National Geographic Magazine scans the depths of Chile’s oceans

The internationally-recognised Society, alongside non-profit organizations and Chile’s Navy, began an expedition on Sunday to research the ecosystems surrounding Chile’s Salas y Gómez, and Easter Islands.

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Chile’s Salas y Gómez Island caught the attention of The National Geographic Society last August 2010 as one of the most pristine marine sites in the world.

Now, an expedition is underway to establish an ecological baseline to monitor the new Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, which was created by President Sebastián Piñera last October.

The island is about 1,990 miles off the coast of Chile and has never been inhabited by people. It was selected by National Geographic last year as a site for a marine park, for its pristine state and its lack of legal protections. Creating the marine park around Salas y Gómez – which is sized over 150,000 square kilometers, about the size of Greece – Piñera expanded Chile’s protected maritime areas from 0.03 percent to 4.4 percent of its entire maritime territory.

The island is also being preserved for its red coral and its biodiversity, which includes the highest density of sharks in the area and algae that grows up to 100 meters long.

The expedition will carry out studies to assess the conservation status of the area and will determine the need for new preservation measures to be put into place. Researchers aim to study one of the last “pristine ecosystems” of the Pacific Ocean and will document existing biodiversity around the islands.

Dr. Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer, said that Salas y Gómez, and Easter Islands can be viewed as an ecological “time machine,” as their waters provide a glimpse into what oceans looked like before the impact of human activities.

To study the marine ecosystems there, the expedition will employ various technologies to gather data. The equipment used will include remotely operated vehicles, drop cameras to shoot remote depths, and satellite PAT tags to study the migratory movements of sharks.

The collaboration hopes to monitor and control the impact of human activity near the islands and will hopefully yield not only greater understanding of the region, but also promote the protection of marine ecosystems.