SALAS Y GÓMEZ & NAZCA RIDGES

A Testament to Nature’s Tenacity 

Stretching across 2,900 km in the southeastern Pacific Ocean are the Salas y Gómez and Nazca Ridges — two seamount chains that shape the region and its inhabitants. Due to unique underwater geography and ocean currents, this region is a diversity hotspot with the highest rate of endemic marine species on Earth. Home to the deepest light-dependent reefs on Earth, the seamounts provide crucial habitats and migratory routes for 82 threatened and endangered species, as well as a plethora of other wildlife, including many that have only recently been discovered. The region is also culturally significant, as Indigenous Pacific Islanders and others have recognized its importance for centuries. 

Recent surveys have shown that the deep waters of these ridges provide critical habitat for many unique and fragile species, including some of the densest black coral gardens recorded anywhere in the world. Black corals are some of the longest living organisms on Earth, with some species reaching upwards of 4,000 years of age. New information is learned about this unique region on every expedition, highlighting how little is known about the ocean, especially deep-sea ecosystems. Protecting the Salas y Gómez and Nazca Ridges is of critical importance in the campaign to preserve biodiversity. Increased research here is also important for furthering our understanding of the ocean and the way it supports life on Earth.

JUAN FERNÁNDEZ FUR SEAL

Afortunadas

The Juan Fernández Fur Seal is found on the Juan Fernández and Desventuradas Islands. Isolated and difficult to access, the Desventuradas Islands, which translates into Islands of Misfortune, are aptly named. The Islands were faced with more misfortune when the fur trade nearly stripped them of their seal inhabitants. The fur seals, however, endured and are now considered an epic example of survival. Thus, the name Afortunadas was chosen for the Juan Fernández Fur Seal portrait. Translated as fortunate, the title inverts the calamitous image drawn by the islands’ name to depict a story of good fortune and recovery. Rediscovered after being thought extinct for around 100 years, the Juan Fernández Fur Seal is a testament to the tenacity of nature and what can be achieved through strong conservation measures.

 

Second smallest of the fur seals and found only in this small corner of the world on Juan Fernández and Desventuradas Islands, the Juan Fernández fur seal is one of the many incredible endemic species found in the region. Estimates suggest the Juan Fernández fur seal numbered over 4 million individuals in the 1500s before the fur trade commenced. They were then driven to the edge of extinction by the fur trade. The species was believed to be extinct from the 1800s until the 1960s when a colony of 200 seals was found. The population has since recovered to over 12,000 individuals and continues to thrive in the marine haven surrounding the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges.  

Not much is known about the Juan Fernández fur seal. Like most eared seals, they exhibit significant sexual dimorphism. The females are lighter brown, 4’6” in length, and weigh ~100 pounds. The males are darker brown with gold tipped fur along their thick necks, 6’6” in length, and weigh ~300 pounds. 

From what has been observed of their behaviour, scientists believe they forage as far as 300 miles offshore, perhaps even farther, and will dive to depths between 30 and 300 feet looking for food. They are particularly fond of lanternfish and squid, both of which require agile hunting skills and the ability to dive to exceptional depths. 

In partnership with

This project supports the work of the Coral Reefs of the High Seas Coalition, an interdisciplinary group of science, policy, and legal experts dedicated to High Seas conservation. In addition to developing science articles, films, StoryMaps and other educational material, they are also engaging with intergovernmental organizations to secure protections for the the Salas y Gómez and Nazca Ridges. An expedition is also planned for March 2022, travel and health restrictions allowing, to further explore and better understand one of the most fascinating marine ecosystems on Earth. This research is critical for both the conservation and future protection of the region, but also of the Juan Fernández fur seal who relies on the surrounding habitat for food. 

Prints Coming Soon

A special thank you to Dr. Daniel Wagner, a deep sea scientist with Conservation International and the Coral Reefs of the High Seas Coalition, for all of his help with research for this campaign.

The priority MPAs and their ambassador species:

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Thermal Dome

Lined Seahorse

Sargasso Sea

Juan Fernández Fur Seal

Salas y Gómez & Nazca Ridges

Laysan Albatross

Emperor Seamounts