[Coral-List] Chagos, now or never? or better later?

Mark Spalding mark at mdspalding.co.uk
Tue Jan 26 14:47:12 EST 2010

It is reassuring to hear Charles Sheppard's message. 

1 - Neither the Chagossians nor the Mauritians have heard this clearly. If I
can (I think) paraphrase, it might go like this. "Look guys, we've got the
UK government offering us something we could all benefit from, but we've got
2 weeks left and they might never come up with an offer like this again. Of
course we'll change things and accomodate your needs should the poltical
situation change". Of course it may be true that the MPA would be easily
altered as the poltical situation changes, but by not involving these key
groups in the discussion from the start  they have developed a deep distrust
of the whole agenda and there is a very real risk that the MPA would be
totally dismantled if the situation changes (which could be within 6
months). The world's largest and the world's shortest lived no-take zone.

2 - There are ominous other hints of "get out clauses":
- MRAG Ltd who currently manage the fisheries and patrol the waters, want to
keep the pelagic fishery going...and they happen to be owned by the UK
government's chief scientific advisor (to be fair they have suggested they
will go with whatever is decided, but there will be some strong influence
- it appears that the waters around the military base will be excluded from
- there are arguments that the only commercial licensed reef fishery
currently permitted, run from Mauritius could be excluded from the MPA;
- I have also already been told that the visiting yachts who currently spend
time in Chagos would be allowed to carry on fishing (and lets be honest it
would be impossible to stop them).
- and its not exactly a get out clause, but there is no mention of funding
for this new MPA.

So a no-take MPA that allows ALL of the current fishing? Hmmmm

....and one that is legally highly dubious because of the Mauritius claim to
Chagos, and that may even be dismantled under any of several likely future

Hindsight is easy, but I have to say that many people have been calling for
collaboration with Chagos and Mauritius on this for a long time (not
"informing", or "telling", or even "discussing", out and out partnership),
They should have been at the table from the start, and had they been we
might be in a very different position now. Just last week France and
Mauritius agreed a joint management agreement over Tromelin, a much smaller
Indian Ocean island which they both claim but which France adminsters.

So I would say even from a purely, selfishly, fish-centric view-point the
debate is still open. One strategy states "go for a strict MPA because it
might be the only chance we get...and because the UK might never let
Chagossians return or Mauritius re-take sovereignty, so from the fishes
point of view its a great opportunity". The other says "there are too many
risks, that legislating in haste will leave too many loop-holes and too much
bad-taste among the stakeholders. Look how many protected areas failed
because they didn't engage the vested interests". 

Is a compromise not possible? Couldn't those calling for immediate total
closure now raise their concerns about the loop-holes AND clearly state
their open-ness to changes in management as and when there are changes to
politics and sovereignty. Surely that would be pretty close to stating the
need for another option - an MPA without loop-holes, that makes space for
future change. Unanimity would strengthen our hand, and it might be enough
to persuade the UK government to proceed, but buy more time for ironing out
concerns AND, belatedly, bringing in the stakeholders.

All best


Message: 7
Date: Tue, 26 Jan 2010 11:24:42 -0000
From: "Sheppard, Charles" <Charles.Sheppard at warwick.ac.uk>
Subject: [Coral-List] Chagos conservation
To: <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
<F6D8BCEA175741408BA167DD6F73CE0801642054 at LAUREL.ads.warwick.ac.uk>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

Richard Dunne again asks ?why protect Chagos? and ?why hurry??, and urges
people to ?vote? no to the government?s enquiry about whether to establish
greater, clearer and easier conservation. My posting last week said the
answers are in the several documents available on www.chagos-trust.org and

But Mr Dunne conflates issues and asks what is the urgency given that, he
says, a year or two more waiting can?t hurt? The urgency is partly the state
of so much of the Indian Ocean: in a break-out session in one of the
workshops on this last year, people came up with several biological reasons
why more protection is merited now, but these really shouldn?t need
explaining here. Partly because of the continued damage from (legal) fishing
to numerous species, particularly threatened sharks, but partly because we
have the opportunity now caused by government interest in doing something,
which may not re-occur if we put this opportunity off. Partly too because
the consultation deadline itself is February 12th, if you want your views to
be recorded.

Mr Dunne?s desire for delaying conservation appears to be based on the bad
treatment of people removed in the 1970s and because a no-fishing
declaration would prohibit the only means of livelihood of anyone returning.
But as whole paragraphs say in several docs, the whole proposal is ?without
prejudice? to the court case, and explains that if Chagossians do return
then revisions would be made (I imagine changes would be needed to several
other laws too).

Any implication that urging stronger conservation on the UK government now
is somehow being ?against? Chagossians would be false. The two issues run in
parallel and are not exclusive (as several docs also explain). There was
only one group identified who would be directly disadvantaged now: blue
water fishing interests. Last week?s London Times
(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6997414.ece) ran
an article on the present fisheries interests. It shouldn?t need noting on a
scientific list like this, but the tuna fishery, with its only partly
quantified but huge by-catch, is quite distinct from demersal reef fishing
by some local inhabitants.

Voting against a protected area now will do nothing for the Chagossians and
nothing for conservation of these islands or reefs and nothing for
threatened species. On the other hand a full no take protected area out to
the 200 mile limit would do much to ensure these islands, reefs and
threatened species were preserved - something much needed for the marine
environment and Indian Ocean. Should the Chagossians return, then it would
be to their advantage too.

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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