4/2/10 The British government on Thursday 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 roughly half of the Indian Ocean's healthy coral reefs, along with several imperiled sea turtle species and 175,000 pairs of breeding seabirds. The new preserve covers 210,000 square miles -- an area larger than California and 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.
Rivaling the Galapagos Islands and the Great Barrier Reef in ecological diversity, the Chagos Islands and their surrounding waters can serve as a global reference site for scientific research in crucial areas such as ocean acidification, coral reef resilience, sea level rise, fish stock decline, and climate change.
Just two-tenths of 1 percent of the world's oceans are protected, compared with 6 to 11 percent of the world's land mass; the Chagos Islands addition will increase it to roughly three-tenths of 1 percent. The new protected area will surpass the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument in the waters of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, set aside by President George W. Bush in 2006, as the biggest marine reserve.