Thursday, June 24, 2021

OCEANUS PERUVIANUS

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands. Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. "Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions." Dr. Mayelinne De Lara, Publisher

The amazing Peruvian Sea

By H.E. Ms. Marisol Agüero Colunga, Ambassador of Peru.

Oceanus Peruvianus was the name given by the Dutch-Flemish astronomer, cartographer and theologian Petrus Plancius to the Pacific Ocean in 1594. This was an extension of the America Peruana, expression he used to designate virtually the whole South American continent in times where the news about the Inca Empire and its gold and silver wealth made the Viceroyalty of Peru the centre of interest in Europe.

The work of Plancius was of utmost influence among European cartographers and the expression Oceanus Peruvianus was widely used until the first decades of the 18th century[1]. Nevertheless, the riches of that sea were yet to be discovered.

Peruvian iconic native fishing boats, the caballitos de totora (little reed horses).

In modern times, the so-called Peruvian Sea[2] runs along the 3,080 km of Peru’s coastline and extends to the West up to 200 nautical miles (M). Although nowadays the maritime rights of every coastal State over 200 M is not contested, Peru was, in 1947, the first country in the world in setting forth by a piece of legislation its rights over the adjacent sea and its resources to that extension, opposing to the maritime powers that used to send fleets to the coasts of South America for purposes of intensive fishing and whale hunting.

The aim of the Peruvian legislative act was to avoid depletion and to preserve the marine resources particularly for the benefit of Peru’s coastal population.

Together with Chile, that through a presidential declaration had claimed such rights one month before, and since 1952 also with Ecuador, Peru deployed efforts to defend and promote around the world the principles supporting their maritime claims. Colombia adhered in 1979. After several years of tireless negotiations, in 1982 the rights of the coastal States over 200 M of the adjacent sea and the resources therein were universally recognized and enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Peruvian coast line.

But, why the extension of 200 M? The number is related to the maximum width of the Peru’s Current, also known as the Humboldt Current in honour of the Prussian polymath Alexander von Humboldt, who was the first in scientifically studying it in 1802 by measuring its temperature and speed. This current runs along the western coast of South America but mainly along Peru’s coast bringing cold waters together with plankton to the surface and to latitudes that otherwise would register temperatures between 5 and 10 Celsius degrees higher. This explains the riches of the Peruvian Sea, the world’s most productive fishing area.

In the waters washing Peru’s coasts there are more than 1,000 fish species, more than 1,000 types of molluscs and crustaceans, more than 200 of echinoderms, 32 different marine cetaceans and 5 of the 7 species of the sea turtles that exist in the world.

Not surprisingly, the fishing activity in the Peruvian Sea started as early as 5,000 years ago when the people of Caral, the oldest city in the Americas, located north of Lima, practiced fish and molluscs catching using an advanced technology that included fishing nets made of cotton, hooks and boats. Other pre-Incas civilizations in Peru and the Incas also benefited from the wealth of the sea, which inspired many pieces of pottery, gold and silver, as well as patterns on textiles.

At present, Peru is the first world producer of fishmeal made of Engraulis ringens, also known as Peruvian Anchovy, a fish rich in vitamins A and D, Iron and Omega 3 and 6 and which is exported to different markets around the world. It is estimated that around 250,000 Peruvians are related to fish activities and Peru´s fleet counts almost 850 vessels.

The wide variety of marine species has contributed to the enrichment of the Peruvian gastronomy. In fact, Peru has been awarded eight consecutive times as the World´s Leading Culinary  Destination by the prestigious “World Travel Awards”.

There is also much to say about the submarine areas of the Peruvian Sea but we leave it for another opportunity.

Finally, I would like to mention that Peru completed its maritime boundary delimitation with a Judgement of the International Court of Justice in 2014. That way, the last boundary of the truly Oceanus Peruvianus was established in Dutch land 420 years after a Dutch cartographer deemed it appropriate to extend Peru’s demonym to the whole Pacific Ocean.    


[1] Doré, Andréa. America Peruana and Oceanus Peruvianus: a different cartography of the New World, Revista Tempo, Vol 20, Universidade Federal Fluminense, 2014.

[2] Peruvian Sea is not a geographical denomination but an expression of common use. According to Peru’s domestic law its name is Mar de Grau, in honour to a distinguished national naval hero.

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