Diego Garcia

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Diego Garcia is a tropical, footprint-shaped coral atoll located south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean at seven degrees, twenty six minutes south latitude. It is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory [BIOT] and is positioned at 72°23' east longitude. The atoll is approximately 1,800 nautical miles (3,300 km) east of the African coast and 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 km) south of the southern tip of India (Figure 2.3). Diego Garcia lies at the southernmost tip of a long chain of coral reefs, atolls, and islands comprising the Laccadives, Maldives, and the Chagos Archipelago, in which Diego Garcia is geographically situated. Local time is GMT + 6 hours year-round (no daylight time change).

Within the Chagos Archipelago — which also contains Peros Banhos, the Salomon Islands, the Three Brothers (islands), the Egmont Islands and the Great Chagos Bank — Diego Garcia is the largest land mass, being an atoll occupying approximately 174 square kilometres (67 sq mi), of which 27.19 square kilometres (10 sq mi) is dry land.[1] The continuous portion of the atoll rim stretches 40 miles (64 km) from one end to the other, enclosing a lagoon 13 miles (21 km) long and up to 7 miles (11 km) wide, with a 4 miles (6 km) pass opening at the north. There are three small islands located in the pass.[2]

Diego Garcia had no permanent inhabitants when discovered by Europeans in the 16th century and remained so until settled as a French colony in 1793.[3] It was ceded, along with the rest of the Chagos Archipelago, to the United Kingdom in the Treaty of Paris (1814) at the conclusion of a portion of the Napoleonic Wars.[4] Diego Garcia and the Chagos Archipelago were administered by the colonial government on the island of Mauritius until 1965, when the United Kingdom purchased them from the self-governing government of Mauritius for £3 million, and declared them to be a separate British Overseas Territory.[5] The BIOT administration was moved to the Seychelles following the Independence of Mauritius in 1968 until that the independence of the Seychelles in 1976,[6] and from a Desk in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London since.[7]

The primary industry throughout the island’s history consisted of Coconut plantations producing copra and/or coconut oil,[8] until closure of the plantations and relocation of the inhabitants from Diego Garcia in October 1971. For a brief period in the 1880s it served as a coaling station for steamships transiting the Indian Ocean from the Suez Canal to Australia.[9]

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