A marine reserve that will double the amount of the world’s oceans under protection was announced today by David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary.
The protected area will extend 200 miles around the British Indian
Ocean Territory, a dependant territory in the middle of the Indian
Ocean, and will include a “no-take” marine reserve where commercial
fishing will be banned.
The 55 tiny islands of the Chagos Archipelago, as the islands are also
known, sit in some of world’s cleanest seas, surrounded by nearly 50
per cent of the remaining undamaged coral reefs in the Indian Ocean.
The marine protected area announced by Mr Miliband will be a quarter of a million square miles in size, some 70,000 square miles larger than the one around the North Hawaiian Islands declared by George W. Bush just before he left office.
Until the very last minute concerns about opposition from Mauritius,
which has a long-standing claim to the islands, had threatened to
derail the announcement of the reserve or at least postpone it beyond the next general election, expected to be called next week, as had the unresolved court case against Britain by Chagossians evicted in the creation of a military base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia.
Announcing the creation of the reserve, Mr Miliband said “I am today instructing the Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory to declare a Marine Protected Area.
“Its creation is a major step forward for protecting the oceans, not
just around BIOT itself, but also throughout the world. This measure
is a further demonstration of how the UK takes its international
environmental responsibilities seriously.
“I have taken the decision to create this marine reserve following a
full consultation, and careful consideration of the many issues and
interests involved. The response to the consultation was impressive
both in terms of quality and quantity. We intend to continue to work
closely with all interested stakeholders, both in the UK and
internationally, in implementing the MPA.
“I would like to emphasise that the creation of the MPA will not
change the UK’s commitment to cede the Territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes and it is, of course, without prejudice to the outcome of the current, pending proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights.”
Well over 90% of those who responded to the consultation made clear that they supported greater marine protection.
Scientists also advised that BIOT was likely to be key, both in
research and geographical terms, to the repopulation of coral systems along the East Coast of Africa and hence to the recovery in marine food supply in sub-Saharan Africa.
BIOT waters would continue to be patrolled by the territory’s patrol
vessel, which will enforce the reserve’s conditions. Alistair Gammell of the Pew Environment Group, a founding member of the coalition of environmental organizations known as the Chagos
Environment Network (CEN), which campaigned for the reserve, said: “We are thrilled by the U.K. government’s decision to declare the Chagos in its entirety as a no-take protected area.”
“The oceans desperately need better protection. In 2010, the
International Year of Biodiversity, the U.K. has secured a
conservation legacy which is unrivalled in scale and significance,
demonstrating to the world that it is a leader in conserving the
world’s marine resources for the benefit of future generations.”
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 creation of this marine reserve is a first step towards securing
a better and sustainable future for the Chagos Islands. But this
future must include securing justice for the Chagossian people and the closure and removal of the Diego Garcia military base.”
By Charles Clover