[Coral-List] Chagos MPA - a new perspective

Mark Spalding mark at mdspalding.co.uk
Thu Dec 9 14:35:45 EST 2010

Ted Morris makes a perfectly logical argument and I only wish that all the
others who felt the same way had been so honest. If they wanted an MPA that
excluded Chagossians from ever returning then why all the careful language
expressing how welcome they'd be in the MPA? Careful language admittedly,
not promising anything, but clearly designed to broaden support for the

Chagos is extremely special. The track record of people living off reefs is
ON AVERAGE one of damage and degradation, and we are being dishonest if we
think all remote island peoples do a good job of sustainable living. But
some do.

My big concern has always been that Ted and others, including the current
incumbents at the FCO and in the US military, will not always be the ones to
decide on the future for Chagossians. An MPA could so easily be built which
recognised the current status (no resettlement) but made provisions for
resettlement should it at some point be allowed. The sorts of language could
be strong ("in the event of any future resettlement, fishing will only be
permitted on 30% of reefs around inhabited atolls...development will be
restricted to x islands/y% of land area, etc")...but really the best way to
work anything out like that, and to make it robust to changes in politics
and management, would be if the Chagossians themselves helped make those
decisions, informed by environmental scientists who know the issues of
maximising ecosystem productivity, building resilience and maintaining

Having been double-crossed before (they were allowed to return a few years
ago, albeit briefly), any sensible Chagossian wanting to return will move
VERY fast if or when they are ever given permission to do so. Legal
provision for such a return within the MPA framework would only be a
sensible precaution, and would still allow Ted and other to continue
objecting to their return. If this can't be done the I hope the Chagossians
will still have some faith in the conservation and environment movement to
reach out for advice when the time comes. 

Thank you Ted for helping clarify the debate.

All best


PS - I don't want to jump into the debate about military impacts too much. I
tend to agree that things could have been much worse in DG, but neither are
they perfect. Readers, particularly those looking for photos of reef
destruction would be fascinated to see the third photo down on Ted's
web-site http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/seabees1974.html . Please note
that this is an old photo, I'm sure (please!) that the US wouldn't do this
to a reef flat today, but worth noting that the scars from this exercise
remain and nothing has re-grown here, they can be EASILY seen on Google
Earth, and have likely contributed to heightened erosion along this coast.


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.


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