[Coral-List] Nefarious conservation
mark at mdspalding.co.uk
mark at mdspalding.co.uk
Wed Feb 29 07:37:08 EST 2012
We tend to think of ourselves as a likeable bunch, but coral reef scientists
come in for quite a grilling in a new play about Chagos (London, till 10
March). The play has received some top reviews. It tells the story of the
history of the Islands and the people who were forcibly evicted by the
British 40 years ago to make way for a US military base. The interesting
twist for list-readers will be that it is not just military or political
figures who are critiqued, but also the recent role played by
conservationists (represented by the play’s “marine biologist”, but in
reality including many, many others).
The play gets its title - “A Few Man Fridays” - from the derogatory term for
the Chagossian people that was used by a UK official who deliberately used
the establishment of an MPA as a means to further entrench the exclusion of
these people from their homeland. The same official suggested that the
environmental lobby was far more powerful than the human rights activists.
Thus far he has been proved right.
Of course a small number of us, while welcoming the concept, objected to the
way the MPA was designated. This is effectively the same position as the
Chagossians, who are very pro-conservation but want to be involved. What was
amazing was how many big groups – the million member RSPB, the UK Marine
Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Avaaz, and such heady organisations as the
Royal Society, Linnean Society, Kew Gardens signed up to the MPA in a way
and form that they knew, beforehand, would infuriate and disenfranchise the
Mauritians and most Chagossians. They played the politicians game for them.
They are all in the dock in this play, which their members, and any of you
in the UK might like to see -
I expect some of these conservationists might respond with claims that these
groups were consulted (lip-service) and that Chagossians are involved (true,
but only a small minority group). The take-home for me in all this – don’t
rush conservation without balanced consultation, engage the stakeholders,
and beware of powerful hidden agendas. Not exactly new, but clearly not sunk
in yet in some minds. Perhaps these conservationists don’t care because they
think the stakeholders will never get their islands back. But they might!
Mark D Spalding, PhD
Senior Marine Scientist, Global Marine Team
Post: Department of Zoology, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK
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