Britain names world's largest marine reserve
April 3, 2010
The British government has announced the creation of the world's largest marine reserve, designating a group of 55 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean off-limits to industrial fishing and other extractive activities.
The Chagos Islands are home to about half of the Indian Ocean's healthy coral reefs, along with several imperilled sea turtle species and 175,000 pairs of breeding seabirds.
The new preserve covers about 544,000 square kilometres - more than twice the size of Britain - and will shelter at least 76 species classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Just two-tenths of 1 per cent of the world's oceans are protected, compared with 6 to 11 per cent of the world's land mass; the Chagos Islands addition will increase it to about three-tenths of 1 per cent.
The new protected area will surpass the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the waters of the north-western Hawaiian Islands, set aside by then US president George Bush in 2006, as the biggest marine reserve.
''Its establishment will double the global coverage of the world's oceans under protection,'' Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, said. ''This measure is a further demonstration of how the UK takes its international environmental responsibilities seriously.''
Jay Nelson, who directs the Pew Environment Group's global ocean legacy initiative, called the decision ''a historic victory for global ocean conservation''.
He noted that because the corals lived at greater depths in the area they were less vulnerable to bleaching, and that the large-scale fishing prohibition should protect both tuna and the 60,000 sharks caught each year accidentally by tuna fishermen.
''It should give the tuna some breathing room,'' Mr Nelson said. ''And it's good news for sharks, too.''