PROTECTED: Biggest chunk of ocean yet!

Feature story - 14 April, 2010
The UK has created the world’s largest marine reserve, covering some quarter of a million square miles of ocean around the Chagos Archipelago -- one of the most pristine and biologically diverse coral ecosystems on the planet. But as much as we'd like to break open the champagne and tell our oceans campaigners to go home - we're a long way off reaching our goal for defending our oceans.

This is a huge step forward for marine conservation given that the protected area is bigger than the whole of France. And it nearly doubles the total amount of ocean that is now off limits to commerical fishing. The Chagos Islands Reserve will make up 40 percent of the world's marine reserves and is even larger than the 140,000 square miles of the US Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument that surrounds the northwestern Hawaiian islands.

Our UK campaigners blogged about this before, and many of our supporters in the UK called for the creation of this Marine Reserve through the government’s consultation. The "Consultation Report" from the foreign office noted over a quarter of a million people registered a view on the decision, with about 90 percent in favour of a marine reserve.

Woh Dude!

"This marine reserve it like totally awesome!"

A rich diversity of marine life

The Chagos’ seas are worth protecting. They hold over 200 species of coral, the world’s largest coral atoll, and a stunning array of biodiversity ranging from clownfish to whale sharks, and coconut crabs to sea turtles. It ranks up there with the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands and the Coral Triangle as a globally-important biodiversity-blessed patch of sea.

As well as endemic species, found nowhere else, the area is vital for wide-ranging endangered species like bigeye tuna, turtles, hammerheads and whitetip sharks. Creating a marine reserve gives these species a vital refuge, especially in the face of the abject failure of international agreements like CITES to give these species the protection they need.

One small step for fish

At the moment, a few vested interests make a large amount of money from plundering these seas. But this fully protected area will stop that. And that can only be good news for the fish, the sharks and turtles, and the Chagossians.

There are many things of course that the marine reserve cannot solve, and a peaceful and sustainable future for the Chagos Islands must include justice for the Chagossian people, and the closure and removal of the US military base on Diego Garcia.

In the bigger picture on marine protection, this is a huge step in the right direction, but there is much, much more to do. We need more large marine reserves created, in all parts of our seas -- protecting all sorts of marine life. Only fully-protected areas give the chance for our oceans to recover and thrive, yet politicians and fisheries managers are reluctant to create them.

Marine reserves now

The best chance we have to protect marine life is to create a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world's oceans. Act now!

Size does matter

Despite this great news - the total percentage of our oceans that are now fully protected still falls far short of 1 percent! Scientists and the world's governments have agreed that much more needs to be protected but with the current rate of progress we wont be able to protect enough before it's too late.

Marine reserves not only help to the buffer the effects of fishing outside their boundaries but they also serve to give ocean life a better chance of adapting and recovering from the effects of climate change. A recent study shows that corals in marine reserves can recover from the impacts of climate change.

We know they are needed. We know they work. We need to make sure our politicians and retailers know we expect them to happen.

For now, we're happy that there is at least a little more protection for a globally-significant chunk of the ocean. For the future - we're calling on the UN for a global network of marine reserves that covers 40 percent of the world's oceans