Not far from enigmatic Easter Island is another, lesser known island paradise, long uninhabited and a safe haven for the wildlife that has been all but exhausted around its more famous neighbor. Just 390km (242mi) northeast of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Isla Salas y Gomez rises above the water, the apex of a volcanic undersea range off the coast of Chile. Its epic topography shelters endangered sharks, rays, lobsters, and fish in enormous numbers, beneath the wings of a dozen species of seabirds who gave the island its indigenous name, “Manu Motu Motiro Hiva,” meaning “Bird Islet en Route to Other Isles.”
Though the tiny island, with a small freshwater cache and teaming sea life, has long been a stopover for Polynesian travelers, pirates, and explorers of every stripe, its isolation and size have kept it relatively pristine. In October 2010, after being petitioned by National Geographic, Oceana, and even Chilean fishing organizations, President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of Salas y Gomez Marine Park, protecting 150,000 square kilometers (57,916 sq mi) in perpetuity.
The island is one of the most pristine places in the entire ocean. and a place teeming with life in the South Pacific. While illegal fishing for valuable tuna and lobster remains a problem, Salas y Gomez is about to get a boost as a park (and someday, perhaps, diving destination) from National Geographic.
In February 2011, the venerable society sent an unprecedented expedition into the clear blue waters, noting that sharks—some with hooks in their mouths—seemed timid and afraid, a clear sign of overfishing. They soon warmed up to the team of 18 scientists, providing hours of toothy and terrific footage for a new documentary, Lost Sharks of Easter Island. Though the title lures potential viewers in by mentioning the more famous island, Salas y Gomez proved home to more than three times as many sharks and other species amidst its healthy coral reef.
The documentary began airing on Nat Geo WILD January 19; check local listings to see when it will be playing in your area.