Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean

Friday, 24 May 2019 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Sustainability, Environment
Reading Time:  16 minutes

Cannon Point at sundown © Blaine Steinert

Cannon Point at sundown © Blaine Steinert

The Chagos Archipelago or Chagos Islands (formerly the Bassas de Chagas, and later the Oil Islands) are a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean about 500 kilometres (310 mi) south of the Maldives archipelago. This chain of islands is the southernmost archipelago of the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a long submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean. As part of its British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos were home to the Chagossians, a Bourbonnais Creole-speaking people, for more than a century and a half until the United Kingdom evicted them between 1967 and 1973 to allow the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited, and only by military and civilian contracted personnel.

The archipelago is about 500 kilometres (310 mi) south of the Maldives, 1,880 kilometres (1,17 mi) east of the Seychelles, 1,680 kilometres (1,040 mi) north-east of Rodrigues island, 2,700 kilometres (1,700 mi) west of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and 3,400 kilometres (2,100 mi) north of Amsterdam Island. The land area of the islands is 56.13 km² (21.7 sq. miles), the largest island, Diego Garcia, having an area of 32.5 km². The total area, including lagoons within atolls, is more than 15,000 km², of which 12,642 km² are accounted by the Great Chagos Bank, the largest acknowledged atoll structure of the world (the completely submerged Saya de Malha Bank is larger, but its status as an atoll is uncertain). The shelf area is 20,607 km², and the Exclusive Economic Zone, which borders the corresponding zone of the Maldive Islands in the north, has an area of 639,611 km² (including territorial waters). The Chagos group is a combination of different coralline rock structures topping a submarine ridge running southwards across the centre of the Indian Ocean, formed by volcanoes above the Réunion hotspot. Unlike the Maldives, there is no clearly discernible pattern in the atoll arrangement, which makes the whole archipelago look somewhat chaotic. Most of the coralline structures of the Chagos are submerged reefs. The Chagos contain the world’s largest coral atoll, The Great Chagos Bank, which supports half the total area of good quality reefs in the Indian Ocean. As a result, the ecosystems of the Chagos have so far proven resilient to climate change and environmental disruptions. The largest individual islands are Diego Garcia (32.5 km²), Eagle (Great Chagos Bank, 3.1 km²), Île Pierre (Peros Banhos, 1.40 km²), Eastern Egmont (Egmont Islands, 2.17 km²), Île du Coin (Peros Banhos, 1.32 km²) and Île Boddam (Salomon Islands, 1.27 km²). In addition to the seven atolls with dry land reaching at least the high-water mark, there are nine reefs and banks, most of which can be considered permanently submerged atoll structures. The number of atolls in the Chagos Archipelago is given as four or five in most sources, plus two island groups and two single islands, mainly because it is not recognised that the Great Chagos Bank is a huge atoll structure (including those two island groups and two single islands), and because Blenheim Reef, which has islets or cays above or just reaching the high-water mark, is not included. Features are listed in the table from north to south: Colvocoresses Reef, Speakers Bank, Blenheim Reef (Baixo Predassa), Benares Shoals, Peros Banhos, Salomon Islands, Victory Bank, Great Chagos Bank (Nelson Island, Three Brothers (Trois Frères), Eagle Islands, Danger Island), Egmont Islands, Cauvin Bank, Owen Bank, Pitt Bank, Diego Garcia, Ganges Bank, Wight Bank and Centurion Bank.

On 1 April 2010, the British government Cabinet established the Chagos Marine Protected Area as the world’s largest marine reserve. At 640,000 km², it is larger than France or the U.S. state of California. It doubled the total area of environmental no-take zones worldwide. Structures on the islands are located in the joint defence and Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia, although the Plantation house and other structures left behind by the Ilois are still standing, however left abandoned and decaying. Other uninhabited islands, especially in the Salomon Atoll, are common stopping points for long-distance yachtsmen travelling from Southeast Asia to the Red Sea or the coast of Africa, although a permit is required to visit the outer islands.

Salomons Atoll © Charles and Anne Sheppard - University of Warwick/cc-by-3.0 Map of Chagos Archipelago © Mohonu USS Dallas moors in Diego Garcia © flickr.com - Marion Doss/cc-by-sa-2.0 South Brother island in the Three Brothers group © Charles and Anne Sheppard - University of Warwick/cc-by-3.0 Rockwell-B-1 Bombers on Diego Garcia © Senior Airman Rebeca M. Luquin - U.S. Air Force Île Boddam © Dunog USS Saratoga CV-60 moored December 1985 © PH1 P.D. GOODRICH - National Archives and Records © Jgrimmer - U.S. Air Force Coconut plantation at East Point © Jgrimmer - U.S. Air Force Cannon Point at sundown © Blaine Steinert Coconut Crab © flickr.com - Drew Avery/cc-by-2.0
<
>
South Brother island in the Three Brothers group © Charles and Anne Sheppard - University of Warwick/cc-by-3.0
The main natural resources of the area are coconuts and fish. The licensing of commercial fishing used to provide an annual income of about US$2 million for the British Indian Ocean Territory authorities, however licenses have not been given since October 2010; the last expired after the creation of the no-take marine reserve. All economic activity is concentrated on the largest island of Diego Garcia, where joint UK–US military facilities are located. Construction projects and various services needed to support the military installations are done by military and contract employees from the UK, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the US. There are currently no industrial or agricultural activities on the islands. All the water, food and other essentials of daily life are shipped to the island. An independent feasibility study led to the conclusion that resettlement would be “costly and precarious”. Another feasibility study, commissioned by organisations supporting resettlement, found that resettlement would be possible at a cost to the British taxpayer of £25 million. If the Chagossians return, they plan to re-establish copra production and fishing, and to begin the commercial development of the islands for tourism. Until October 2010, Skipjack (Euthynnus pelamis) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) were fished for about two months of the year as their year-long migratory route takes them through Chagos waters. While the remoteness of the Chagos offers some protection from extractive activities, legal and illegal fishing have had an impact. There is considerable poaching of turtles and other marine life. Sharks, which play a vital role in balancing the food web of tropical reefs, have suffered sharp declines from illegal fishing for their fins and as bycatch in legal fisheries. Sea cucumbers, which cleanse sand, are poached to feed Asian markets.

The Chagos forms a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Maldives and the Lakshadweep. The islands and their surrounding waters are a vast oceanic Environment Preservation and Protection Zone (EPPZ)/Fisheries Conservation and Management Zone (FCMZ) of 544,000 square kilometres (210,000 sq mi)), an area twice the size of the UK’s land surface (Chagos Marine Protected Area). The deep oceanic waters around the Chagos Islands, out to the 200 nautical mile limit, include an exceptional diversity of undersea geological features (such as 6000 m deep trenches, oceanic ridges, and sea mounts). These areas almost certainly harbour many undiscovered and specially adapted species. Although the deepwater habitats surrounding the islands have not been explored or mapped in any detail, work elsewhere in the world has shown that high physical diversity of the sea floor is closely linked to a high diversity of species. The biodiversity of the Chagos archipelago and its surrounding waters is one of the main reasons it is so special. As of 2010, 76 species that call Chagos home were listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Seventeen species of breeding seabirds can be found nesting in huge colonies on many of the islands in the archipelago, and 10 of the islands have received formal designation as Important Bird Areas, by BirdLife International. This means that Chagos has the most diverse breeding seabird community within this tropical region. Of particular interest are the large colonies of sooty terns (Sterna fuscata), brown and lesser noddies (Anous stolidus and Anous tenuirostris) wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) and red-footed boobies (Sula sula). Land bird fauna is poor and consists of introduced species and recent natural colonisers. Red fody had been introduced and now widespread. A total of 113 species of insect have been recorded from the Chagos Islands (List of Lepidoptera of the Chagos Archipelago). There are also donkeys roaming free on the island that were left behind when the Ilois were relocated.

The reefs host at least 371 species of coral including the endemic brain coral Ctenella chagius. The coral cover is dense and healthy even in deep water on the steep outer reef slopes. Thick stands of branching staghorn coral (Acropora sp) protect the low-lying islands from wave erosion. Despite the loss of much of the coral in a bleaching event in 1998 the recovery in the Chagos has been remarkable and overall coral cover increases year on year. The reefs are also home to at least 784 species of fish that stay near to the shores of the islands including the endemic Chagos clownfish (Amphiprion chagosensis) and many of the larger wrasse and grouper that have already been lost from over-fishing in other reefs in the region. As well as the healthy communities of reef fish there are significant populations of pelagic fish such as manta rays (Manta birostris), whale sharks, normal sharks, and tuna. Shark numbers have dramatically declined as a result of illegal fishing boats that seek to remove their fins and also as accidental by-catch in the two tuna fisheries that used to operate seasonally in the Chagos. Environments of Chagos Archipelago provides rich biodiversity and support varieties of cetacean species within the vicinity, such as three populations of blue whales and toothed whales (sperm, pilot, orca, pseudo-orca, risso’s and other dolphins such as spinners, and so on). Dugongs, being locally extinct today, once thrived in the archipelago and the Sea Cow Island was named after the presences of the species. The remote islands make perfect undisturbed nursery sites for nests of green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles. The populations of both species in Chagos are of global significance given the critically endangered status of hawksbills and the endangered status of green turtles on the IUCN Red List. Chagos turtles were heavily exploited during the previous two centuries, but they and their habitats are now well protected by the administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory and are recovering well. The coconut crab (Birgus latro) is the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod, reaching over one metre in leg span and 3.5-4 kilos in weight. As a juvenile it behaves like a hermit crab and uses empty coconut shells as protection, but as an adult this giant crab climbs trees and can crack through a coconut with its massive claws. Despite its wide global distribution, it is rare in most of the areas it is found. The coconut crabs on Chagos constitute one of the most undisturbed populations in the world. An important part of their biology is the long distances their young can travel as larvae. This means the Chagos coconut crabs are a vital source for replenishing other over-exploited populations in the Indian Ocean region.

The Chagos Islands have been colonised by plants since there was sufficient soil to support them—probably less than 4,000 years. Seeds and spores arrived on the emerging islands by wind and sea, or from passing seabirds. The native flora of the Chagos Islands is thought to comprise forty-one species of flowering plants and four ferns as well as a wide variety of mosses, liverworts, fungi and cyanobacteria. Today, the status of the Chagos Islands’ native flora depends very much on past exploitation of particular islands. About 280 species of flowering plants and ferns have now been recorded on the islands, but this increase reflects the introduction of non-native plants by humans, either accidentally or deliberately. Because some of these non-native species have become invasive and pose a threat to the native ecosystems, plans are being developed to control them. On some islands, native forests were felled to plant coconut palms for the production of copra oil. Other islands remain unspoiled and support a wide range of habitats, including unique Pisonia forests and large clumps of the gigantic fish poison tree (Barringtonia asiatica). Unspoiled islands provide us with the biological information that we need to re-establish the native plant communities on heavily altered islands. These efforts will ultimately help to improve the biodiversity of the Chagos Islands.

Read more on The Guardian: Chagos Island, BBC, 22 November 2019: Chagos Islands dispute: UK misses deadline to return control, The Guardian, 22 November 2019: UK defies UN deadline to return Chagos Islands (for several reasons, the UK is doing it right. The archipelago is of great military strategic importance and is the largest marine reserve in the world. If the UK would step back, this would mean to allow Maldivian Islamists to settle there, so that the area would be littered and destroyed within a very short time), Politico.eu, 11 February 2020: UK’s hold on Chagos Islands is ‘wrongful act,’ say African leaders, The Guardian, 9 February 2021: UK’s ‘colonial’ stance over Chagos Islands could derail court bid, The Guardian, 16 May 2021: UN favours Mauritian control by rejecting UK stamps, Arab News, 7 February 2022: Mauritius to lead ‘historic’ expedition to contested Chagos Islands, The Guardian, 11 February 2022: ‘I will be free’: excitement grows as cruise ship nears Chagos Islands, BBC, 12 February 2022: Chagos islanders in emotional, historic trip home, The Guardian, 12 February 2022: Chagos Islands The people exiled bask in return ‘as pilgrims to abandoned place’, The Guardian, 13 February 2022: Mauritius measures reef hoping to lay claim on Chagos Islands, The Guardian, 14 February 2022: Chagos Islands: Mauritius formally challenges Britain’s ownership of archipelago, The Atlantic, 16 June 2022: They Bent to Their Knees and Kissed the Sand and Wikipedia Chagos Archipelago (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.










Recommended posts:

Share this post: (Please note data protection regulations before using buttons)

Helsinki Senate Square

Helsinki Senate Square

[caption id="attachment_207617" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Senate Square with Alexander statue and Helsinki Cathedral © Bahnfrend/cc-by-sa-4.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]The Senate Square presents Carl Ludvig Engel's architecture as a unique allegory of political, religious, scientific and commercial powers in the centre of Helsinki, Finland. Senate Square and its surroundings make up the oldest part of central Helsinki. Landmarks and famous buildings surrounding the square are the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace...

[ read more ]

Theme Week Netherlands - Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands

Theme Week Netherlands - Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands

[caption id="attachment_159819" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Market Square © Andreas Schmidt[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Nijmegen is a municipality and a city in the east of the Netherlands, near the German border. It is considered to be the oldest city in the Netherlands and celebrated its 2000th year of existence in 2005. The municipality is part of the "Stadsregio Arnhem-Nijmegen", a metropolitan area with 736,107 inhabitants. The first mention of Nijmegen in history is in the 1st century BC, when the Romans built ...

[ read more ]

Theme Week Saudi Arabia

Theme Week Saudi Arabia

[caption id="attachment_165976" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Medina - Al-Masjid al-Nabawi - The Mosque of the Prophet © flickr.com - Omar Chatriwala/cc-by-2.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Saudi Arabia, officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is an Arab sovereign state in Western Asia constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. With a land area of approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), Saudi Arabia is geographically the fifth-largest state in Asia and second-largest state in the Arab world after Algeria...

[ read more ]

Theme Week Mexico - Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean

Theme Week Mexico - Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean

[caption id="attachment_201160" align="aligncenter" width="590"] © flickr.com - dronepicr/cc-by-2.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Isla Mujeres ("Women Island") is an island in the Gulf of Mexico, about 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) off the Yucatán Peninsula coast. The island is approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long and 650 metres (2,130 ft) wide. To the east is the Caribbean Sea with a strong surf and rocky coast, and to the west the skyline of Cancún can be seen across the clear waters. The namesake town on the island has a populati...

[ read more ]

Ohrid in Macedonia

Ohrid in Macedonia

[caption id="attachment_160957" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region © PMK1[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Ohrid is a city in the south-western part of Macedonia and the seat of Ohrid Municipality. It is the largest city on Lake Ohrid and the eighth-largest city in the country with over 42,000 inhabitants. The city is rich in picturesque houses and monuments, and tourism is predominant. It is located southwest of Skopje, west of Resen and Bitola, close to the border with Albania. There i...

[ read more ]

The seaside resort of Arcachon on the Atlantic coast

The seaside resort of Arcachon on the Atlantic coast

[caption id="attachment_149011" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Bassin d'Arcachon - Cabanes tchanquées © Karine Deydier[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Arcachon is a commune in the Gironde department in southwestern France. It is a popular bathing location on the Atlantic coast 55 kilometres (34 mi) southwest of Bordeaux in the Landes forest. It has a fine beach and a mild climate said to be favourable for invalids suffering from pulmonary complaints. Arcachon is known for the "Arcachonnaise", the local name for an Arcachon...

[ read more ]

The Wonder of the Seas

The Wonder of the Seas

[caption id="attachment_236192" align="aligncenter" width="590"] in Málaga © Daniel Capilla/cc-by-sa-4.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Wonder of the Seas is the flagship of Royal Caribbean International. She was completed in 2022 in the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, the fifth in Royal Caribbean's Oasis class of cruise ships. At 236,857 GT, she was the largest cruise ship in the world by gross tonnage, surpassed by the succeeding ship, Icon of the Seas, also owned by Royal Caribbean International. ...

[ read more ]

Theme Week Colombia - Cali

Theme Week Colombia - Cali

[caption id="attachment_235358" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Cali as seen from Christo Rey Hills © David Alejandro Rendon/cc-by-sa-3.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Santiago de Cali, or Cali, is the capital of the Valle del Cauca department, and the most populous city in southwest Colombia, with 2,227,642 residents according to the 2018 census. The city spans 560.3 km² (216.3 sq mi) with 120.9 km² (46.7 sq mi) of urban area, making Cali the second-largest city in the country by area and the third most populous after Bogota an...

[ read more ]

Huacachina Oasis in Peru

Huacachina Oasis in Peru

[caption id="attachment_214320" align="aligncenter" width="590"] © Havardtl/cc-by-4.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Huacachina is a village built around a small oasis and surrounded by sand dunes in southwestern Peru. It is about five kilometers from the city of Ica in the Ica District of Ica Province. The oasis was introduced as a feature on the back of the 50 nuevo sol note in 1991. Huacachina has a permanent population of around 100 people, although it hosts many tens of thousands of tourists each year. Huacachina is a resort g...

[ read more ]

San Francisco Ferry Building

San Francisco Ferry Building

[caption id="attachment_191690" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Ferry from Sausalito arriving at the Ferry Building © flickr.com - Clay Gilliland/cc-by-sa-2.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]The San Francisco Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay, a food hall and an office building. It is located on The Embarcadero in San Francisco, California. On top of the building is a 245-foot-tall (75 m) clock tower with four clock dials, each 22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter, which can be seen from Market...

[ read more ]

Return to TopReturn to Top
Barakuda Beach in Karimun © Midori/cc-by-3.0
Theme Week Indonesia – Java

Java is bordered by the Indian Ocean on the south and the Java Sea on the north. With a population...

Banjarmasin Floating Market © Muhammad Haris/cc-by-sa-4.0
Theme Week Indonesia – Kalimantan on Borneo

Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. At the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast...

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito
Portrait: The diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, writer, playwright and poet Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) was an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist,...

Schließen