[Coral-List] Chagos MPA and the top-down petition culture

Hind, Edward e.hind1 at nuigalway.ie
Wed Dec 8 07:09:20 EST 2010

Dear All,
I think the recent CL postings from Richard Dunne and Mark Spalding raise an interesting issue about how marine conservation will be done going forward.
I too raised concerns with Avaaz at the time about the Chagos petition which received over 250,000 signatures. I received this response as to their perception of what they were campaigning for:
“Avaaz feels the distinction between commercial fisheries and small-scale artisanal fisheries is not appreciated: under a no-take MPA the former would certainly be banned, but it’s unlikely that the latter would be. Currently “traditional” Mauritian fisheries can apply for licenses at no cost to fish in the Chagos and it seems unlikely that this would be banned under MPA rules. When the Chagossians return we all anticipate that they would be allowed to fish under the same provisions, i.e., that it be artisanal rather than large-scale commercial fishing – although of course everything will be open for discussion. It’s why Avaaz explicitly says in its petition: “Ban commercial fishing in this area, and work with Chagossians to protect these important reefs and our oceans' future.””
At best they were unsure of the nature of the MPA, at worst they mislead the ‘environmental lobby’ who have now been ‘credited’ as more powerful than the indigenous exiled population of Chagos. They certainly had never talked to the Chagossians themselves. Similar online petitions are gaining equal numbers of signatures, such as a recent petition to put Ecosystem Based Management at the centre of any reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in Europe.
Maybe I should not moan. It is excellent that a connection has been made with the public on issues of marine conservation that I am sure listers, including myself, see as vitally important. But should it be getting boiled down to a one sentence petition that can then go viral on Facebook and Twitter? Many publications exist in coral conservation journals that champion community management and co-management as the best way to manage, not top-down legislation from governments and supra-nationals. A petition culture will take us away from these bottom-up management schemes. Is that what we want? I was one of a number who spent a large amount of time earlier this year chasing down signatories to the Avaaz petition and trying to make them more aware of broader issues in Chagos. Some disagreed with me, fair enough, but many expressed regret at signing when they found out about the issues which Chagossians were trying to highlight with little success. I think we should be very careful about how science is popularised. Petitions may ultimately speak as loudly, maybe louder, than scientific advice and consultations with local stakeholders. The results may not always be ideal, or indeed the ones that conservation professionals desire.
Kind Regards,
Edd Hind.
e.hind1 at nuigalway.ie

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