Chile: Creating a Marine Protected Area Network in Patagonia
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – The channels and fjords ecoregion of Southern Chile comprises the largest portion of the Patagonian Sea, and the longest section of the Chilean coast. The region extends between 47 ºS and 57 ºS, including interior and exterior Pacific waters of southern Chile. The Chilean coast of Patagonia is one of the most extensive fjord regions in the world, composed of many islands, peninsulas, fjords, and channels. The combination of unique oceanographic conditions and coastal heterogeneity has resulted in high levels of endemism in many invertebrate groups, and important diversity and abundance of other species. Recently, remarkably dense aggregations of coral species have been found in the shallow waters of the Chilean fjords. This region is home to endemic and rare species, such as the Chilean dolphin and Peale’s dolphin, southern sea otter, and the southern river otter as well as critical habitats for species of global conservation concern, such as the blue whale, the humpback whale, the southern right whale, and Commerson’s dolphin. Of the approximately 54 marine mammal species recorded in Chile, a total of 34 have been reported to occur in this ecoregion. Rich populations of marine and coastal birds have also been documented, including key breeding colonies of Magellanic penguins, black-browed albatross, and grey-headed albatross. Other important marine species local to the area include southern sea lions, South American fur seals, southern elephant seals, leopard seals, and a minimum of 18 registered species of invertebrates that support local fisheries. eals, cetaceans, and some bird groups travel enormous distances in the region and are sustained by the rich food supply found in the frigid ocean waters that hug the tip of South America. Because wildlife in the Southern Cone moves so extensively in search of food and places to breed, its conservation requires a holistic approach extending across land and sea and integrating key areas with the highest conservation value.
Opportunity & Goals
As part of its Aichi Target commitment, Chile has agreed to protect 10 percent of its marine ecosystems in a representative network of marine protected areas (MPAs). Currently, less than 5 percent of its waters are protected primarily with large, offshore pelagic areas far from the incredible biodiversity of the Chilean coast. The presence of an established network of terrestrial protected areas along its coast provides a unique opportunity for expanding land protection outwards into the sea to include the most extensive fjordland area in the world and to reach the targeted protection of its waters. Chile’s interest in building on its experience with terrestrial protected areas to develop and strengthen marine conservation is demonstrated by high-level discussions to create new legislation that would establish the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service and design a National Protected Areas System. Both endeavors include actions to expand marine conservation in the Patagonian Sea, and combine terrestrial and marine conservation efforts while integrating public and private actors. WCS will work with local and national authorities to dramatically expand marine protection in Chile’s territorial sea.