MCS backs call for World's Largest Marine Reserve

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 5 March 2010

The Marine Conservation Society and other leading scientific and conservation organisations from around the world have been joined by more than 250,000 people calling on the UK government to establish a protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which is made up of the Chagos Islands and its surrounding waters.

The Marine Conservation Society and other leading scientific and conservation organisations from around the world have been joined by more than 250,000 people calling on the UK government to establish a protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which is made up of the Chagos Islands and its surrounding waters. If established, the Chagos Protected Area, would be the largest marine reserve in the world and play a vital role in fulfilling the UK’s global international conservation commitments. The Chagos form an archipelago comprising 55 islands spread over 210,000 square miles - an area twice the size of the UK’s land surface. Due to their remoteness, the islands have some of the cleanest seas in the world and contain as much as half of the Indian Ocean’s remaining healthy coral reefs, making it one of the most ecologically sound reef systems on the planet. Support for a marine reserve comes as the UK government closed its three-month public consultation period on future management of the Chagos Islands. It will now consider the creation of a Chagos Protected Area, that would safeguard the rich marine biodiversity of the islands and their surrounding waters by prohibiting extractive activities, such as fishing. A final decision is expected sometime this spring. The Marine Conservation Society is part of the Chagos Environment Network (CEN), a collaboration of leading conservation and scientific organisations who are seeking to protect the rich biodiversity of the Chagos Islands and its surrounding waters. Members include the Chagos Conservation Trust, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the RSPB and the London Zoological Society. Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Biodiversity Policy Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said Marine Reserves are effective tools for the management and conservation of natural resources. “Marine Reserves preserve, increase and enrich life within their boundaries. The Chagos Archipelago’s coral reefs are in excellent health and provide regionally important habitat for a wealth of marine resources. We should preserve this pristine underwater wilderness now so that millions of people in the region will benefit”. “Britain has an historic opportunity to protect this very special and rare place, which is comparable in importance to the Galapagos Islands or the Great Barrier Reef,” said William Marsden, chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust and a member of the CEN. “The public and the scientific community have spoken, and now it’s up to the government to secure the UK’s ocean legacy.” “A no-take marine reserve for the Chagos Archipelago would provide a safe refuge for tuna, billfish and sharks in the Indian Ocean. Its establishment would also significantly aid the recovery of the Indian Ocean” The waters around the Chagos Islands, out to their 200 mile nautical limit, contain the world’s largest coral atoll and many thriving species of corals and reef fish. At least 60 species listed on the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species live in these waters. The area also provides a safe haven for dwindling populations of sea turtles and hundreds of thousands of breeding sea birds, as well as an exceptional diversity of deep water habitats, such as trenches reaching nearly 20,000 feet (6000 metres) in depth. New research by the Zoological Society of London indicates that along with illegal fishing, legal fisheries have contributed to a substantial decline in reef sharks in the waters of the Chagos Islands. The analysis estimates that legal fisheries have led to a 90 percent drop in reef shark populations, and over 50 tonnes of open-ocean shark species are caught accidentally every year. Another study, examined the economic value of the Chagos Islands and its surrounding waters and found that while small profits could be made from expanding fisheries in the area, the islands’ economic value is far greater as a unique and well-preserved haven in the Indian Ocean. “A no-take marine reserve for the Chagos Archipelago would provide a safe refuge for tuna, billfish and sharks in the Indian Ocean. Its establishment would also significantly aid the recovery of the Indian Ocean’s drastically reduced fish populations, which would help enhance food security and promote sustainable livelihoods in the region,” said Professor Charles Sheppard, University of Warwick and BIOT Conservation Advisor. “Importantly, while the Archipelago remains largely uninhabited, a no-take reserve would provide much greater protection for these valuable resources than is currently afforded, and would undoubtedly prove to be of great benefit to any potential inhabitants of the Chagos, should they return sometime in the future.” To find out about the benefit of Marine Reserves and how you can influence their locations aroud the UK visit www.yourseasyourvoice.com “

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