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Green Light for Chilean Conservation: The President of Chile Makes Piedra del Viento an Official Coastal Marine Sanctuary

Blog written by Juan Buttazzoni, Director of Fundación Rompientes

Marine Conservation Institute has partnered with Chile’s Fundación Rompientes to help turn a threatened stretch of central Chile’s coastline into a Blue Spark. Now, with a formal presidential designation, we celebrate the news and look ahead to the next steps for this new marine protected area. In our guest blog below, Juan Buttazzoni, Director of Fundación Rompientes, describes the victory, the history, and the future of this exciting effort to protect this biodiversity hotspot.

• 6,128.204 acres of unparalleled scenery, rich biodiversity and traditional, ecological seaweed harvesting and fishing grounds on the central coast of Chile has been protected thanks to the initiative put forth by Fundación Rompientes.

• World class surf breaks on the beaches Topocalma and Puertecillo are also protected as a part of the decree.

President Sebastian Piñera of Chile has just signed presidential decree number 10/2021, declaring the area of Topocalma and Puertecillo, in the O’Higgins region, to be officially protected as a coastal and marine sanctuary. 

This marks an important milestone for conservation in Chile, which started almost three years ago within the local community as a fight to to declare this part of the Chilean Mediterranean coastal zone as a marine sanctuary. The area offers biodiversity hotspots and important traditional ecological knowledge, which were both under threat due lack of careful and integrated planning, displacement of local inhabitants, and irresponsible tourism activities, among others. Additionally, this ecoregion has been historically poorly represented in terms of protected areas compared to other parts of Chile. In this sense, this declaration aligns with relevant international environmental commitments of Chile such as the Aichi Biodiversity Target number 11 and with the objective of reaching the protection of at least 30% of the ocean by 2030, looking towards the COP 26.

Chilean flamingos. Photo © Farias Moreno

The Piedra del Viento Coastal Marine Sanctuary includes a wetland and is the habitat of several endemic and endangered species like Southern right whales, as well as a refuge and reproduction area for coastal and aquatic birds like Humboldt penguins and Chilean flamingos. The area is also the traditional fishing and kelp harvesting grounds that communities depend on for their livelihoods. 

Environmental conservation and sustainable development

Topocalma and the Puertecillo area are traditional artisanal fishing and kelp harvesting areas. Records show that this shore has been a seaweed collection site for over 300 years, and the declaration of this MPA also aims to preserve and promote that cultural heritage.

Additionally, for the first time in the history of Chile, suitable surf breaks for surfing and other water sports were included as part of a protected area, which represents an opportunity for local sustainable development.  Rompientes Foundation is committed to protecting and enhancing Chile’s coast and recognizes that the region requires careful development planning that must be consistent with the protection of the marine resources that are essential to the economic and social well-being of local coastal inhabitants. Furthermore, public access in this area offers recreational opportunities which need to be accompanied by consistent environmental education in the coastal zone, including sound resource conservation principles.

This sanctuary represents a significant effort to add value to an area that is scarcely represented in terms of conservation in the country. Its declaration offers us the opportunity to develop a participatory and effective management plan. Piedra del Viento is unique in its approach to bottom-up planning within the community and its model of collaborative management, recognizing the role of artisanal and traditional fishermen as stewards of coastal ecosystems. The challenges ahead include promoting and developing this bottom-up management plan in which communication will be vital. Understanding artisanal fishermens’ interest and engagement in the conservation process will increase confidence among stakeholders and motivation to participate, while providing the necessary incentives.

We recognize that the declaration of a coastal marine sanctuary is only the first step on a long journey to celebrating an effective MPA. Along with the recognition of the invaluable biodiversity and the recognition of waves as a valuable renewable resource, our goal is to show that through marine and coastal conservation the quality of life and economic well-being of coastal communities can be improved. Our team, donors and collaborators are hopeful that Piedra del Viento’s journey will improve the effectiviness, innovation and governance models for other marine sanctuaries in other areas of Chile, in order to avoid to creating just a new “paper park.”

This initiative was possible due to the support of the fishermen unions, local communities and Fundación Rompientes, which has been supported by Marine Conservation Institute, Patagonia, Save the Waves Coalition, Fundación Mar Adentro, the Chilean Ministry of the Environment (Division of Natural Resources and Biodiversity, and the Department of Protected Areas) and Mission Blue.