British Indian Ocean Territory

Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus ©HBW Website

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), an archipelago of 58 islands covering some 640,000 sq km of ocean, is a British Overseas Territory. It is administered from London and is located approximately halfway between East Africa and Indonesia.

It lies about 1,770km east of Mahe (the main island of the Seychelles). The territory, an archipelago of 58 islands sometimes referred to as the Chagos Archipelago, covers some 640,000 sq km of ocean. The islands have a land area of only 60 sq km and 698km of coastline. Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly island, is 44 sq km. The climate is hot, humid and moderated by trade winds. The terrain is flat and low and most areas do not exceed two metres in elevation.

Access is restricted and a permit is required in advance of travel.

The British Indian Ocean Territory is not a tourist destination. Access is restricted and a permit is required in advance of travel. There are no commercial flights and permits for yachts are only issued to allow safe passage through the Indian Ocean (Outer Islands only). Access to Diego Garcia is only permitted to those with connections either to the military facility or to the Territory’s Administration.

The wildlife and environment of the British Indian Ocean Territory are exceptional. The Territory has the greatest marine biodiversity in the UK and its Overseas Territories, as well as some of the cleanest seas and healthiest reef systems in the world. BIOT is home to the world’s biggest arthropod, the coconut crab, which can reach up to one metre across, with densities on Diego Garcia amongst the highest globally. The outer islands and atolls are colonised by internationally important numbers of seabirds, with many thousands of pairs of sooty terns, brown boobies and red-footed boobies regularly breeding there. Endemic species of coral and reef fish inhabit the c. 4,000 km² of shallow coral reefs, which also support over six times the amount of fish that are found on any other Indian Ocean reef.

The Administration also strongly encourages those working on Diego Garcia to take an interest in the environment of the Territory and to actively look after it. There are opportunities for personnel in the Territory to get involved in restoration and clean-up work and to learn about BIOT’s natural treasures

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