Just recently the United Kingdom established the world’s largest marine reserve. The reserve is a 210,000 square mile area (545,000 square kilometers) in the Indian Ocean encompassing the Chagos Islands. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that this reserve “doubles the global coverage of the world’s oceans under protection,” and says that its creation is “a major step forward for protecting the oceans.” The new reserve exceeds the previous record held by the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by 70,000 square miles (180,000 square kilometers).
The Chagos Island archipelago is a group of seven atolls (islands of coral encompassing a lagoon) comprising a total of more than 50 islands. The area includes the Great Chagos Bank which is the world’s largest coral atoll. It is home to 220 species of coral, 784 species of fish and attracts some of the most diverse tropical birds. It has nursery areas for hawksbill turtles and hosts the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod–the coconut crab.
William Marsden, chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust, said the reserve would “protect a treasure trove of tropical, marine wildlife for posterity and create a safe haven for breeding fish stocks for the benefit of people in the region.”
Alistair Gammell of the Pew Environment Group stated that, “In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, the UK has secured a conservation legacy which is unrivaled in scale and significance, demonstrating to the world that it is a leader in conserving the world’s marine resources for the benefit of future generations.”
However, not everyone shares this enthusiasm. There is still dispute over the archipelago’s sovereignty. Mauritius claims that there is no legitimacy “…without the issue of sovereignty and resettlement being addressed to the satisfaction of the government of Mauritius,” said the High Commissioner in London.
Copyright © 2010 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC