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Friday, April 2, 2010

Chagos ISlands to become world's largest marine reserve

THE Chagos Islands? Ever heard of 'em?
Well these tiny British islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean are to become the world's largest marine reserve, the Government has announced.

The Marine Protected Area (MPA) will cover some quarter of a million square miles of sea around the archipelago in the Indian Ocean and include a "no-take" reserve banning commercial fishing.

The Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the establishment of the reserve in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) would double the amount of the world's oceans which were protected.

The announcement was hailed as "fantastic" by conservationists who have been campaigning for the creation of a marine reserve to protect some of the world's most unspoilt seas and coral reefs in the face of pollution, climate change and loss of species.

Mr Miliband said: "Its creation is a major step forward in protecting the oceans, not just around BIOT itself but also throughout the world.

He insisted the creation of the protected area would not affect the UK's commitment to cede the territory to Mauritius when it was no longer needed for military purposes.

The 55 islands across 210,000 square miles in the middle of the Indian Ocean which form the British Overseas Territory have at least 60 endangered species in their coral reefs and waters.

The islands are home to more than 220 types of coral, 1,000 species of fish and at least 33 different seabirds and have been described as the most pristine tropical marine environment on Earth.

Greenpeace biodiversity campaigner Willie Mackenzie said: "These coral seas are a biodiversity hotspot in the Indian Ocean, and unquestionably worthy of protection from destructive activities like fishing.

"And this marine reserve will provide a safe refuge for many globally endangered species such as sharks and turtles."

The commercial tuna fish industry wanted an exemption which would allow them to continue fishing, but in the run-up to the announcement scientists warned allowing the fisheries to continue would harm threatened wildlife.

Professor Charles Sheppard of Warwick University said the region was very resilient to the impacts of climate change - such as the bleaching and death of coral reefs - because it did not suffer from other impacts such as pollution and overfishing.

And he said: "The U.K.'s designation sets a new global benchmark for responsible ocean stewardship.

"The Chagos Protected Area will provide an important global reference site for a wide range of scientific ecological, oceanographic and climate studies, and will underpin the provision of benefits to humans throughout the Indian Ocean region into the future."

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