While international agreements and national laws have pulled the blue whale back from the brink of extinction after centuries of commercial whaling, the world's largest animal still faces a host of threats. In particular, increasing maritime traffic, expanding aquaculture, and overexploitation of marine resources have seriously degraded its habitat in Chile's Patagonian fjords. Which is why the declaration of three marine protected areas (MPAs) is so important.
For more than a decade, WWF-Chile has been working with local organizations to research the ecology of blue whales and endemic Chilean dolphins, and to promote the establishment of marine protected areas to conserve critical habitats. And in February 2014, the Chilean government finally acted, approving the first three MPAs in the region, which together encompass more than 120,000 hectares.
With this outstanding result, WWF-Chile is currently aiming to promote the establishment of a network of new marine protected areas off the Patagonian coast and consolidate a holistic conservation model that includes effective MPA implementation and management, fostering economic sustainable alternatives at local level, industry involvement for improving salmon farming practices, and strengthening monitoring and scientific capabilities. What follows will be critical to ensure the reduction of environmental impacts to conserve the fragility, integrity, uniqueness and remarkable biodiversity of southern Chile's marine ecosystems.
WWF is also using satellite-monitoring technology to map blue whales' migratory routes, identify their habitat selection patterns, and monitor their interactions with human related activities, such as aquaculture and shipping. Chilean dolphins are also being studied to identify critical habitats, assess their general distribution in southern Chile and estimate the overall population.
This data will play a key role in designing and implementing future conservation projects, which will help to reduce environmental impacts and, along with the new MPAs, contribute to preserving the integrity, uniqueness and remarkable biodiversity of southern South American marine ecosystems.
“This is only the beginning of a path to conserve at least 10% of Chilean seascapes. There is so much left to do but we truly believe that our efforts are a significant step toward efficient management of our marine biodiversity and resources.”
Marine Programme Coordination, WWF-Chile.
Learn more about the unique habitat of Blue whales in Chile.