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

Richard Dunne RichardPDunne at aol.com
Fri Jan 22 07:53:38 EST 2010

Dear Listers

( In view of the nature of Coral List I have deliberately avoided 
political opinion or bias in this e-mail which simply sets out the facts 
as they exist I trust the Jim Hendee will let it through)

Mark Spalding (and others before) have drawn the issue of the possible 
Chagos MPA to our attention. The UK Government have set a deadline for 
12 Feb 2010 for public consultation.

We, as coral reef scientists and other interested parties, are being 
canvassed for our support by a number of bodies, inter alia:
1. The "Protect Chagos Org" encourages us to sign a petition that 
supports "a full no-take marine reserve for the whole territorial waters 
2. The "Marine Education Trust" encourages us to sign a petition that 
does not support any of the 3 options proposed in the consultation 
document because none would permit the Chagos islanders to use their 
marine resources, and it goes on to encourage the UK Government to work 
with the islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise an 
appropriate MPA solution.
alternatively you could:
3. Individually write to the UK Government with your views.

The  UK Government Consultation document asks the question "Do you 
believe we should create a marine protected area in the British Indian 
Ocean Territory?". If the answer is Yes, then it goes on to propose 3  
protection options. The most extreme of which is that proposed by the 
"Protect Chagos Org" (1 above).

So what should you do? The answer will depend as much on what you 
believe to be morally correct as it does on any notion of protecting 
coral reefs. Why? Because of the recent history of the BIOT and Diego 
Garcia in particular.

My own experience.
In 1979 I visited Diego Garcia as a young Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. 
One of my roles was as the Ship's Diving Officer and I took my team 
diving around the atoll. We also landed on the now deserted part of the 
atoll where the islanders had lived. It was a surreal experience - the 
deserted houses which had scrawled messages in French on their walls - 
heartfelt pleas from the islanders as they had been forced off into 
exile - overhead US heavy transport planes thundered into the US Air 
Base, in the lagoon were the rusting hulks of the 19thC coaling ships 
and on the beach was a decaying WW2 flying boat. Even as UK military 
personnel we were not allowed near the US Air Base. Ten years later I 
found myself as the Legal Adviser to the Commander in Chief Fleet during 
the first Gulf War. We were the de-facto commander of Diego Garcia with 
a small UK contingent alongside the US Air Base.  I was aware of the 
huge military importance of the base to the US even at that time.

What happened to the Chagos islanders?
In 1971 the UK Government used an immigration ordinance to remove the 
islanders so that Diego Garcia could be used as a US base. In 1998 the 
islanders began legal proceedings and the Divisional Court ruled their 
eviction illegal. The Foreign Secretary then agreed that they should be 
allowed to return to all islands except Diego Garcia. After 9/11 that 
position was swiftly reversed following the US and UK stance that the 
base had become a vital facility in the war against terror in the Middle 
East. As a result the UK issued an Order in Council preventing the 
islanders return. Orders in Council are not debated in the UK Parliament 
- they are laws passed directly by the Government. In 2006 the High 
Court ruled again in favour of the Chagossians. The UK Government 
appealed the decision and lost in the Court of Appeal. Finally, the 
highest UK court - the House of Lords ruled that the UK Government 2004 
Order in Council was legal in a 3-2 majority judgement (2 judges 
strongly dissenting).  That judgment was clearly based on security 
interests of the UK and the US. After the case, the Foreign Secretary 
declared "We do not seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation. 
Our appeal to the House of Lords was not about what happened in the 
1960s and 1970s. It was about decisions taken in the international 
context of 2004. This required us to take into account issues of defence 
[and] security of the archipelago and the fact that an independent study 
had come down heavily against the feasibility of lasting resettlement of 
the outer islands of BIOT."

If you want to read the judgment of the House of Lords - see - 

The case has now been taken to the European Court of Human Rights. If 
the UK Government loses, the Chagos islanders should be entitled to 
return to at least some of their islands.

Nothwithstanding this position, the UK Government maintains that the 
Chagos islanders have no right of abode and ignores their right to be 
consulted on the MPA proposals.

In the light of this I ask 'What is the haste to proceed with the 
designation of an MPA?' From a conservation point of view the region is 
remote and the reefs have remained in remarkable health for the last 40 
years. The area is also already extensively protected by conservation 
legislation. What extra immediate protection will this designation 
achieve - particularly given the lack of real resources to enforce it? 
Are we fearful of imminent development on any of the BIOT islands - 
hardly, when the security of the Diego Garcia base is uppermost in both 
US and UK Government minds, and this is the prime reason for preventing 
even the islanders from returning to the area. Are there concerns of 
pollution or desecration of the marine resources?

Declaring a MPA would make the UK Government look good on the 
international stage. It could also be used by them as a further nail in 
the coffin of the Chagos islanders case. Having removed the islanders 
from Diego Garcia where they had been for generations, the UK Government 
now declares that the area cannot support re-population. It would be 
convenient if it was also a marine no take reserve so that the islanders 
could not even fish for their own food.

Morally what should we do? The answer is very simple we should await the 
outcome of the Chagos islanders ECHR court case. The UK Government 
should not be encouraged to declare an MPA in these circumstances - it 
should bide its time.

I have signed the Marine Education Trust petition and I encourage you to 
do the same or to write to the UK Government stating that there should 
be no MPA in the British Indian Ocean Territory pending the outcome of 
the Chagos islanders case in the ECHR.

Richard P Dunne
Lt Cdr (RN) rtd
Barrister at Law
sometime coral reef researcher

On 21/01/2010 10:27, Mark Spalding wrote:
> 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 petitionwww.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.
> http://ukinmauritius.fco.gov.uk/en/working-with-mauritius/MPA
> (ironic url considering Mauritius is furious over this whole thing!)
> ....but of course the UK government could decide its all too difficult and do
> nothing!
> Best wishes
> Mark Spalding, PhD
> mark"at"mdspalding.co.uk
> Conservation Science Lab, Dept Zoology
> University of Cambridge, UK
> _______________________________________________
> Coral-List mailing list
> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list

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