[Coral-List] Chagos MPA - a new perspective

David Evans davidjevans1818 at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 9 03:14:08 EST 2010

Regarding the Military as Environmental Stewards...

Yes... and No...

I think what Ted said can be boiled down to this very simple reality:

Exclude Humans and "Nature" takes over.
The Shadow Effect: create a shadow of a Hawk and the Rabbits don't come and eat 
the lettuce.
Put a fence around it, and you have a preserve.

It's not rocket science.

There is a lack of context in much of what Ted says.
As far as Ulf's statement goes, there is indeed some truth to it. 
First, which military are we talking about?
        There are certainly some that do a better job than others. Some must be 
considered to be dismal.
Second, which era are we talking about?
        In the past ten or twenty years, the US has been progressively getting 
better at environmental awareness, even among coral reef resources. Whether that 
is by pulling teeth and dragging feet or eagerly responding to suggestions (new 
regulations), there is one thing about the military: if there is a directive, 
they follow it without question once it is in place (there are of course 
exceptions) even turning it to their benefit if there is a chance (ie., good PR, 
exclusion of civilian activities, etc.). That is not to say that the military 
are environmentalists. They are not. The military mission and the perception of 
national security is the bottom line (eg., the use of harmful sonar despite the 
impact to many marine mammals and certain fish species). The environment serves 
at the pleasure of the military. It is the balancing of the urgency of the 
military mission and its perception of security risks with environmental 
concerns that is the trick.
Third, which military operations are we talking about?
        Of course, active war zones and battlefields (wherever they are) are 
rather destructive. But other operations run the gamut from "pristine-looking" 
tracts that act as nature preserves to shattered bombing ranges in various 
habitats (including coral reefs). Within that spectrum, there are industrial 
type impacts, residential related impacts, and a variety of other training and 
operational impacts (as stated above, more recent regulations have been 
improving environmental behavior - cutting edge in some cases, lacking in 

Here are examples from my own personal experiences (I won't go into others such 
as the Nuclear Bomb Tests in the Pacific and the deserts of the US):

In Vieques, Puerto Rico the bombing range there has obliterated a coral reef in 
a bay and a seagrass bed in another was impacted to a degree. The terrestrial 
habitat was severely damaged of course (it was a bombing range!). Other training 
activities impacted other habitats to varying lesser degrees. The excluded part 
of the island acted somewhat as a preserve, but the "shadow effect" was not 100% 
effective on the adjacent reefs. Towards the end (it is now closed), training 
exercises were scheduled around turtle hatching times and turtle nests were 
marked off on the beaches. Most significantly, however, the years of dropping 
ordnance on the bombing range both on land and in the water, left excessive 
amounts of toxic residues. While these were localized at the bombing range, 
winds and fires on land dispersed them into the wider habitat, extending to the 
rest of the island (civilian and military). In the water, leaching from the 
points of source (expended ordnance) dispersed them through the marine ecosystem 
and along the food chain. On top of that, a World War II destroyer that took 
part in the Nuclear Bomb Tests in the Pacific was used as a target ship for 
about ten years, shedding tons of the steel from its superstructure and deck 
(that was most directly exposed to the nuclear fallout) in unaccounted for 
locations (even to this day!) either on land or in the sea. And to finish off 
the top, hundreds of 55-gallon drums located at the wreck site near the bombing 
range have never been accounted for as to their actual origin (bearing in mind 
that government reports about the nuclear test describe 55-gallon drums being 
used to store contaminated materials while other sunken test ships contain 
similar barrels with such materials).

At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the Vietnam era (dates not known to me), tank 
training occurred on the many rugged scrub desert hills, destroying vegetation 
and eroding the underlying earth. The tracks are still visible. The activity 
altered the vegetative habitat of the hills. Runoff of sediments readily reach 
the nearby coral reef resources, luckily though (in this case) there are not a 
lot of rain events at the base. Bombing ranges affect several habitat areas, yet 
many other habitats are left pristine-like in the condition of a preserve. An 
out of control fire set off by gunnery exercises burned a great extent of the 
scrub desert habitat (home to endangered Cuban boa). The Shadow Effect is in 
over-drive in regards to the Cuban jutia (banana rat), a species that is 
endangered in wider Cuba, yet was close to over-running the base as a sever 
nuisance requiring pest control. A great extent of mangrove resources were dying 
due to an unknown cause. Sea grass beds were very healthy, but the condition of 
the harbor is unknown. Sea turtles, here also, have more recently been given 
special treatment of conservation including night lighting. Fishing is regulated 
to a degree (though not enough). Spear fishing occurs, but in selected locations 
(or rather in the allowed and accessible locations). Much of the coral reef 
resources are in excellent condition (relative to the wider Caribbean) because 
of the "defacto-preserve" effect, however fleet mooring locations were once 
located in these habitats. Some reef areas are designated as "in-fact 
conservation zones."

At Pearl Harbor, the body of water was once considered the most polluted harbor 
in the United States. Residual contamination still permeates the bed of the 
harbor-estuary. I make note of the great sensitivity regarding the events of 
December 7th, 1941, but the pollution of the harbor predated the horrific event 
of that day and much was added since then without relation to it (and not all of 
it related directly to the military). Within even a somewhat recent frame of 
service, there was little regulation regarding the disposal of items and 
materials overboard ships. Fish are abundant and large within the harbor and 
near its entrance (fishing is restricted for good reason). Again, more recent 
regulations are doing much to improve its condition. 

At Diego Garcia, as has been mentioned before by me and others, the impacts are 
what would be expected from a large installation of its sort on a small island. 
Improvements in procedures and more recent awareness and regulations have been 
put in place. As in other places and in the military in general, previous 
environmental procedures were lax and lacking altogether (as in dynamiting the 
algal reef platform for fill material to be used to build up land area in the 
lagoon). I do not try to compare military impacts to civilian ones because that 
is not the question I am answering. Occasional "industrial" accidents happen 
(oil/fuel spills). The base population and activities are not extractive because 
the mission does not call for it, but a rather heavy degree of fishing does 
occur in places though regulations have been put in place. Holothurians are 
unaccountably rare in the shallows. As anywhere, there is some poaching and rule 
cutting. A conservation "replenishment" zone exists in key areas and scuba is 
not allowed. Much of the rest of the lagoon is untouched as a 
"defacto-preserve." However, dredging and mooring chain dragging in large areas 
stirs up sediment and sedimentation levels appeared heavy throughout much of the 

I think I have made my point (I hope I have). The reality of military 
"environmentalism" runs the gamut. 

A valid note to make, though, is that the military at DG is not self sustaining 
and is mostly non-extractive, relying on shipments of supplies for its 
existence. Environmental regulations and awareness are in place.

But these things are not exclusive to the military. 

"A population of 4000 souls (no families) on a small island with a level of 
recreational/supplemental fish extraction" describes Diego Garcia.

As pointed out before, Ted quotes plans of re-settlement which are not valid in 
the present. 

There is no reason that a population of 400 to 1000 souls (possibly including 
families) could not exist in the wider Chagos under rules of environmental 
expectations alongside and interactive with a successful Chagos MPA. (Before 
disregarding this statement outright, please consult a map [look at Google Earth 
or googlemaps.com] to get an idea of scale of possible usage density.) If there 
IS a good reason, it has not been honestly explored and discussed in good faith 
by objective parties as I have said before.

However, aside from considerations of re-settlement plans, potential impacts, 
and quality of MPA's, I finish with this thought: That the very bottom line 
regulating re-settlement of the islands is the military mission at the Chagos 
and the Government policy of "requiring" uninhabited islands.

The closely divided finding of Law Lords of the UK did NOT discount the Human 
Rights violations experienced by the Chagossians, but rather it placed the 
perception of Security Risks (military mission) ABOVE the Chagossians rights 
(the eminent domain argument).

So here is my question: Will the Military finally show up "in person" for this 
debate OR will it keep letting the Environment take the fall? Can the Military 
and the respective Governments step forward and make their case for National 
Security face to face with the Chagossians (the "Man Fridays" as they call them) 
presenting and listening to the realities and perceptions of both sides? Maybe 
then, some level of Mutual Understanding and Human Respect can be achieved and 
the cause of Environmental Conservation will not continue to be dragged through 
the mud (expletive replaced) of this despicable, reprehensible situation!!!

David Jeremy Evans

"Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame." 

"September 1, 1939"
W.H. Auden



Message: 4
Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2010 15:27:03 -0700
From: "Ted Morris" <easy501 at zianet.com>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Chagos MPA - a new perspective
To: "'Ulf Erlingsson'" <ceo at lindorm.com>,    "'Coral List'"
    <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Message-ID: <001501cb9727$0a5fcb80$1f1f6280$@com>
Content-Type: text/plain;    charset="us-ascii"

Dear Ulf,

In answer to your second question, certainly Chagossians have human rights,
and as British Citizens they have more than most.  However, I think you may
have meant "Don't they have the specific human right to return to the
Chagos?" and the answer is that the question has yet to be resolved.
British courts have ruled that their expulsion was the equivalent of
Compulsory Purchase (Imminent Domain as we call it in the States).  Those
courts have considered whether the islanders received adequate compensation
and whether they have the right of abode in the Chagos, and have concluded
that they have, and do not, respectively.  Although some like to quote lower
court rulings permitting resettlement, legal rulings are not compilations of
decisions like opposing scores in a football game.  Instead, only the final
decision by the highest court stands, and in the case of the Chagossians,
the Law Lords ruled against their right of abode or return.  Therefore,
Chagossians have filed a separate case with the European Court of Human
Rights, which is believed to have jurisdiction over this subject.
Regardless of the result, Chagossian leaders and advocates state that the
political battle will continue.  So it certainly appears that the
Chagossians are exercising their rights as British Citizens unhindered.

In regard to your fist question about whether one part of mankind can
exclude another part of mankind from un-touched biological reserves, the
answer is clearly yes.  It occurs all the time, everywhere in the developed
world.  Although there are countries and perhaps even large parts of
continents where such exclusion is not practiced, I believe it should be a
universal feature of saving the earth's ecosystems.  The continued exile of
the Chagossians is not a feature of the MPA - instead it is a feature of the
militarization of the archipelago.  However, even if the base were to be
vacated, I would still advocate that all habitation be restricted to Diego
Garcia, and extractive industry be prohibited in the Chagos.  Of course that
would be up to the British government, but why Chagossians are excluded from
Diego Garcia is beyond me - and I spent a lot of time on that island.  After
all what is the difference between having British Citizens working on the
base and living nearby, and the same situation at RAF Mildenhall?  Why do
certain factions among the Chagossians insist on returning to tiny
micro-islands, instead of to DG?  If I were cynical, I would say "follow the
money", but I'd best leave that research to others.

You also have a question about the military base.  No, it is not a
well-established fact that military operations are among the most
destructive activities known to mankind when it comes to the environment.  I
would agree that military activities are certainly destructive on
populations and infrastructure, but I would submit that the logging of the
tropical rain forests, seabed mining, and overfishing the oceans are much
more damaging to the environment than all the wars to date.  The condition
of the former Warsaw Pact nations' environments, or China's today are other
examples of worse-than-war zones.

If contrast, today's military reservations in the developed nations are
among the world's most important biological reserves as well.  Here in the
States, one need only look at Vandenberg AFB in California, or White Sands
Missile Range in New Mexico, or the Kennedy Complex in Florida to see that
in their absence, uncontrolled development would long ago have devastated
the local environment.  It is the exclusion of people from those and many
other sites that has preserved the ecologies of the bases virtually intact.
The same is true now of the Chagos - no matter how Kafka-ish it may sound.

You may be interested in reviewing some of the existing literature
concerning the state of the ecology of the Chagos and its value as an
un-touched reserve to the greater Indian Ocean environment, and thus to the
populations living in down-stream coastal areas.  May I recommend the
following?  "The Ecology of the Chagos Archipelago" edited by Drs. Charles
Sheppard and Mark Seaward; the FCO's 2003 Chagos Conservation Management
Plan of the BIOT by Drs. Charles Sheppard and Mark Spalding (available here:
pdf); and the U.S. Navy's 2005 Natural Resources Management Plan (available
here:  http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/nrmp.html).  Although the last is
specific to Diego Garcia, I think you'll find that combined with the others,
it may provide a clearer picture of the actual conditions than you may have
seen to date.

There are a lot more recent articles, all of which lead to the conclusion
that the waters of the Chagos are virtually pristine, and that status
appears to be key to the recovery of the reefs of the archipelago from the
major bleaching event of 1998.  More importantly, the isolation of the area
(400 miles from the nearest inhabited island in the Maldives), the
tertiary-treatment waste-water system on Diego Garcia, the marine discharge
restrictions in effect in the BIOT (which apply even to the US Navy) and a
location a long, long way from the nearest undersea drilling or mining
activities, means that the corals of the Chagos may provide the answers we
so desperately seek concerning how to modify the pollution and over-harvest
of those reefs nearer major populations, and perhaps save corals and their
ecosystems world-wide as we deal with climate change.  This is only possible
if the Chagos remains un-plundered and un-polluted as we study it, something
very iffy if re-occupation requires extraction of food or livelihoods from
the surrounding waters.

Finally, you might also find my paper on Chagossian history of interest.  It
is thoroughly documented and details the Chagossian economic experience in
the islands, as well as the compensation schemes, and the various court
cases.  It's here:  http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/chagossians.pdf.


-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Ulf Erlingsson
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 9:13 AM
To: Coral List
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Chagos MPA - a new perspective

I find several things odd with this debate about Chagos:

1. With what justification do some argue that the right of one part  
of mankind to create an "un-touched" biological reserve outweighs the  
rights on another part of mankind to keep living there as they have  
for generations? Don't Chagosians have human rights?

2. Why is only the Chagosians discussed, and not the impact of the  
huge military base? Isn't it a well-established fact that military  
operations are among the most destructive activities known to mankind  
when it comes to the environment (totally apart from its effect on  
human rights)?

This whole debate seems "Kafkaish" to me...


On 2010-12-08, at 09:46, Richard Dunne wrote:

> Ted Morris' wish to see the Chagos as a wilderness park (aside from  
> the
> US Base on Diego Garcia) is admirable but is it realistic or  
> necessary?
> He fears that a Chagossian right of abode equates to the  
> desecration of
> the environment. Is this likely to be so?
> Firstly, the resettlement plan to which he refers was produced in
> response to the Foreign Office's (FCO) own studies in 2000 and 2002
> which were never completed, and which were edited by the FCO to align
> with their policy. All of those earlier studies are now outdated for a
> variety of reasons, not least because of the MPA.
> Secondly, a right of abode does not equate to a right to resettle the
> islands because the land is exclusively owned by the British  
> Government
> (they bought it in the 1960s from the former plantation company). If
> anyone is allowed to live on the islands it will be entirely on terms
> and conditions laid down by the British Government as landowner.
> Additionally, the British Government has, since 1991, had complete
> jurisdiction over fisheries out to 200nm, and there are at present
> numerous conservation areas on land which are highly regulated.
> In these circumstances, the scenarios that Ted outlines - farms,
> commercial fishing, tourism - or even a "glorified fish farm" are  
> highly
> improbable. Whilst we now know that the FCO intended to use the MPA to
> exclude the Chagossians, and whilst we know the FCO does not have the
> best track record for honesty, we should not expect them to suddenly
> grant license to anyone to exploit these islands or their waters.
> What is equally clear is that additional resources will be needed to
> enforce this huge MPA (540,000 sq km) over and above a single (slow)
> Fishery Protection vessel based at Diego Garcia, hundreds of miles  
> from
> the nearest of the 54 other islands.  What better way than to place  
> and
> support small communities on strategic islands, some of whom are
> employed as MPA Wardens.  This would at least stop the poaching of
> holothurians by Sri Lankan fishermen, provide regulation of any  
> visiting
> yachts, and allow the shallow waters of the Chagos Bank to be  
> patrolled
> from smaller vessels. And the FCO should also be willing to reconsider
> its decision not to establish a marine research station, if we are to
> maximise the scientific potential of this near pristine area. All  
> these
> present opportunities for the Chagossians.
> The solution lies in dialogue, not confrontation, and a willingness to
> right wrongs that the British Government admits that it did in the  
> past.
> The initiative has to come from the FCO, and the US Government has to
> learn to relax its paranoia over security in the Chagos.
> Richard P Dunne
> On 07/12/2010 22:20, Ted Morris wrote:
>> Jim,
>> I would like to respond to something Mark said, and hope you will  
>> post this - it does not rely on reference to the not-to-be-named  
>> web information that the USG has banned any discussion of... ;-)
>> Here's the posting:
>> Mark states "We all know that highly effective MPAs can easily be  
>> established with people in them..."
>> This is the primary practical argument used to justify  
>> resettlement of the Chagos ("human rights" being the political  
>> argument, and not the subject of this posting).
>> I believe it would be more correct to say that "effective"  
>> inhabited MPAs are only possible when the inhabitants do not  
>> require the MPA for their economy or sustenance, and thus have as  
>> light a footprint as possible on the environment.  Unfortunately,  
>> that is not the resettlement plan for the Chagos.  Instead  
>> advocates propose to fund the return and long-term occupation of  
>> the Chagos by extracting food and economic sustenance from the  
>> environment though mechanisms such as commercial fishing,  
>> conversion of the terrestrial environment into farms of various  
>> kinds, and tourism.  Although advocates propose harvesting only  
>> what is sustainably reproduced, that will result in a managed  
>> ecosystem.
>>> From the first appearance of settlers in the Chagos ecosystem,  
>>> they will of necessity begin to harvest everything they require  
>>> to live and succeed economically.  Although someone will place  
>>> regulatory limits on the take, the first "harvest" will begin an  
>>> unending cycle of management, transforming this priceless  
>>> wilderness into a park, at best.  In my opinion, this is not the  
>>> highest and best use of the Chagos for the health of the planet.
>> The rationale behind the creation of the Chagos MPA has been  
>> defined variously by different politicians, groups and people.  
>> Basically, these can be divided into those who believe the MPA  
>> should be managed to produce income sufficient to support a  
>> reestablished human population numbering in the thousands, and  
>> those, like me, who believe it should not be managed at all, but  
>> instead protected the way we idealistically attempt to treat  
>> wilderness here in the States - "take nothing but photos, leave  
>> nothing but footprints."
>> One need only look at the draft minutes of the recent Chagos  
>> Conservation Trust annual meeting to see that already, just a  
>> month after the expiration of the last commercial fishing permit,  
>> the BIOT government is bemoaning the loss of revenue needed to  
>> administer the Territory.  The seduction of money raised by  
>> licensing and permitting of extractive industry may prove to be  
>> too strong in the long run to preserve the wilderness condition of  
>> the CMPA even if the archipelago is kept uninhabited.  If  
>> resettlement occurs, there can be no doubt that compromises and  
>> concerns for the occupant's economic health will result in the  
>> conversion of the MPA from undersea wilderness into a glorified  
>> fish farm.
>> I'd like to point out that this does not mean that a return by the  
>> islanders should be denied entirely; there is the alternative of  
>> returning to Diego Garcia with preference in hiring on the  
>> military base, capitalizing on the existing infrastructure,  
>> observing the current environmental protections which prohibit  
>> economic exploitation of the island and surrounding waters, etc.
>> The bottom line is that any resettlement of the "outer islands" of  
>> the Chagos would certainly mutate the MPA into something  
>> "effective" but unnatural, when the true value of the Chagos is as  
>> an unmolested ecosystem.
>> I hope the readers of the List will consider this when evaluating  
>> any future postings by Mark or other resettlement advocates.
>> Best Regards,
>> Ted Morris, Jr.
>> www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov  [mailto:coral-list- 
>> bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Ofmark at mdspalding.co.uk
>> Sent: Tuesday, December 07, 2010 5:17 AM
>> To:Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> Subject: [Coral-List] Chagos MPA - a new perspective
>>     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.
>> <...expletives deleted...>
>>     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
>>     signatories.
>> <...expletives deleted...>
>>     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.
>>     Thanks
>>     Mark
>>     ____________________________
>>     Mark D Spalding, PhD
>>     Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology
>>     University of Cambridge
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