[Coral-List] Chagos Protected Area

Sheppard, Charles Charles.Sheppard at warwick.ac.uk
Thu Jan 21 15:21:14 EST 2010

As earlier writers note, the British government has issued a Consultation seeking views on whether the Chagos Archipelago should be designated a very large protected area, and the degree of protection it should have.  The primary reason is its reefs.  The proposal is that this be made an enormous protected area.  Supporting this is the Chagos Environment Network (CEN), a collaboration of several leading conservation and scientific organisations including the Linnean Society of London, Marine Conservation Society, Pew Environment Trust, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Royal Society, RSPB, Zoological Society of London, etc.  


The CEN campaign website, www.protectchagos.org <https://mywebmail.warwick.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.protectchagos.org/>  and the website of the Chagos Conservation Trust www.chagos-trust.org <http://www.chago-trust.org/>  contain many downloadable pdfs with much information.  


The science:  These websites include the report from a workshop at the UK's NOC last year, whose participating organisations included more than just the above. Its output "Marine Conservation in the British Indian Ocean Territory: Science issues and opportunities", concluded that there is sufficient scientific information to make a very convincing case for designating all the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Chagos Archipelago as a Marine Protected Area.


Chagos contains 49% of the 'Least Threatened' reefs in the Indian Ocean, all within one jurisdiction.  If protection of such a significant area can happen anywhere, it is here.  It is as much the poor state of so much of the rest of the region as it is the good state of reefs in Chagos that creates the need for a reference site, a refuge, and more.  I hope you will visit these sites, read some of the large amount of information, and petition for Option 1: a no-take protected area.


Protecting this area would be an enormous contribution to the conservation of the world's marine environment.  The UK Government has no other marine area under its jurisdiction that is as rich biologically, which could be protected as cheaply, or which would be so universally beneficial.  


Chagossian removal in the 1970s was the issue mainly focussed on by earlier writers.  For a well-documented account of events, demographics, and compensation details see http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/chagossians.pdf <https://mywebmail.warwick.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=https://mywebmail.warwick.ac.uk/Exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/chagossians.pdf> ,  The days of viable, remote copra plantations were ending in the 1970s (when people were removed), but in fact the first two Chagos atolls were evacuated many years before the last ones, for reasons of failed economics.  CEN takes a strictly environmental, non-political view, which is that whatever the eventual legal outcome turns out to be, any conservation of the archipelago and its resources now will be beneficial to all, under ALL possible future scenarios.  That is why many of us are urging that the Chagos Islands and their surrounding waters be designated as a no-take marine reserve, "without prejudice" to the outcome of the legal process. 


I cannot see any circumstances in which it would be disadvantageous to anyone (other than ocean fishing fleets) to have this large reef system protected in their entirety now, given that in the event of a change in sovereignty or settlement, conservation arrangements could be modified. Designating these reefs, islands and surrounding waters now as fully protected would safeguard them for the future, whatever that may be. 


Tuna fishery objections are one of the key objections to a no-take MPA.  One doc available for download (or soon will be) is a thorough scientific report commissioned by the CEN on this whole issue, and its results contrast with some tuna interests' view.  We have the strongest support from tuna fisheries experts.  While protecting or improving tuna stocks is not the goal of the proposal, it is likely to have that effect and enhance stocks elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.  Regarding demersal reef fishing, we generally believe that at least this one large area should be maintained in undamaged condition.  The Indian Ocean needs it.  The bycatch from the offshore fishery is striking - our estimate (see the shortly to be uploaded document I refer to) is that almost 60,000 sharks were caught in a five year period by longliners in BIOT waters, with additional very heavy bycatch of other species.  The IOTC Performance Review Panel has reported very high levels of uncertainty and very limited quantitative data for many of the stocks under the IOTC Agreement, and low levels of compliance with IOTC measures and obligations.  (Report of the IOTC Performance Review Panel: January 2009. Indian Ocean Tuna Commission).   None of which is any good for conservation.  


It has been suggested that protecting this fishery may be losing an important stream of funding for current efforts to prevent illegal fishing methods in the waters around Chagos.  The total value of the licences is about £1 million a year and it costs about that amount to patrol the fishery.  But might it not be worth closing the fishery and protecting these fish?  We know that open ocean fishing is the recent 'tragedy of the commons'.


Other downloadable docs from the websites mentioned, include general scientific docs, an economics assessment and several others.  These will allow people to make informed views and to balance them with the sometimes erroneous information which is available.  I hope many of you will read some of them, and will then support the move for very strong protection, by emailing the government site suggested, and by the petition on the protectchagos.org site.  Those wishing to petition and express concern for the Chagossians can of course do so.  But delaying or oppose the conservation of this last very large 'Least Threatened' reef system in the Indian Ocean because of this could be very damaging.  


Best wishes

Professor Charles Sheppard
Dept Biological Sciences
University of Warwick
Coventry, CV4 7AL,
charles.sheppard at warwick.ac.uk
tel (44) (0) 2476 524975

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