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Discovering marine life of Chile’s remote Juan Fernández Islands

Scientists embark on the most comprehensive study of the marine life surrounding the inspiring archipelago.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014  
The reefs off the coast of the Juan Fernández Archipelago are the focus of a new scientific study.  The reefs off the coast of the Juan Fernández Archipelago are the focus of a new scientific study. Photo by J.fernandez.chile / wiki commons



Chile’s remote Juan Fernández Archipelago has captured imaginations for generations, most famously as the likely inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s beloved novel Robinson Crusoe. However, few people have studied these sparsely populated islands and the waters that surround them — until now.

A team of scientists from the international conservation organization Oceana is currently conducting an in-depth study of the submarine systems and life that call the waters around the islands home. They hope to document all the species that live there and their abundance, ultimately using this information to better protect the ecosystem.

“The community of Juan Fernández has been a pioneer in the care of their environment, developing fishing and tourism in a sustainable way. Oceana is here to support them in the preparation of projects that allow them to continue with this choice of life and protect this important marine ecosystem," Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana in Chile, said.

The team working in the remote archipelago includes five marine biologists, experts in their fields from Chile and abroad. It also is hosting three documentarians who are recording the study — the most comprehensive done in this environment.

"This baseline will allow us to understand the biological importance of Juan Fernández. We know that it is an exceptional site for beauty and the abundance of fish, but for the first time we will have accurate information about the species and their conservation status,” Muñoz said.

Among the fauna being studied by the Oceana team are several species specific to the Juan Ferndández Archipelago. There is the Juan Fernández Lobster, a primary catch for local fishermen, which typically grow to only around four and a half inches. Also present in the crystal clear waters of the archipelago is the only fur seal endemic to Chile, but sadly this fascinating creature is currently threatened.

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