Toward the effective conservation of Chile's marine and coastal ecosystems

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Humboldt Archipiélago. Photo: Oceana/Eduardo SorensenHumboldt Archipiélago. Photo: Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen
 
 
By Eugenio Rengifo
Rengifo is executive director of Fondo Naturaleza Chile (Chile Nature Fund).
 
With one of the most extensive marine protected area systems in the world and 83,500 kilometers (51,885 miles) of coastline, Chile has a great urgency to address the challenge of effective conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems. In the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis, the challenge now is also to protect the ocean's active role as a regulator of the planet's thermostat, absorbing a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Habitats such as the Humboldt Current and the Patagonian and Antarctic Seas are home to half of the world's cetacean species and up to a third of the planet's macroalgae. It is home to species such as the Humboldt penguin, the Chilean dolphin, the humpback whale, or the chungungo, vulnerable to multiple threats such as rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, unsustainable fishing practices, the presence of pollutants, invasive exotic species and problems associated with the transit and anchoring of vessels. 
 
Understanding that the protection of the sea and the coasts of Chile is important to the health of the entire planet, in recent decades authorities and communities in the country have advanced decisively in creating marine protected areas - which today reach 43% of the country's Exclusive Economic Zone - to reduce the degradation of these ecosystems; strengthen adaptation to the effects of the climate crisis affecting them, both for marine biodiversity itself and for human communities; contribute from marine protected areas to blue carbon initiatives; and also provide sustainable development opportunities for communities linked to the ocean. 
 
Although this level of official protection is very encouraging, the country faces the challenge of moving from formal acts of designation of these areas to the systematic execution of actions that allow their implementation and management with effective conservation results.
 
 
Great blue whale. Photo: Marcelo Flores/WWF ChileGreat blue whale. Photo: Marcelo Flores/WWF Chile
 
 
This is the challenge that Fondo Naturaleza Chile (Chile Nature Fund), a public-private foundation that seeks to mobilize funding for the conservation of the country's natural heritage, has set for itself through it's Chilean Marine Protected Areas Program, which was recently presented to Chile and the world at COP27. It is a program built on collaboration between institutions such as the environment ministry and the national fishing service and civil society organizations with a long environmental track record, such as Oceana, WCS and WWF.
 
The Marine Protected Areas program integrates an effective management plan in marine protected areas to contribute to biodiversity conservation and human well-being and to increase the resilience of marine and coastal ecosystems to the effects of climate change. The strategies to achieve this vision are diverse and interconnected in an integrated and systemic proposal that proposes a design to provide financial sustainability to marine protected areas; strengthen governance for management decision making; monitoring of conservation targets, their threats and the effects of climate change; research; enforcement; promoting sustainable livelihoods for communities; education; appropriate planning instruments; and on-the-ground conservation. 
 
In terms of financial sustainability, in the case of marine protected areas alone, the budget deficit for their operation in 2020 was 96%, so one of the urgent tasks of the Chile Nature Fund is to seek funding with a goal of US$350 million for the next 10 years, most of which (80%) will go to organizations and communities in the territories that work in marine conservation.  
 
The goal is to reduce the funding gap for effective conservation through this environmental fund that meets the highest international standards and replicates a successful financing and investment model used for more than 30 years worldwide for biodiversity conservation. It is a challenge to be active in the conservation of this nursery of life that converges in the Chilean seas, being able to show the world the commitment of public and private actors to a sustainable development agenda.