Protection of the high seas off the coast of Chile depends on the UN vote in New York

70 percent of the Salas y Gomez and Nazca ridges fall outside Chile’s exclusive economic zone.

In international waters off the coast of Chile and Peru, the sea teems with plant and animal species – some found nowhere else and many endangered.

In an urgent effort to prevent the loss of biodiversity in these waters, Chile is pushing to create a new marine protected area (MPA), and hopes to seal the deal during an upcoming summit at UN headquarters in New York.

With more than 6,400 kilometers of coastline, the South American country already has 42 MPAs covering around 150 million hectares or 43 percent of its exclusive economic zone, according to the environment ministry.

Now it’s looking further afield: to international waters around the Salas y Gomez and Nazca ridges – two seamount ranges that flourish with biodiversity but are unprotected by law because they fall outside any national jurisdiction.

The parts of the ridges that fall within Chile’s exclusive economic zone or EEZ are already protected, as well as a part belonging to northern neighbor Peru.

But 70 percent of the ridges — two chains of more than 110 undersea mountains formed by volcanic activity that together stretch over 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) — are not subject to any conservation or management measures.

Map showing the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of land and the international waters of the high seas

Map showing the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of land and the international waters of the high seas.

It is home to whales, sea turtles, corals, sponges, starfish and a myriad of fish, molluscs and other crustaceans.

– Every time we go to that area and take samples, we find new species, says Javier Sellanes, from the Center for Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands at the Catholic University of the North, to AFP.

“Unique diversity”

Sellanes, one of the few Chilean scientists who have studied this remote area, describes the ridges as “a kind of oasis in the middle of a marine desert”.

– Protecting the unique diversity of the planet is of great importance, he told AFP.

The high seas begin at the border of nations’ EEZs, which under current international law extend no more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the coast.

Under no state’s jurisdiction, high seas cover almost half the planet.

International waters bordering Chile's territorial jurisdiction host a Pacific paradise home to many endemic species, dozens of

International waters bordering Chile’s territorial jurisdiction host a Pacific paradise with many endemic species, dozens of them endangered.

A 2021 study in the academic journal Marine Policy said the sea areas of the Salas y Gomez and Nazca ridges are “threatened by a number of stressors, including climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and potential future deep-sea mining.”

As UN member states meet in New York next week in hopes of finalizing a long-awaited treaty on the protection of the high seas, Chile has already begun work to have the area around the two ridges declared an MPA.

It may be the world’s first, but time is of the essence.

“Importantly, fishing and other commercial activities are at low levels in international waters in this region, so there is a time-sensitive opportunity to protect its unique natural and cultural resources before they are degraded,” the marine policy study said.

New UN high seas agreement

According to the High Seas Alliance of NGOs, the seabed in this region contains cobalt and other highly valued mineral deposits that could one day become targets for deep-sea mining.

Map locating the Salas y Gomez and Nazca submarine mountain ranges and Chilean offshore sites

Map locating the Salas y Gomez and Nazca submarine mountain ranges and Chilean offshore areas.

“By permanently closing the area to fishing and mining and establishing an open sea MPA through a new UN High Seas Treaty, we can protect Salas y Gomez and the Nazca Ridges for ourselves and for future generations,” an online report says.

“While no contracts have yet been issued for exploration, neither area is officially closed to mining.”

If adopted, the High Seas Agreement would allow UN members to propose the creation of MPAs for approval by majority vote. The document does not specify how protection measures are to be financed or enforced.

As part of the campaign, Chile submitted a scientific report to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization in 2021, emphasizing that the benefits of the ocean, including food and climate stabilization, “are fundamental to life on Earth.”

“The science is clear,” said the presentation. “If the ocean is to remain sustainably productive, we must rebuild its health and rapidly halt the loss of marine biodiversity.”

© 2023 AFP

Citation: Protection of high seas off Chile’s coast hinges on UN vote in New York (2023, February 18) Retrieved February 18, 2023, from vote.html

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