Frequently asked questions

How did CCT get started?

We began life as ‘Friends of the Chagos’, a grouping of scientists, past administrators and British Representatives who had an interest in the Chagos Archipelago and some of whom were increasing awareness of its value to the Indian Ocean. 

What are CCT’s goals?

We are a UK charity that conducts and promotes conservation work and scientific and historical research in the Chagos Archipelago.

Where does CCT receive its funding from?

We are a not-for-profit, charitable incorporated organisation registered in the UK. We rely on membership fees, donations and funding through grants from the British government, trusts and foundations, and other charitable giving organisations to fund research and conservation work in the Chagos Archipelago.

Our founder, John Topp, generously provided an endowment that enables us to pay for administration costs leaving any other funding received to go directly into achieving the organisation’s vision and mission.

Who runs the CCT?

We are largely voluntary with the board of trustees made up from a diverse group of scientists, conservationists, campaigners and finance specialists with one thing in common: working to protect the Chagos Archipelago.

In 2015 the trust decided to hire a director to drive and expand the organisation. The director works closely with the board and other institutions and organisations to further the goals of the CCT and ensure the trust has a sustainable future.   

Does CCT work with Chagossian groups?

For several years we have been working with with members of the Chagossian community in the UK.

“As I saw on my recent visit to Diego Garcia and the Chagos, the pristine environment of the archipelago has to be continuously preserved. We are keen to work in partnership with the Chagos Conservation Trust. Preservation of the environment goes beyond the sphere of politics.” Allen Vincatassin, ‘President of the Provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands’, Chagos Environment Network launch, April 2009 

Since 2011, we have funded a place for one member of the Chagossian community to accompany every scientific expedition to the Chagos Archipelago. Read about Rudy Plothin’s and Claudia Naraina’s experiences of expeditions.

Through our partners the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and with the support of other members of the Chagos Environment Network, we ran an outreach and training programme for Chagossians based in Crawley and Manchester. The programme allowed Chagossians to learn more about the Chagos environment about diving and the protection of coral reefs. Watch a video about the Chagossian Community Environment Project here.

“I will do my ‘A’ level biology and then I hope to go to university to do marine biology. In the future I might do research out here [in Chagos].” Pascaline Cotte, 19, Chagos Conservation Trust scholar. 

You can learn more about the Chagossian Community Environment Project and ZSL’s other work in Chagos Archipelago on the ZSL website.

What is the Chagos Archipelago?

The Chagos Archipelago is made up of a collection of 58 tiny island and coral reefs surrounded by open sea. It is located in the central the Indian Ocean and is a British Overseas Territory known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

The land area totals only about 40 km2 spread over 640,000 sq km of ocean, which is twice the size of the Britain. The largest island located in the far southeast of the archipelago and comprising of about half the land area is Diego Garcia.

When did the Chagos Archipelago become a marine reserve?

On 1st April 2010 the Chagos Archipelago was designated by the British government as a fully no-take marine reserve.  

The combination of tropical islands, unspoiled coral reefs and adjacent oceanic abyss makes this area globally important. As a fully protected marine reserve, all extractive activities, such as industrial fishing and deep-sea mining, are prohibited. This decision will safeguard the rich diversity of marine life found in the area.

Why protect the Chagos Archipelago? Why does it deserve recognition and protection?

The Chagos Archipelago contains the world’s largest coral atoll and the greatest marine biodiversity by far under UK jurisdiction. It also has one of the healthiest reef systems in the cleanest waters in the world.

The reserve helps to maintain the pure and unpolluted waters and provides a safe refuge for its rich marine life, including many threatened species, such as turtles and sharks, and globally important populations of seabirds and also provides a temporary refuge for migratory species, such as tuna, from exploitation.

The archipelago is one of the few marine locations in the world where there are almost no ongoing, direct human impacts over almost all of its area. The marine reserve serves as a reference site for global scientific research to aid in our understanding of such things as climate change, tropical marine ecosystems and the impacts of commercial fisheries.

The creation of the Chagos Marine Reserve represents an important contribution by the UK to at least seven international environmental conventions. It also contributes to the UK’s global commitments, such as slowing the decline of biodiversity by 2010, establishing marine protection networks by 2012, and restoring depleted fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015.

Why is a no-take marine reserve necessary?

There are very few places left on earth that are still in good condition. The Chagos Archipelago is one of these places.

In 2009-10 the British government held a consultation to inform its conservation policy in the Chagos Archipelago. As there were no people living within the proposed MPA1, it was possible for the government to consider the highest possible level of marine protection – a no-take marine reserve, where all fishing and other extractive activities would be banned.

A number of high-profile conservation organisations, including CCT, agreed that a no-take marine reserve was the best option. These included the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Linnean Society of London and the Royal Society. Read more about our partners in the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) who helped establish the marine reserve.

Achieving the highest level of protection in this part of the world is crucial to allow the Chagos Archipelago ecosystem to continue to thrive and benefit communities all over the world.

1. The US military base on Diego Garcia and the water to three miles from its shoreline is not part of the MPA, though it has numerous protection measures specific to that atoll Recreational fishing here is permitted.

Is the presence of the military base a threat to the ecosystem?

The island of Diego Garcia where the military base is located is in the far southeast of the archipelago, and is tens of miles, and in many cases more than one hundred miles, away from most other islands, reefs and their surrounding waters. Whilst there has been damage to some reefs close to the military area of Diego Garcia, it is not highly significant in the context of the vast area of reef in the entire Chagos Archipelago ecosystem. Even around the Diego Garcia military base, ecological and water chemistry results show that the area remains in good condition.

What do we know about the history of the Chagos Archipelago?

The Chagos Archipelago has been a British territory since 1814 when it was ceded to Britain with Mauritius, which then included the Seychelles. Following the French practice, it was administered as a dependency of Mauritius until 1965, when by agreement it was detached to form the new British Indian Ocean Territory. Three other island groups, formerly part of the Seychelles, were made part of the Seychelles, when the Seychelles gained independence in 1976.

The islands were uninhabited until the late 18th century, when the French established coconut plantations using slave labour. After emancipation, many slaves became contract employees and remained on the islands. Following the decision in the 1960s that the islands should be set aside for defence needs, the UK purchased the freehold title to the land in the islands in 1967. The copra plantations were run down as their commercial future was already unviable and the last of the contract workers and their families left the territory in 1972/3. The islanders (originally called Ilois but now more often termed Chagossians) were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles. Successive British governments have expressed regrets about the way resettlement was carried out and provided compensation.

Although many Chagossians still live in Mauritius, with a small community with Chagossian links in the Seychelles, some have moved to the UK when they gained British citizenship under the UK Overseas Territories Act 2002. Over recent years some Chagossian groups have brought a number of claims against the British government and there have been several court judgements on this matter.

Does the marine reserve prevent Chagossians returning to the islands?

It has been suggested that the no-take marine reserve prevents any future resettlement by Chagossians, as it does not allow fishing. Additionally, it has been suggested that the creation of a marine reserve presents a legal barrier to the Chagossians returning.

In fact, the marine reserve presents neither a legal nor a practical barrier to Chagossian return, if that were granted, because the current conservation arrangements can be adapted to accommodate the needs of any future communities.

The British government is currently reviewing its policy on resettlement. If the Chagossians are given the right to return, CCT would be keen to expand our work on conservation education with the community.

What is CCT’s position on any resettlement back to the Chagos Archipelago?

We will continue to work with the Chagossian community, as we have for many years, on research and conservation of this unique archipelago and look forward to continuing to do so. The question of resettlement is a government matter and we hope that any decision will be made using the best scientific information.

As a conservation organisation we will to continue to include Chagossians in expeditions to the Chagos Archipelago and share the importance of conservation to their future and those of the islands. We believe that any return to the Chagos Archipelago must be sustainable and not used as a cover for exploitation of this unique marine environment.

Can I visit Chagos Archipelago as a tourist/volunteer/photographer/journalist etc?

Unfortunately, these islands are very remote making visiting them impractical. There are no commercial tours to the Chagos Archipelago. Rules regarding private visits are very strict and it is only possible to visit one or two sites by private yacht – and then only with permission of the BIOT administration. Most non-government visitors are highly skilled scientists who land a coveted position on one of the occasional research expeditions to the area. Therefore unfortunately there is almost no possibility of visiting or volunteering on these islands.

For further information on visiting the Chagos Archipelago visit the BIOT administration’s website.

If you would like to do more to help conservation of the Chagos Archipelago you can become a supporting member of the CCT. To find out how to become a member, please visit our Join CCT page.