[Coral-List] Chagos - whoever said conservation was simple

Mark Spalding mark at mdspalding.co.uk
Thu Jan 21 05:27:45 EST 2010

This is a fascinating challenge for how best to do conservation. Its a big
enough area of coral reefs (>1% of the world's reefs - more than Belize,
more than double Florida!) that most readers should be interested.

The Chagos Archipelago is a vast area of healthy reefs in the Indian Ocean.
The UK government's consultation is a fantastic opportunity to encourage
comprehensive and sensible conservation. The fight for the human rights of
those exiled from Chagos continues, however. A large number of UK Members of
Parliament are now supporting their cause, and the case has been taken to
the European Court.

The UK government is consulting on 3 main options plus an "any other
suggestions" option. The first three are 1 - complete no-take over the
entire EEZ  (making the largest no-take in the world by some margin); 2 -
complete EEZ MPA, zoned and with no-take in shallow waters but continued
pelagic fishery; or 3 - no-take over the reefs and shallow waters only (2
and 3 are effectively the same). 

Powerful conservation and science groups are arguing strongly for 1, but the
exiled Chagossians as well as Mauritius (who claim the islands) were largely
excluded from initial discussions and are very upset. All have made clear
calls that they too want conservation, but not total no-take everywhere.
Some fear it may be a ruse to continue their exile. Given the parlous state
of the world's coral reefs it may indeed be the case that protection of this
vast reef tract should be a leading priority. ...and of course it has been
argued that the protection and management could be re-negotiated should the
situation change on the ground. You can support option 1 by signing the
following petition www.protectchagos.org 

Others are worried that an MPA on such a foundation will be undermined
should the Chagossians win their court case or the Mauritians be handed
sovereignty (the UK government has promised this once the military base is
no longer needed (yeah, right!), but there is also a small possibility that
the northern atolls may be handed over sooner). They worry that under these
scenarios the MPA might be repealed and further that these groups, whose
trust in the conservation and science community has been seriously
undermined, would not then be willing to listen to any further advice from
the same groups. This body of opinion would suggest that the best way
forwards, both for stable, long-term conservation AND for human rights
issues, is in dialogue. Ideally to develop an MPA with very large no-take
elements, but with provision for continued conservation under future
scenarios of Chagossian return or even perhaps Mauritian sovereignty. There
is enough reef, and a small enough land area that the no-take proportion
could be very large indeed. This is an "option 4" route, and there's a
petition for that too
http://www.marineeducationtrust.org/petition/protect-chagos. Of course
further consultation would likely delay any decisions.

Or just send your own comments to the UK government on links via eg.
(ironic url considering Mauritius is furious over this whole thing!)

....but of course the UK government could decide its all too difficult and do

Best wishes

Mark Spalding, PhD
Conservation Science Lab, Dept Zoology
University of Cambridge, UK

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