[Coral-List] Chagos MPA - a new perspective

mark at mdspalding.co.uk mark at mdspalding.co.uk
Tue Dec 7 07:16:56 EST 2010

   Chagos is an area of reefs and reef islands that should interest us all - it
   has over 1% of the WORLD’s coral reefs and it is the world’s largest no-take
   MPA. The MPA was legally declared in April 2010 and all tuna fishing ended
   in November. In fact this latter action didn’t require MPA status and the
   site still has no regulations and no legal boundary.. Meanwhile the site’s
   declaration is being challenged in the legal system, and the expulsion of
   the Chagossians from the Chagos is due to come before the European Court of
   Human Rights soon.

   Readers may remember some earlier exchanges in which some of us suggested
   that setting up an MPA without the special involvement of key stakeholders
   (the exiled Chagossian people and the nation of Mauritius) was a mistake,
   with  a  likelihood  of  a  future backfire which might even undermine
   biodiversity security long-term.

   While the recent Wikileaks may have caused a lot of damage and, in my mind,
   were not a good thing, we cannot ignore the changes in perspective, and the
   new facts they bring to light. Thus newspapers in the UK and Mauritius have
   published information to which me must respond. It appears that biodiversity
   was not high on the priorities of the officials designating the Chagos MPA,
   but  that,  according  to  the  senior UK official responsible, it was
   established to put paid to any resettlement claims by the archipelago’s
   former inhabitants. This same official, Colin Roberts, also stated that
   environmental lobby was a far more powerful force than the representatives
   of  the  Chagossian  people.  His  interpretation  was  agreed  by  US
   representatives: “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s
   Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the
   Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in
   the BIOT.”

   Some  250,000  people voted in support of the Chagos MPA via the Avaaz
   network, an internet-based social activist grouping who are also strong on
   human  rights. I spoke to Avaaz at length when they first put up their
   petition as it was clear that they were ill-informed about the human rights
   angle. They assured me that Chagossian interests were fully taken into
   consideration. They were wrong, and they misled a quarter of a million

   These facts now out, together with some racist language from Colin Roberts,
   will greatly undermine the already weak legal and moral case being made by
   the UK government both for the MPA and against the Chagossians. It will
   likely strengthen the resolve of many, including parliamentarians to undo
   this legislation. What it doesn’t do, however, is reverse the critical need
   to build lasting conservation measures for the Chagos. These reefs are a
   global treasure and need the most secure future possible. Many of us have
   argued  that  such  a  future  could  and should have been built up in
   collaboration with key stakeholders. We all know that highly effective MPAs
   can  easily  be  established with people in them, so it was remarkably
   short-sighted to exclude them from discussions. My only hope now is that the
   many  conservation  organisations  who  have largely stonewalled these
   stakeholders will give up on the game of politics and see if, even at this
   late stage, they can build bridges.

   A week is a long time in politics, but its scarcely a breath in trying to
   ensure long-term biodiversity conservation – MPAs on this scale need to be
   very carefully built.




   Mark D Spalding, PhD

   Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology

   University of Cambridge

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