Following a need for marine protection, nations have been quick to take up measures that will enable them to protect the species that are currently at a threat of going extinct. They have also come up with means to protect the ocean that has also been at risk, owing to pollution of the environment that has led to an increase in acidity levels of the sea. The UK government is one such country which has established a marine reserve around the Chagos Islands which is home to numerous species.
This reserve is also home to the world’s biggest coral atoll, and it accounts for part of British Indian Ocean Territory. As at now, the reserve comprises 55 islands and has an estimated size of at least 545,000 square kilometres. With such an extent, the UK foreign secretary expressed certainty that the reserve would account for twice the current global coverage of marine environments which are under protection.
It is no secret that most of the challenges facing aquatic life are as a result of destructive human activities in the sea and the establishment ensures that no deep-sea mining or commercial fishing will take place in this area. That means that all endangered species can finally have a place to call home, without fear of hunting by fishers who are out to harm them in the hope of financial gain. The coral reefs will also be undisturbed, allowing the species native to them to thrive and for the reefs to grow at a fast rate.
This protected zone is necessary for the region, and there is a need for other such establishments across the glove. These islands lie south of the Maldives, and they provide the ideal habitat for marine and island species. As things stand, they are home to some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, those that are least affected by bleaching and other current problems, making them a haven for the hundreds of species in the region. There are at least 1000 different kinds of fish in the area, which is an indication that the zone is yet to suffer the cruel fate that has befallen many regions, owing to greed and disregard for other living things. There are many breeding populations of turtles, sharks, dolphins and other animals in the region, many of which have suffered the brunt of commercial fishing in other areas, and many of which have numbers that continue to decline by the day.
This area will serve as a way to protect the species in the tropical ecosystem at present, and it will also serve as a habitat for the many fish stocks that the government wishes to recover. In this way, the nation can work towards food security as it inches closer to sustainable fishing in the region.
The making of this reserve has not been without its fair share of opposition. For one, Mauritius has come forward to assert a sovereignty claim over the area, requesting that Diego Garcia return to it once the joint Air Force Base is no longer in use. The construction of the base called for residents in the area to move out in the late 60s, and there has been a lengthy court battle with residents seeking a way to get their land back. Thus, it is necessary for there to be resolutions in place such that if the residents were to settle in the islands, there would be some form of restriction that would encourage sustainable fishing which would not deplete the current stocks.
The UK government has agreed to the terms, and there are concerns as to what the impact of resettling people in the region would have on the unspoiled marine environment. Most of the residents who hope to have their land back survive on fishing as their main livelihood, and they have stated that the protected zone would serve as a barrier to their economic well-being. There has been a push and pull with backing from both countries as well as opposition by some Chagossians and only time will tell how the legal battle ends.
If this marine reserve remains under the protection of the UK government, there is hope that there will be an increase in species and that more countries will follow suit, thereby supporting the marine ecosystem. For the reserve to succeed, there is a need for enforcement of the rules as there are many fishers who would not hesitate to fish in the protected areas. There is also a need for environmental protection to ensure that the region does not witness the pollution rates that are common in other places.
It will take a lot of work for the reserve to be successful, but the foundation is sound, and there is no reason why the government cannot succeed in this undertaking. It is the one step required towards a better marine ecosystem.
Saving wild ocean places, for us and future generations