the island’s isolated location and rich marine biodiversity, its waters are particularly vulnerable to illegal fishing, which can undermine the health of the area’s marine environment.

Rapa Nui fishermen have long made the case that foreign vessels are fishing illegally in their waters. They report seeing at night what appear to be fishing vessel lights and often find buoys and various longline fishing materials—materials they do not use—washed ashore.

An article in the Aug. 8, 2014, issue of Que Pasa, Chile’s weekly magazine, highlights efforts by The Pew Charitable Trusts to work with Rapa Nui community members and the Chilean government to use satellite technology to identify illegal fishing activity in island waters.

This is a critical part of a broader effort to consider the designation of a protected marine reserve around Easter Island—a visionary idea that could result in the creation of one of the largest reserves of its kind in the world and make a significant contribution to global ocean conservation.