the Conservancy’s Humboldt Current Project Manager.
by Marcela Torres
Along the coast of Peru lie hundreds of islands and capes. Some of these sites are little more than huge rocks emerging unexpectedly in the middle of the sea. But they are full of life: They are a haven for thousands of marine birds and mammals that rely on the ocean’s resources for their sustenance.
The new Guano Islands and Capes National Reserve marks the creation of Peru’s third marine protected area, which covers 140,833 hectares (348,007 acres) distributed among 22 individual islands or groups of islands, 11 coastal capes and their surrounding marine spaces.
These islands and capes lie within the Pacific Ocean’s large Humboldt Current marine ecosystem — a cold-water current flowing northward up the coasts of Chile and Peru — home to important fish, sea bird and marine mammal populations. The current also sustains more than 15 percent of the global annual fish catch.
The new reserve — the culmination of almost a decade of promotion by The Nature Conservancy and other groups — will protect critical habitat for a variety of marine species including sea lions, fur seals and whales, as well as marine birds such as Humboldt penguins, Peruvian pelicans and boobies. It will also help sites that are important to maintain the productivity in small fisheries.
The Conservancy has been involved in promoting the creation of this area since 2001, and during the last two years directly supported national protected areas authorities by providing technical and institutional support.
As a response to the critical threats facing the Guano Capes and Islands and the biodiversity they contained, the Biomar Consortium — an alliance of universities and conservation organizations, including the Conservancy — developed a proposal for such network of sites to become part of Peru’s National Protected Areas System as a sub-system of marine protected areas. On December 30, 2009, it became the third marine protected area in Peru.
“This is one of those rare cases where a single law establishes a group of protected sites. It is particularly important because of the current gap in protection of marine habitats in Peru, South America and the entire world,” explains Fernando Ghersi, the Conservancy’s Humboldt Current project manager.
According to Ghersi, “the challenges ahead include making this group of sites a truly functional system by integrating it with its broader context through working on marine planning and connectivity issues, management planning and implementation, sustainable fishing practices, improved governance and sustainable funding.”
The islands and capes now protected in the reserve were once managed by the Peruvian government to extract bird droppings (guano) used as fertilizer by small farmers. “We will continue to allow this use of the resource, but according to environmental considerations, such as breeding periods,” says Miryan García, head of the Guano Islands and Capes National Reserve. “Right now our first priority is to develop the baseline studies that will allow us to plan the management of this area.”
The Conservancy is currently working in the large Humboldt Current marine ecosystem, with the aim of increasing the coastal and marine environments being preserved and promoting sustainable fishing measures. The goal is to help create a functional network of marine protected areas, able to effectively conserve the Humboldt Current’s marine biological diversity and contribute to the well-being of human populations in the long term.
Marcela Torres is a marketing specialist/writer for The Nature Conservancy in Latin America.March 12, 2012