Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fury of Chagos islanders as Britain creates world’s largest marine nature reserve

Remember our link about a petition for creating a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Island, Britain created the world's biggest marine reserve in its Indian Ocean territory on Thursday, pleasing environmentalists but angering exiled Chagos Islanders who say it creates an obstacle to them returning home.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband ordered the creation of a marine reserve, where commercial fishing is banned, in the British Indian Ocean Territory, made up of 55 tiny islands, including Diego Garcia, which houses a US air base.

About 2000 Chagos Islanders were forcibly removed from the archipelago in the 1960s and '70s to make way for the American base and have waged a long legal battle for the right to return.

Representatives of the Chagos Islanders, who have now taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights, argue that the creation of the reserve will stop them returning home because it bars fishing, their main livelihood.

The new "marine protected area" will cover a quarter of a million square miles - an area larger than California - and doubles the area of the world's oceans under protection.

"Its creation is a major step forward for protecting the oceans," Miliband said in a statement.

The decision by the British government comes weeks before an election that opposition Conservatives are favourites to win.

The US-based Pew Environment Group, one of a number of conservation groups that campaigned for the creation of the marine reserve, called Miliband's decision "a historic victory for global ocean conservation".

It said the Chagos Islands rivalled the Galapagos Islands and the Great Barrier Reef in ecological diversity and the area was important for research on climate change, ocean acidification, the resilience of coral reefs and sea level rise.

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