The remote islands of the Chagos Archipelago are perfect nursery sites for two valuable species of endangered turtles.
Turtles in the region were heavily exploited over the past two centuries but in the Chagos Marine Reserve populations have been recovering in recent years. The 400-800 green (Chelonia mydas) turtles and the 300-700 hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles that return to these islands to breed are considered globally significant. The IUCN considers the green turtle Endangered. The hawksbill turtle is unfortunately Critically Endangered, partly due to the black market demand for its beautiful shell.
These species of sea turtles can be found nesting on the beaches, and feeding in near-shore waters. While the islands were inhabited in the period from the 1760s, populations were heavily affected by their consumption by humans, as well as the impact of dogs, cats, pigs and rats, which ate their eggs and young.
Today around half of Diego Garcia is managed as a strict nature reserve, allowing adult female turtles to lay their eggs undisturbed. Turtle Cove - on the south end of the island - is a unique feeding site for sea turtles. Hawksbills are abundant on Peros Banhos and Diego Garcia, while green turtles nest in the Egmont Islands, Chagos Bank and Diego Garcia.
Sea turtles are among the oldest inhabitants of the planet, and are found in all oceans except the polar regions. However, they remain threatened globally by degenerating habitats, the effects of by-catch, and the problem of ingesting plastic bags mistaken for its favourite food of jellyfish. The worldwide population declined by more than 80% over the last century.
The full protection granted by the declaration of the Chagos Marine Reserve provides a safe haven for these turtles to breed helping these species to recover.