CHANARAL DE ACEITUNO, CHILE (April 3rd, 2018) – The Humboldt Archipelago has been declared a Hope Spot by international non-profit Mission Blue in recognition that the area is one of the most bio-diverse and ecologically important parts of the Chilean coast and the southeast Pacific. The Humboldt Archipelago is the finest example of Humboldt Current kelp forests in the world, and is home to 80% of the world’s endangered Humboldt penguin population, as well as many other sea birds species, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and orca. It is also a summer feeding ground for endangered blue, fin and humpback whales. The Humboldt Archipelago contains ancestral fishing grounds for local communities and is a growing pole for ecotourism, backed by a community that calls for sustainable development and education.
While there are currently three marine reserves in the Humboldt Archipelago, these protected areas only encompass three of the eight islands and only extend one nautical mile in radius from the shoreline. The local communities, ExploraSub Dive Center, Los Choros Foundation, and national and international scientists, backed by Mission Blue, are calling for the protection of all eight islands with marine reserves of an extended three-nautical mile radius, as well as the implementation of a Multiple Use Marine Protected Area over the entire archipelago that would protect this unique ecosystem and promote its sustainable use.
“Over the last 50 years, I have explored ocean ecosystems all over the world and what you can see at the Humboldt Archipelago is really extraordinary,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “A diver lucky enough to witness it, as I was in 2017, can see so much life, so many species in just a few minutes of being under the waves.”
“We are honored to declare the Humboldt Archipelago a Mission Blue Hope Spot and help shine an international spotlight on conservation efforts in the area,” continued, Dr. Earle. “Taking care of the Humboldt Archipelago is important for the fish, kelp, corals and other sea creatures that call it home. But it is also important for humans because a healthy, functioning ocean is what makes life on Earth possible. No blue, no green.”
To date, the Humboldt Archipelago represents a marine conservation success story. Chile has assigned unions of artisan fishermen, which are called “syndicates”, each their own delimited area, or benthic Management and Exploitation Area (MEA), for which each syndicate is responsible for sustainable extraction and self-enforcement, by conferring quasi‐property rights to the unions. These groups have made inroads with local scientific institutions in order to better understand the marine ecology and best practices for fishing sustainably. Moreover, as an alternative during times when extraction is imprudent, local communities have also embraced eco-tourism and are thereby diversifying and strengthening the local economy.
A megaport development that is proposed within the Humboldt Archipelago would threaten and degrade the local marine environment. Tanker traffic would pose a high risk of whale strikes and high levels of noise pollution known to negatively impact marine mammals, fish and invertebrate species. Toxic discharge into the water from tanker engines and port activities, both intended and unintended, would impact marine flora and fauna and likely reduce bio-productivity. Eco-tourism operations and local artisan fishing efforts would be negatively impacted by the degraded marine environment and reduce incomes. Local communities in Punta Choros and Chañaral de Aceituno oppose the development and are openly questioning why existing ports nearby are not used, instead of creating a new development in the middle of an ocean ecosystem that is globally significant.
“I was born and raised here, and this ecosystem supports the local economy of our community. We want the protection of this unique place and its biodiversity,” said Mr. Aliro Zarricueta, President of the Federation of Artisan Fishermen and Divers of the commune of La Higuera and President of the Neighbourhood Association of the village of Los Choros. “The megaport project will have terrible consequences for artisan fishing communities, which are already suffering because of industrial overfishing.”
The Humboldt Archipelago is also home to large kelp forests that act as a nursery for many species of fish and benthic invertebrates, as well as the keystone Humboldt Current krill. Currently, the largely unregulated extraction of kelp from the area is destroying critical habitat and scientists and fishermen believe that this will lead to reduced population levels in myriad marine species.
“The Humboldt Archipelago is a natural laboratory where we have a unique opportunity to study and protect the finest example of kelp forest ecosystem and baleen whale feeding grounds in the famous Humboldt Current coastal upwelling system,” said oceanographer Dr. Susannah Buchan. “This is a unique opportunity for sustainable development of ecotourism, and the recovery of kelp forests and local fisheries.”
As a Mission Blue Hope Spot, the Humboldt Archipelago is now in the international spotlight and Mission Blue and her partners are dedicated to communicating all successes and continuing threats to the area on a global level. Mission Blue and local partners on the ground at the Humboldt Archipelago believe that if the area is protected along with other critical marine habitats around the globe, a network of marine protected areas can come into existence that will nurse the global ocean back to health after decades of steep decline.
About Mission Blue
Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About Sylvia A. Earle
National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle, called a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, first Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine and 2014 Woman of the Year by Glamour, is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer who has led over 100 expeditions and logged over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle is founder of the Sylvia Earle Alliance / Mission Blue, a TED Prize winner and the subject of the Netflix documentary Mission Blue.
The ExploraSub Dive Center has been operating in the Humboldt Archipelago for the past 15 years. Its director, Cesar Villarroel, an underwater documentary film maker, has dedicated his career to documenting the biodiversity of the Humboldt Archipelago and calling for protection of this unique ecosystem.
About Dr. Susannah Buchan
Dr. Susannah Buchan is a British-American biological oceanographer based in Chile at two national research institutes, and is guest investigator at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA. Susannah’s research in Chile over the past 11 years has focused on the ecology and acoustics of endangered baleen whales, in support of conservation, first nations marine territory rights proposals and community-based whale watching.
About Los Choros Foundation
Fundación Los Choros of Art, Culture, Science and Heritage is an non-profit, private institution since 2015. The organization was founded with the objective of being an agent of change, encouraging citizens to feel proud of and contribute to the preservation of the natural, cultural and patrimonial history of Chile, especially of the region of Coquimbo where the Humboldt Archipelago and the Foundation are located. In Pueblo de Los Choros, a distant platform of the urban world, located in the desert and a spectacular landscape by the sea, Los Choros Foundation counts with two Museums which host art and scientific exhibitions, a permanent paleontological collection and a permanent African Art display. Fundación Los Choros also organizes residencies for international contemporary artists and scientists, promoting associated research, helping develop scientific and artistic work, and disseminating diverse cultural expressions. Currently Los Choros Foundation´s main goal is its Project “Scientific Residence Center” in Punta de Choros Cove, in front of the Humboldt Archipelago.