Indigenous residents of Chile’s famed Easter Island have voted to create the largest marine protection zone in Latin America.
Marcelo Mena, Chile’s environmental minister, announced the new 720,000sq km protection area for waters surrounding the island following a poll of the islands native Rapa Nui inhabitants on Sunday.
“This consultation was intended to respect the will of the Rapa Nui people, regarding creating a marine protected area that respects the ancestral use of the sea and its fishing habits,” he said.
“It is also part of the government’s commitment to consolidate a collaborative and respectful way of working in the communities of our country.”
Seas surrounding Easter Island, which is situated about 3,500km west of the Chilean coast, are a key breeding area for a number of species including tuna, shark, marlin and swordfish.
Overfishing of these species, rising tourism and the introduction of invasive species are threatening the health of these waters.
“As a people, we continue to shout, ‘no to illegal fishing, no to industrial-scale fishing in our waters, no to mining,'” said Poki Tana Haoa, an Easter Island government official.
“It has been a long process, and we understand that the fight is just beginning.”
More than 600 residents of the island participated in the vote, alongside residents from Chile’s capital, Santiago, and the coastal city of Valparaiso.
Almost 65 percent voted in favour of creating the marine protection area.
The vote marks the first time a consultation with indigenous people for the creation of such an area has been carried out in Chile.