Monday, 9 March 2009

Conservation plans for Chagos unveiled

An ambitious plan to preserve the pristine ocean habitat of the Chagos Islands by turning them into a huge marine reserve on the scale of the Great Barrier Reef or the Galapagos was unveiled at the Royal Society this evening.

The plan were launched in London by the Chagos Environment Network, which includes the Chagos Conservation Trust, the RSPB, the Zoological Society and the Pew Environmental Group, a powerful US charity which successfully lobbied the Bush administration for marine reserves in America.

The British Indian Ocean Territory consists, apart from Diego Garcia, of over 50 tiny coral islands (only 20 square kilometres in all). It is set in over half a million square kilometres of sea in the middle of the Indian Ocean and is administered directly by the UK Government. Only Diego Garcia is inhabited (by defence personnel). The remaining ‘Ilois’ or ‘Chagossians’ were removed when the base was set up in the 1970s; they now live mostly in Mauritius, Britain and the Seychelles.

The Chagos is the United Kingdom’s greatest area of marine biodiversity by far and is probably the most pristine tropical marine environment on Earth. It has the world’s largest coral atoll, its cleanest seas and healthiest coral reefs. The area is a crucial refuge, staging post and breeding ground for marine and bird life. The Chagos provides an extraordinary and rare opportunity to protect the natural environment.

The preliminary proposal outlined this evening is that the British Government, with the support of other organisations, should create a long-term conservation framework and a Chagos Archipelago Conservation Area in the British Indian Ocean Territory. Drawing on best practice in other sites, this would aim to: protect nature, including fish stocks (benefiting neighbouring countries); benefit science, and support action against damaging climate change; be compatible with security; and provide some good employment opportunities for Chagossians and others.

To read more visit the Chagos Conservation Trust clicking here