In a historic move that one-ups the United States, Britain has designated the Chagos Archipelago as a marine reserve, making it the largest such marine protected area in the world. At 210,000 square miles, the new reserve surpasses the U.S.'s Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument in the Northern Hawaiian Islands by 70,000 square miles.
"In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, the UK has secured a conservation legacy which is unrivaled in scale and significance, demonstrating to the world that it is a leader in conserving the world's marine resources for the benefit of future generations," said Alistair Gammell of the Pew Environment Group.
The archipelago is home to a wide variety coral and fish species, numbering in the many hundreds, along with substantial sea turtle and sea bird breeding areas. The archipelago - which contains the world's largest coral atoll, the Great Chagos Bank - is positioned right in the middle of the Indian Ocean, making it a sort of oceanic oasis to support many species while also developing endemic species because of its isolation.
In fact, when you look its position in the Indian Ocean and the size of the marine reserve, one can see how small the world's largest marine protected area actually is in relationship to the size of the Indian Ocean and, by extension, the entire ocean area on the planet. That's the only downside. The British government is to be applauded for their efforts, but more needs to be done - more critical marine areas need to be identified and protected across the globe.
Time and time again, marine protected areas have proven themselves to have a positive effect on marine ecosystems, including increased fish populations, even beyond the borders of the actual reserve. Bad things can spread throughout the oceans - but so can good things.