During my travels I have met with a number of different Chilean scientists to ask them about the fishery, the science and the management systems currently in place in Chile. One of my meetings was at the Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas (ECIM), part of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC). The area on which the marine centre sits is of special interest to science. It is here that Juan Carlos Castilla and colleagues formed the world’s first marine reserve / protected area in 1982, excluding humans from approximately 1km of coastline.
The formation of the area provided, and still provides, the first example of an human exclusion experiment, highlighting what happens if humans don’t fish / tread a coastline. An invaluable experiment that has paved the way for many similar experiments and reserve formations.
The marine reserve works…when I say works…I mean that in two ways:
1) It has remained closed to human, terrestrial activity since 1982.
2) It shows a clearly different range of species and community structures than the neighboring areas – showing what the coast at ECIM would be like if it was not trodden by humans.
It therefore provides a great example to science, management and, in some ways, society that such positive interventions can work well.
Although it was a pleasure looking across the boundary fence and seeing the lush green landscape and the massive amounts of birds circling and swimming in the waters adjacent to the reserve, the story next door was not as positive.
Granted, next to the reserve sits on a rocky point followed by two great little bays, and it is beautiful…so its only natural that we humans want to experience this beauty. But, alas, the stark contrast to the reserve is pretty horrendous.
I won’t bother adding loads of photos showing the muck and general disregard for nature / the environment next to the marine reserve, but suffice to say it was very disappointing. In a way it serves as a test of human interaction with the coast (at least here anyway). It shows that we still, we don’t care enough about our actions (footpaths across dunes and plant life), where our rubbish goes (litter everywhere) or what happens to the animals who use the area as their home. At the end of the day, perhaps this means that we need to close off far more areas of coast to humans in order to protect the natural environment….if not…well, you can probably work that out.
To leave this on an even sadder note. The day after I went to meet with scientists at ECIM, I met a local fisherman who was collecting seaweed on the beach for the local abalone farm. He also told me that he was a Loco diver, as were his brothers and many of his friends. When I spoke of the marine reserve and its utility, he laughed and said “yes, but we still all fish in there”. Although ECIM’s marine reserve uses a physical boundary (a 6ft fence) to stop humans traipsing all over the land, it (quite naturally) does not use similar in the surrounding sea. Locals fish this area just as they do anywhere else – well almost.
When I asked the fisherman more about it, he did say that there seemed to be more Loco and “better” Loco (i.e. larger) closer to, and inside, the protected area. Whether this is due to lower exploitation (some fishers may stay away from the protected area as they should) or whether it is due to a higher productivity / a more natural ecosystem presence along the adjacent coastline is unclear, but again it points toward the utility of forbidding destructive human activities….which it is important to note…can be as little as walking a non-marked path.
The question remains…do we invest in trying to teach…um…everyone about marine conservation OR do we close off enough areas (and police those in the sea – that are not fence-able) to conserve biodiversity, biomass and abundance of species at “natural” levels, whilst also allowing enough for human consumption?
- Well, in my humble opinion, it has to be both. Short term goals (those that we need now) are to make more reserves and protected areas, especially in areas of particular importance (ecologically and commercially). We also need to invest a lot more in policing our marine fisheries. Longer term we need to aim to educate the younger generations – those that will be impacting our environment in years to come and those that will be working to protect and recover the losses that are happening now.