The Hole in the Nazca Ridge National Reserve in Peru
This summer, Peru created the Nazca Ridge National Reserve, a large protected area encompassing around eight percent of Peru’s total coastal territory. The 62,000 square kilometer reserve includes a significant portion of the Nazca Ridge, a 1,100 kilometer long seabed ridge, and a biological hotspot off the coasts of Peru and Chile.
Yet for many environmentalists and marine biologists in Peru, the announcement was bittersweet. The government included an important provision when designating the reserve: fishing, both artisanal and industrial, will be allowed to continue to depths of 1,000 meters, and even deeper for those targeting toothfish. australe, also known as Chilean sea bass.
“This means,” says Alan Friedlander, the National Geographic Society’s chief scientist for the Pristine Seas project, that for fishermen operating in the area, it’s “pretty much business as usual.
“There is no ecological benefit to the creation of the reserve, and we are talking about an extremely fragile and unique environment,” he adds.
A professor at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, Friedlander knows firsthand the fragility of the ecosystem. Over the past decade, research by Friedlander and others on the biodiversity of the Nazca Ridge has shown that the ridge is home to one of the largest numbers of endemic species (animals found here and nowhere else) in the world.
His investigations identified corals and sponges, two kinds of crabs, one type of lobster and one type of sea urchin. The ridge also serves as a habitat and shipping lane for large animals such as blue whales and leatherback turtles.
Friedlander and other scientists believe Nazca Ridge may be home to many other undiscovered species. In 2014, the Nazca Ridge and the neighboring Salas y Gómez seamounts were recognized as a Marine Area of Ecological or Biological Significance by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
“Chile has done a good job protecting its part. We were hoping Peru would be bold enough and do its job too, ”Friedlander said.
According to environmental lawyer César Ipenza, professor of environmental law at Universidad ESAN and Universidad del Pacífico in Peru, the Peruvian legal system does not allow mining activities in protected areas. The reservation is unconstitutional. “There are legal ways to change this decree,” he said.
The problem, according to Ipenza, is that Peru’s powerful fishing industry has pressured the government to allow fishing operations to continue in the reserve.
“It sets a bad precedent. If fishing is allowed in the Nazca reserve, why not in all the others that will be created in the future? he reasons.
Members of the fishing industry, however, argue that there is no evidence that artisanal or industrial fishing can negatively affect the ridge ecosystem.
“Seamounts are found at depths between 2,000 and 2,500 meters,” explains Jorge Risi, director general of the National Fisheries Society of Peru. “Fishing is done on the surface and respects the regulations.
Risi says people have been fishing the area for thousands of years without affecting the seamounts and the species that live there. There is no scientific evidence to justify banning fishing in the region, he said.
Friedlander says there are actually many ways that fishing can threaten the ridge ecosystem, adding that the fishing industry should be invested in protecting the ridge as species of commercial interest use the area. as a nursery and as a habitat.
Dozens of environmental organizations have signed a petition against the executive order allowing fishing in the Nazca Ridge National Reserve, including Pro Delphinus, a Peruvian non-profit organization that works to protect endangered marine animals.
“When you don’t know the impact that surface fishing can have on deep waters, you have to apply a precautionary principle in legislation,” explains marine biologist Joanna Alfaro, director of Pro Delphinus.
The fishing industry also argues that because fishing licenses have already been issued to fishermen and businesses to work in the area, they cannot be withdrawn now.
“But the Peruvian legal system does not include any form of absolute acquired rights,” said Juan Carlos Riveros, scientific director of the nonprofit association for the conservation of the oceans Oceana Peru. If the government wanted to withdraw fishing licenses, it could. “Our perception is that the department has caved in to pressure from the industry,” he says.
Riveros says Oceana has spoken to ministers in Peru’s federal government, headed by recently-elected President Pedro Castillo, and has worked to overturn the provision.
Yet Peru’s environmental dilemma extends far beyond the Nazca Ridge National Reserve, says Alfonso Miranda, former minister of the Ministry of Production (a government sector that includes the fishing industry) and l ‘current director of the fisheries and aquaculture committee at the National Society of Industries, a group representing private industry in the country. Peru does not have well-established policies to protect the environment, says Miranda.
“The simple creation of a marine reserve does not protect anything,” he says. “The Nazca Ridge is 100 kilometers from the shore. If the government is unable to monitor what is happening on earth, how is it supposed to monitor what is happening so far away? “
While environmentalists agree that there are many issues to be addressed in Peru, most see the establishment of the Nazca Ridge National Reserve as an important step, which would be much improved if closed to fishermen.