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Indian Ocean Jewell of Diversity

Call for UK to Create a World Marine Park

The Chagos Conservation Trust is today launching a booklet, The Chagos Archipelago: Its nature and the future, to start a discussion on a programme ‘to create one of the world’s greatest conservation areas’ in the little-known British Indian Ocean Territory.

The archipelago – a UK Overseas Territory in the central Indian Ocean - is described by scientists as comparable with the Galapagos Islands or the Great Barrier Reef in environmental and scientific importance.

The Chagos Conservation Trust sets out the ‘preliminary proposals for discussion’ in the booklet and an accompanying paper, ‘Science in Chagos’, with a launch at the Royal Society.

The environmental and scientific objectives are supported by the Chagos Environment Network, whose other members include the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Linnean Society of London, The Royal Society, Pew Environment Group, and the Zoological Society of London.The publication highlights the Chagos as ‘the United Kingdom’s greatest area of marine biodiversity by far, and probably the most pristine tropical marine environment on Earth’. The archipelago has the world’s largest coral atoll, its healthiest reefs and its cleanest seas.

The area is a crucial refuge, staging post and breeding ground for marine life. The Chagos also provides a scientific benchmark for an environment without degradation; this is important for helping to deal with problems such as pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Professor Charles Sheppard, of the University of Warwick, is a researcher who has worked extensively in these British Indian Ocean Territories. He said: Every ocean needs at least one set of reefs where no run-off, no dredging, no building, no fishing, no nutrient enrichment and no pollutant and pesticide release whatsoever takes place. For the Indian Ocean, the reefs of Chagos are the prime candidate, and perhaps are the only sensible possibility. In the late 20th Century, there are now very few others which fit the bill.The Chagos Conservation Trust calls for people to support discussion of these planet-saving ideas and encourage the British Government, with the engagement of other organisations, to make the conservation area a reality.

Drawing on best practice from other sites, the aims would be: to protect nature, including fish stocks (benefiting countries in the region); to benefit science, and support action against damaging climate change; to be compatible with security and be financially sustainable, and to provide some employment opportunities for Chagossians and others. The Trust points out that the British Government has for many years already committed itself to managing The Territory ‘as if’ it were a natural World Heritage site and has taken significant measures to put this into effect; this provides a good basis for further progress.Professor Callum Roberts, of University of York, said: The Chagos Archipelago represents a magnificent conservation opportunity that could be of lasting benefit to humanity. There can be few places on this planet that represent better value for leveraging spectacular returns. What is needed is vision and a leadership initiative by Britain to create the Chagos as an iconic, pristine area held in trust for the future of the world community.

Pollution, overfishing and climate change are affecting marine wildlife worldwide, but the network believes the creation of a protected area around the Chagos Islands will help preserve their near-pristine marine environment and provide a wildlife oasis at the heart of an extremely important region.

Graham Wynne, chief executive of the RSPB, said: The Chagos are outstandingly important in global biodiversity terms. As the largest remaining group of unexploited coral atolls in the world, and the most seabird species rich in the Indian Ocean, the RSPB welcomes the work of CCT and is enthusiastic to work with all stakeholders to conserve this unique and fragile ecosystem for the benefit of all.

4th July 2014