Vast coral reefs, hundreds of fish species, hundreds of thousands of pairs of breeding seabirds, a refuge and breeding ground for large, critically important marine species such as sharks, dolphins, and green and hawksbill turtles: I am describing the Chagos Archipelago, one of the most remote and unspoiled marine areas on the planet. I’m here with a team of scientists and conservationists to study its extraordinary marine environment.

Anne Sheppard South Brother

Photo: Anne & Charles Sheppard/ Chagos Conservation Trust

Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Chagos Archipelago is comprised of 55 islands and vast coral reefs. At 210,000 square miles (544,000 square kilometers), the islands and surrounding waters cover an area larger than France and more than 60 times the size of Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

It is also a place that, almost two years ago this April, became the largest marine reserve – or “ocean park” – in the world. With such high protection, Chagos is now a safe refuge and breeding site for a wide variety of critically important marine life.

Our science expedition is the first to the area since its designation as a marine reserve. As we will detail in a series of posts on this site, we’ll be diving into the Chagos’ waters to better understand the health of its coral reefs and various fish populations. We’ll be studying several of the archipelago’s islands, in particular its bird populations, which makes for a truly magical place.