Marine Protection Area So Close and Yet So Far

La Serena, Landau 18. March 2018.


The marine protection area in northern Chile “Pinguino de Humboldt” (marine region of La Higuera-Isla Chañaral), was applied for over 10 years ago. The application is scientifically well-justified and should prevent the destruction of a globally meaningful ecosystem that is the main breeding area of the Humboldt Penguin. After much public participation, the population is currently in favor of a protection area and considers the project a chance for the La Higuera region to develop long-term in a sustainable manner.

The protection of this sensitive ecosystem in the Coquimbo Region has again and again conflicted with powerful economic interests. First a hotel, then three coal-fired power plants, and now multiple ports for the shipment of iron ore should be built, without any regard for the environment. In addition, the planned protection area does not fit with the development of a bi-oceanic corridor. The intended corridor should connect the Pacific with the Atlantic Oceans and requires huge port capacities, among other things in the La Higuera municipality.

Despite much resistance, the years-long efforts of scientists and environmentalists showed success. Even now:  the mining and port project “Dominga”, from the Andes Iron Corporation was rejected (Can Justice See in the Dark and Does She Even Want to?) by the governments in Coquimbo and Santiago. The President of the Coquimbo Region, Claudio Ibáñez, has led the protection status creation of breeding islands and applied for the marine protection area “Pinguino de Humboldt” in January of this year with the Chilean Central Government. – in spite of or perhaps because of the imminent change of government.

Due to the rejection of the “Dominga” project, Andes Iron filed an action against the government in Coquimbo (see also environmental court).

The application for the marine protection area induced the corporation to start an intense media campaign.

In order to bring about a decision for the marine protection area, representatives of fishers, the civilian community, and environmental associations appealed to the committee of responsible ministers in the Chilean government on February 26th, and reminded them of the 353,000 signatures collected from all over the world in favor of this protection area. Many scientists also demanded a positive vote for the marine protection area.

Surprisingly, these appeals were successful. On March 5th – six days before the governmental hand-over, the committee of ministers voted unanimously for the marine protection area “Pinguino de Humboldt”. Subsequently, President Bachelet enacted the required decree. The decision however, left the size and demarcation of the protection area open. This is to be determined by a panel of experts. The scientists Carlos Gaymer (University La Catolica del Norte) and Liesbeth van der Meer (NGO Oceana, the original applicant for the marine protection area) also took part in the consultations. The days-long negotiations broke down over the demand to have corridors for the planned ports (Cruz Grande, Totoralillo Norte) created, which would have broken up the marine protection area. Liesbeth van der Meer and Carlos Gaymer rejected the corridors, because they were well aware of the connectedness needed within this valuable ecosystem:  rather no marine protection area than the deceptive sham of splitting it up, which would ultimately lead to its destruction.

On March 9th thousands demonstrated in La Serena for the “Pinguino de Humbolt” Marine Protection Area. The protest again is gaining breadth. A total of 23 environmental organizations in Chile and throughout the world, including Greenpeace Chile, Terram, and ChileSustenantanble now support the actions, and have appealed to the committee of ministers in the new government. In addition, scientists, representatives of the fishers as well as environmental organizations (including Sphenisco) are attempting to talk to the new environmental minister, Marcela Cubillos. It appears there is still a long way to the creation of a marine protection area.


translated by Erich Greiner