Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain Names Chagos Islands World's Largest Marine Preserve

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain Names Chagos Islands World's Largest Marine Preserve

Article excerpt

The government of Britain named the Chagos Islands - home to the military base of Diego Garcia and some of the Indian Ocean's healthiest coral reefs - the world's largest marine preserve.

A patch of ocean roughly the size of Texas and harboring some of the world's most pristine coral reefs has received tough new protection from the British government.

The 210,000 square-mile area, which embraces the Indian Ocean's Chagos Island archipelago, now represents the world's single largest marine protected area trumping the previous record marine- conservation set-asides. President George W. Bush approved the establishment of national marine monuments around the northern Hawaiian Islands in 2006 and along the Marianas Islands in 2009.

Taken together, the areas Britain and the US have designated for protection represent nearly half a million square miles of unique ocean ecosystems that serve as nurseries for a broad range of marine life.

Britain's declaration "is a historic victory for marine conservation," says Jay Nelson, director of the Pew Environment Group's Global Ocean Legacy project. Part of the area will be a "no take" reserve, meaning no fishing or collecting of living things at all, while human activities will be strictly regulated in the rest of the larger protected area.

These moves, along with the Coral Triangle initiative in the tropical western Pacific, highlight the increasing emphasis scientists, conservationists, and governments are placing on trying to protect ocean ecosystems critical to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people as well as to the biological diversity of the oceans themselves.

According to a global survey of reef health published in 2008 by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, in the next 10 to 20 years, 15 percent of the reefs existing today will be threatened by stresses such as pollution and destructive fishing practices. That number is expected to grow to 20 percent in the next 20 to 40 years as the number of people living on coastlines in reef-rich regions increases.

The study also indicates that some 48 percent of the reefs are in relatively good shape. But they and the rest of the world's reefs face additional threats from global warming and ocean acidification, the study cautions. …

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