Coral Reefs Marine Protected Areas News

Planning a new Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Archipelago

The Chagos Archipelago is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean. It is located about 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of the Maldives archipelago. The Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. It was established by the British government in 2010 to conserve the biodiversity of the Chagos Archipelago’s marine environment. The MPA covers approximately 640,000 square kilometers (around 247,000 square miles) of ocean surrounding the Chagos Archipelago, making it larger than many countries.

Location of the Chagos Archipelago and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). (Photo credit: Continental Shelf, Maritime Zones Administration & Exploration, Republic of Mauritius.)

At the last United Nations Ocean Conference, held in Lisbon in 2022, Mauritius announced its intention to create a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago. The international community is in support of this initiative and wants to ensure that the MPA will be informed by the best available science, have a state-of-the-art monitoring and enforcement system, and management protocols.

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation traveled to the Chagos Archipelago for two field work missions, which was the last stop on the Global Reef Expedition. In 2015, the Global Reef Expedition assessed the state of the reefs in the Chagos Archipelago. This research mission allowed an international team of scientists to study some of the most remote and undisturbed coral reefs in the world. Over the course of two months at sea, the team conducted surveys of the benthic and reef fish at over one hundred locations across the archipelago. The Global Reef Expedition: Chagos Archipelago Final Report summarises the Foundation’s findings from the Global Reef Expedition mission to the Chagos Archipelago in 2015.

Mauritius, with the support of the Zoological Society of London, hosted a workshop from 27th– 29th of February 2024 intended to allow scientists and practitioners from different parts of the world to interact with Mauritian scientists and relevant stakeholders and exchange knowledge to inform the planning, implementation, management, and financing of the proposed MPA. The workshop was attended by the Prime Minister and other heads of state in Mauritius, as well as an international team of scientists, policy makers, conservationists, and local Chagossians community members. The outcomes and recommendations from the workshop were delivered to the Mauritian government with anticipation of smaller follow-up workshops dedicated to more specific topic areas, i.e. cultural working groups, ecological monitoring, legal framework for shipping, and resettlement. The Chagos MPA remains a critical area for marine conservation and scientific research. It serves as a refuge for threatened and endangered species and contributes to global efforts to protect marine biodiversity.

Group photo the workshop participants and high-ranking officials of the Republic of Mauritius. (Photo: PMO of the Government of Mauritius.)

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