With the global ocean in peril from a barrage of threats, the world needs more governments to advance policies to improve the health of the marine environment. Over the past decade, Chile has been one of the few countries doing just that, and the government is looking to build on that progress when it hosts the United Nations climate summit in December.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said he sees the summit, which will bring together environmental leaders from around the world, as an opportunity to focus on ocean protection and further consolidate Chile’s leadership in marine conservation.
And the ocean, which covers approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface, urgently needs help, with threats ranging from warming waters and ocean acidification to overfishing, illegal fishing, plastics pollution, and marine debris. That bodes poorly for an ecosystem that controls global weather, mitigates climate change by absorbing up to 40 percent of the carbon emissions humans produce, and is the largest source of protein for mankind. The science is clear: Further declines in ocean health could affect the entire planet.
These are among the reasons the United Nations set goals for its member countries to reduce and prevent marine pollution; manage, protect, and strengthen marine and coastal ecosystems; and end excessive and illegal fishing by 2020.
Chile, with approximately 4,200 kilometers (2,610 miles) of coastline and numerous islands, is well positioned to lead on marine conservation. The Humboldt Current, which sweeps northward off the coast of South America, is responsible for the country having one of the world’s most productive and diverse marine ecosystems: Chile lands around 20 percent of the world’s fish catches, and its waters are rich in biodiversity and in species found nowhere else.
To date Chile has set aside 42 percent of its exclusive economic zone in reserves and marine protected areas—although not all of those are fully safeguarded. There is more work to be done: Only 5 percent of the country’s nearshore marine and interior waters—that is, saltwater bays, fjords, and lagoons that are near but not along the coast—have some kind of protection.
The Pew Charitable Trusts hopes that Chile continues its world leadership in conservation by creating new marine protected areas in coastal and interior waters, especially near Chilean Patagonia. As former U.S. President Barack Obama said, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”
Francisco Solís Germani directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ work in Chile’s Patagonia region.