Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Chagos Archipelago is a group of six atolls with about 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, that lies about 500 km (300 miles) due south of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and 1600 km (1000 miles) southwest of India, halfway between Africa and Indonesia. Comprising the British Indian Ocean Territory, the entire archipelago is a British overseas territory.
The entire land area of the islands is a mere 60 km2, with the largest island, Diego García, having an area of 27.20 km2. The archipelago consists of six atoll formations of all sizes (not counting completely sunken atolls such as Pitt Bank, Victory Bank, Centurian Bank and Speakers Bank), including the largest atoll structure of the world, the Great Chagos bank with a total area (mostly water) of 13,000 km2.
- Diego García (including Diego Garcia and three smaller islets at the Northern end)
- Egmont Islands or Six Iles (7 islets)
- Peros Banhos (27 islets)
- Salomon Islands (11 islets)
- Great Chagos Bank (7 islets)
- Blenheim Reef (submerged atoll)
The largest individual islands by are are Diego García (27.20 km2), Eagle (Great Chagos Bank, 2.45 km2), Ile Pierre (Peros Banhos, 1.50 km2), Eastern Egmont (Egmont Islands, 1.50 km2), Ile de Coin (Peros Banhos, 1.28 km2) and Ile Boddam (Salomon Islands, 1.08 km2).
The islands were discovered by Vasco da Gama in the early sixteenth century, then claimed in the eighteenth century by France as a possession of Mauritius. The United Kingdom gained possession of both Mauritius and the archipelago in 1814, and retained the islands as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory when Mauritius gained independence. Since 1976, the archipelago has been coterminous with the British Indian Ocean Territory, but it is also claimed by Mauritius and the Seychelles.
Although there was no pre-European population, a few hundred people of mostly Indian descent known as the Ilois lived on the islands for several hundred years until they were expelled to Mauritius and the Seychelles by the British Government between 1967 and 1973.
Currently, the only habitation is a joint US-UK naval support facility on Diego Garcia. Other unhabited islands, especially in the Salomon group, are common stopping points for long-distance sailors travelling from Southeast Asia to the Red Sea or the coast of Africa.
The British Government instituted an investigation into relocating the former islanders to some of the formerly inhabited islands, but concluded that this was impossible due to a lack of fresh water and risk of flooding. This is disputed by the former islanders, who point out that rainfall in the archipelago is among the highest in the world and that the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was reported as causing little damage in the islands.
Recent High Court rulings have opened the door for these displaced people to return to their land. Although this ruling makes it legal for these people to return, there has been no timetable set for their return, and no concrete plans have been laid out.
Tropical marine ; hot, humid, moderated by trade winds. Climate is characterised by plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, showers and light breezes. December through February is considered the rainy season (summer monsoon); typical weather conditions include light west-northwesterly winds and warmer temperatures with more rainfall. June through September is considered the drier season (winter), characterised by moderate south-easterly winds, slightly cooler temperatures and less rainfall. The annual mean rainfall is 2600mm (100 inches), varying from 105mm (4 inches) during August to 350mm (14 inches) during January.
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