Commercial fishing around the Chagos Islands ended on 31 October making it officially the largest no-take marine protected area (MPA) in the world. Any remaining fishing licenses have now expired, following the British Foreign and Commonwealth Offices decision to create the MPA on 1st April.
It is estimated that around 60,000 sharks, an equal number of rays, and potentially countless other species, have been legally caught as by-catch from commercial fisheries over the past five years in Chagos, something that will be prevented as a result of the fishing ban. Dr Heather Koldewey, who manages Zoological Society of London’s international marine and freshwater conservation programme, says:
“The implementation of a no-take marine reserve in the Chagos will provide a highly unique scientific reference site of global importance for studies on both pelagic and benthic marine ecosystems and the effects of climate change on them.”
Currently estimates are that 1.17 per cent of the world’s ocean is under some form of marine protection, with only 0.08 per cent of these protected areas classified as no-take zones. Scientists are urging governments to set up more MPAs if they are ever to meet the agreed target of 10 per cent by 2012, agreed at the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.