Kew is helping to restore plant life and native habitats on remote islands in the Indian Ocean
A Kew scientist is spending two weeks on a ship to explore the status of plant life on islands of the Chagos Archipelago and help restore native habitats. Some areas have not been visited by botanists for more than 30 years.
25 Jan 2010
Aerial view of Diego Garcia by Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT)
The 55 Chagos Islands are in the middle of the Indian Ocean and form part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Comprising 544,000 square kilometres of virtually pristine ocean, including the world’s largest coral atoll, BIOT is home to some of the UK’s most important marine biodiversity. Coral atoll is an island of coral that encircles a lagoon, either partially or completely.
This remote UK Overseas Territory will soon become a particular focus for Kew’s UK Overseas Territories Programme. Our plans are to investigate the status of the plants of several islands, some not visited by a botanist for more than 30 years.
As well as reviewing the health of the native flora (approximately 45 species of flowering plants and ferns), we will be examining the spread of non-native plant species of which more than 230 species have been documented, mostly on Diego Garcia.
Restoring native plant and animal life
For nearly 200 years until the 1970s, all the larger islands in the Chagos were farmed for coconuts for the commercial extraction of copra oil. Since this industry collapsed and management of the coconut plantations ceased, many islands have become dense coconut forests, supporting little native plant and animal life and threatening natural habitats.
One of the goals of this expedition is to look at the potential for restoring habitats on the Chagos Islands to help re-establish indigenous plant communities and support native animal life. This includes many important migratory birds that nest in this archipelago, such as sooty terns and red-footed boobies. These islands are also important nesting sites for threatened green and hawksbill turtles.
Fortunately a few of the less accessible islands remain relatively undisturbed, having never been cut over for coconuts. These islands can provide the expedition team with an insight into the original vegetation of the Chagos Islands and provide a potential blueprint for future restoration.
About the expedition team
A twelve-person scientific expedition leaves Diego Garcia, BIOT’s only inhabited island, on 21 February 2010, and a member of Kew’s UKOTs programme is part of the team. Spending two weeks on a ship exploring the archipelago and the plants and animals that live there, the team comprises ten marine scientists, an ornithologist and a botanist from Kew.
We’ll be bringing you news of the expedition here on the website. Watch this space for updates from the team.
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Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership has successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species, and we have set our sights on saving 25% by 2020. For just £1,000 or £2,000 you can help this effort by saving an entire plant species outright. Or you can get involved by adopting a seed for just £25.
- Kew expedition - Mapping plants in Madagascar with Kew's GIS Team
- Building a global network - Madagascar and Mascarenes
- Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership in Madagascar
- Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership in Mauritius
- Kew UK Overseas Territories Programme
- Chagos Conservation Trust
- Support this initiative at Protect Chagos
Kew is a member of the Chagos Environmental Network (CEN), a collaboration of nine leading conservation and scientific organisations seeking to protect the rich biodiversity of the Chagos Islands and its surrounding waters. You can learn more about this network and the current UK Government consultation on extending conservation protections for the Chagos Islands and its surrounding waters at www.protectchagos.org.
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