UK creates world’s largest marine reserve

Posted by Willie — 1 April 2010 at 7:53pm - Comments

A green sea turtle © CC PiccoloNamek

Today is a good day for the oceans.

The UK has just created the world’s largest marine reserve, covering some quarter of a million square miles of ocean around the Chagos Archipelago.

We’ve already blogged about this before, and thank you if you helped by supporting the creation of this marine reserve through the government’s consultation.

Let’s stop for a second to consider what this means. The UK has just announced protection for an area 26 times the size of Wales , or bigger than the whole of France if you think more continentally. Given that the current amount of UK no-take marine areas is smaller than the world’s largest fungus – this is a huge step forward.

And 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 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, turtle, and hammerhead 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.

At the moment, a few vested interests make a large amount of money plundering these seas. Today’s announcement 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, and 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 loath to create them.

We know they are needed. We know they work. We need to make sure our politicians and retailers know we expect them to happen. And if the UK government wants some suggestions of where next – how about talking to Argentina about creating a protected area around the Falklands/Malvinas next?

For today, let’s be happy that there is at least a little more protection for a globally-significant chunk of the ocean.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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