Chile to Create One of World's Largest Marine Parks
The Pew Charitable Trusts and Bertarelli Foundation applaud today’s action by the Chilean government to create one of the world’s largest fully protected marine parks in the waters surrounding Easter Island, a Chilean territory in the South Pacific Ocean. The park was announced by Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet.
The new marine park will be the third-largest fully protected area of ocean in the world. Photo credit: The Pew Charitable Trusts
At 631,368 square kilometers (243,630 square miles), the new marine park will be the third-largest fully protected area of ocean in the world. The indigenous community of Easter Island—or Rapa Nui, as the island, its indigenous people and their language are known—proposed the park to safeguard the biodiversity of the island’s waters, which are home to 142 endemic species, 27 of which are threatened or endangered. The park also will help the Rapa Nui continue centuries-old subsistence fishing practices within an area that extends 50 nautical miles from the shoreline.
Proposed Easter Island Marine Park
Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy program, in collaboration with the Bertarelli Foundation, has supported the Rapa Nui’s efforts to protect their ocean waters since 2012. The Rapa Nui will now finalize their proposal through a consultation process with their entire community.
"World famous for its Moai statues, Easter Island will now be known as a global leader in ocean conservation," said Joshua S. Reichert, who leads environment initiatives at Pew. "This announcement is an important step toward establishing the world’s first generation of great parks in the sea."
"Creation of the Easter Island park protects one of the last near-pristine ocean wildernesses on Earth,” said Reichert "and one that holds great cultural, religious and economic importance to the Rapa Nui people. It is both a triumph for the Rapa Nui and for the government of President Bachelet."
Research and progress toward the park was made possible with the support of the Bertarelli Foundation, which has made significant investments in securing other large-scale protected areas. The foundation’s support enabled the largest scientific assessment ever completed of the island’s marine environment, an economic analysis of the impact of a marine park, education and training for the local population, the facilitation of cultural exchanges with other native Polynesian people and assistance with monitoring for illegal fishing activities.
"This is an exciting breakthrough and I’m very proud of the role the foundation has been able to play in supporting the Rapa Nui’s campaign and bringing this about," said Dona Bertarelli, chair of the foundation. "Rebuilding ocean resilience through protected areas is a crucial contribution to wider ocean health, in addition to securing the unique habitats of Easter Island for future generations."
Some 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) west of Chile’s mainland, the largely unexplored waters of Easter Island are an oasis in the nutrient-poor Pacific and known to contain biological hot spots—including the only hydrothermal vents in Chilean waters.
The area is also an important spawning ground for many species, including tuna, sharks, marlins and swordfish.
"This marine park will not only conserve the many species that call the waters of Easter Island home but also the traditions of our Polynesian ancestors and the Rapa Nui people,” said Pedro Edmunds Paoa, Easter Island’s mayor. “The park will be complemented by a fishing area that will allow our ancient practice of tapu—or smart fisheries management—to endure.
"The ocean is the basis of our culture and our livelihood," said the mayor. "The Rapa Nui community is immensely proud of this marine park, which will protect our waters for generations to come."
Creation of the marine park will help combat illegal fishing—a problem that has been detected by satellite monitoring of activity in Chilean waters as part of a joint project supported by Pew and The Bertarelli Foundation. Because all extractive activity will be prohibited inside the new marine park, vessels engaged in illicit activity will be easier to identify.
In January, Chile participated in the launch of Pew’s Project Eyes on the Seas. Developed in partnership with the UK-based Satellite Applications Catapult, this innovative satellite technology can be used to monitor marine reserves remotely and detect suspicious activity within moments of it happening. An enforcement plan for the new park is still to be determined.
Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy works with local communities, governments and scientists to help create the world’s first generation of great parks in the sea. To date, the partnership has helped to double the amount of fully protected ocean across the globe. International recognition of the importance of large fully protected marine reserves has been growing since the U.S. declared the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument northwest of Hawaii nearly 10 years ago. This March, the British government announced the creation of the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve, which was proposed by Pew in partnership with the Pitcairn Island Council in 2013. And on Sept. 28, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced the creation of a fully protected ocean sanctuary in the Kermadecs, located about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of his country’s North Island.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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