[Coral-List] Chagos MPA
davidjevans1818 at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 1 12:26:50 EDT 2010
Doug and List -
First, I'm glad to see this topic being discussed and with civility.
Next, terminology and some clarifications (attempts at clarification at least).
Regarding terminology, I commend Doug for using "near-pristine" in describing
the reefs and habitats of Chagos. I am not an expert in diction or in the
application of terminology to scientific fields, but to me, "Pristine" connotes
"un-touched," which of course the Chagos are not. "Near-Pristine" I think likely
captures it well though.
But that attention to detail raises a question: If the islands were inhabited
for several centuries by a relatively small population, what was their
cumulative impact on the habitats and ecosystem, both above and below the water,
if what is observed there now can be called "near-pristine?"
There is the matter of Time passing as well as the aspect of Life to 'recover'
itself to consider. But there are at least some documentations showing that
human impact was rather small before the eviction of the island's human
inhabitants (Stoddart et al, Atoll Research Bulletin No. 149, 1971).
So, another important term to pay attention to may be "impact," which sometimes
tends to get thrown out loosely (in generality) with out more clear definition.
If an even smaller than original population size of Chagossians want to return
to the primary islands of the Atoll (see a map) what would their expected impact
be on the habitats and ecosystem? Their 21st century lifestyle in contrast to
their pre-removal lifestyle would have to be considered. But that presents both
Positives as well as potential Negatives.
If their actual residence on the islands is limited in time due to expected sea
level rise, should that be taken into consideration (that is, what would their
expected rate of 'impact' be before they had to leave again?).
I don't think these questions have been fully answered yet in Good Faith.
It has been suggested before to me personally that one of the islands used to be
called Sea Cow for a reason and yet there are no Indian Ocean Dugongs/Sea Cows
now present at the islands. Yet, in all honesty, it was the Western harvesting
interests that wiped them out, not the local inhabitants.
So maybe an honest look at what is actually being talked about should be
I worked on Diego Garcia in 2004 for the US Navy and contributed considerably to
a report analyzing its reefs and fishes. Even Diego Garcia at times is described
as "Pristine" (though, of course it is not). Can the footprint (pun intended) of
the US and British presence there be compared to the expected "impacts" of
potential re-settlement by the previous inhabitants? The Chagossians, of course
are not going to dredge a ship channel, anchorage, or a submarine turning basin,
but there might be some useful data to look at.
If the Chagos are to be kept as "near-pristine" as possible, how much of the
extensive atolls and banks MUST be included in that area considering the
background of Human Rights infractions that have already taken place there?
Maybe, the spatial aspect of this situation should be paid more close attention
And, of course, the potential impact to the US Military mission on Diego Garcia
must be considered as well. That aspect gets little discussion, but must be
considered to play a significant role. It is also outside the theme of this
Coral List, but it should not be forgotten.
As for clarifications, when we were studying the reefs and fish of Diego Garcia,
we actually encountered a surprisingly small number of sharks. There may have
been a procedural explanation for this finding or a seasonal one, but other
studies had already noted a similar trend (i.e.,lack of sharks; Anderson et al.,
1998 "Shortage of Sharks at Chagos").
To be sure, there were many large predatory fish around the island of Diego
Garcia, both inside the extensive lagoon and along its outer reefs.
Another clarification to make is that fishing is in fact allowed at Diego
Garcia, by both "sporting" boats and by supplementary sustenance fishing (the
local workers, Filipinos etc.). Regulations were more recently implemented at DG
and have been added-to progressively (including a restriction on landing
sharks). A conservation zone was established within the lagoon and suggestions
were made to alternate the fishing areas on the outside reefs.
It is true that regulation and possibly implementation can be more stream lined
at a military base. While we were there, at the suggestion of the researchers,
the current British Representative of the islands decreed on the spot that
Napoleon Wrasse would be added to the restricted list of fish.
There has in fact been a fishery patrol boat, the Pacific Marlin, on site since
at least 2004. But limited funds or manning opportunities may have kept it at
dock more than out patrolling. Encroachment fisheries may be responsible for the
reduced number of sharks in the area.
Another clarification is just one of spatially conceptualizing the layout of the
islands, especially in relation to Diego Garcia, the largest and most
inhabitable of the contiguous islands (livable land area). Diego Garcia is
located well to the south and a little east of the main group of atoll islands.
It does not share the shallow bank that most of the others in the group do, but
it is of course still part of the same formation (see a map).
If the Chagossians were to inhabit some of the islands, would their presence
serve to drive off some of the encroachment fisheries? Would their vested
interest in its "near-pristine" condition serve to aid in its preservation?
If we as humans (collectively) must learn to live with our coral reef
environments, would the experience of the Chagossians re-settling and taking up
residence at the Chagos serve to aid us in that education?
I think that these are questions that do have answers that can be arrived at
with good faith consideration - not half truths, misconceptions, and fear
I provide the link to the petition mentioned by Richard Dunne here:
David J. Evans
Department of Navy. 2005. Marine Biological Survey at Untied States Navy Support
Facility, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory, July/August 2004.
NAVFAC. Contract No. N62470-02-D-9997. Task Order 0044. Department of Defense
Legacy Program Project No. 03-183.
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2010 21:31:16 -1000
From: "Douglas Fenner" <dfenner at blueskynet.as>
Subject: [Coral-List] Chagos MPA
To: <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Message-ID: <C7C90F0B68654107BA9C380511C5A47D at DOUGLASFENNER>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
I'd like to say that personally, I strongly support protecting
near-pristine reefs like Chagos. Several papers have come out in recent years,
of some near-pristine reefs in the Pacific, and they provide a startling
picture of reefs dominated by the big fish, mostly apex predators like sharks.
The reefs are crawling with them. Half the fish biomass is often in these
fish. This is something most scientists have never seen, and I like most,
assumed that the lack of them was natural, or simply didn't think about it.
And it implies that for most of the world's reefs, about half of their fish
biomass is missing. If half of the corals on your reef are missing, that's
very important. There are likely to be other startlingly different things
about pristine reefs, and if we let them become damaged, we may never know what
I suggest that these reefs are worth their weight in gold. These are the
few last remaining scraps of natural reefs on the planet. Shame on us if we
let them get abused like the vast vast majority of reefs which are within reach
of people. Reefs have to be incredibly remote or incredibly well defended to
have the complete ecosystems that these places have. Unfortunately, they are
easier for exploiters to reach than they are for enforcement to protect, so
saving them won't be easy.
They are worth their weight in gold for scientists and managers because
they are one of the few, if not only, way to find out what a natural reef is,
to measure what we have lost on all the other reefs, which we despirately need
to know. Of the millions of reefs in this world, only a tiny tiny handful
remain that are "almost pristine." They are the only controls we have left for
the uncontrolled experimentation that human abuse and degredation represents.
A good experiment usually requires more controls than experimentals. We
literally have millions of experimental reefs and a tiny tiny number of
controls. We need each and every control reef intact, because each one is
different in some way, they are in different oceanic conditions, different
biogoegraphic locations, have different structures (some have lagoons, others
don't, some are in heavy wave action, others aren't, etc.). If we have just
one "near-pristine" reef, and it has lots of sharks, and that reef is di
fferent from other reefs in a myriad of ways, how do we know which thing is
responsable for the abundance of sharks?? We don't. If we have a dozen such
reefs, of all types, in all sorts of places, and they all have abundant big
fish, then we have something. We will learn from each of the pristine reefs
something that is different. So we need each and every one of them.
Desperately need them. Undamaged.
Old timers can tell us we've seen nothing, you should have seen the reefs
in the old days. And we can find old quotes that say that fish and turtles
were plentiful. But we can't go back in time and make all the modern
quantitative measures that we need to. But if we can find "near pristine"
reefs now, we can do all those things, and do good science not just
These reefs are made of solid gold. We must find ways of protecting them,
it is our inheritance that we must pass on intact for future generations of
humanity. Chagos is one of them, and a big one at that. How that is best
done, I do not know. I think we do need to face the reality of the science of
what may happen to them due to climate change, so we know ahead some of what we
are up against, and can try to plan accordingly to do our best. Protection can
make a huge difference. The new article on Caribbean sharks documents that
some of the best remaining populations are in areas that are the best
protected. In the Pacific, Wake Is. seems to be a good example. Plenty of
people close to plenty of big fish. How can that be? It is a US military
base, no fishing allowed. They can enforce their ban on fishing like civilian
authorities usually can't. It is an unintended no-take MPA. (joke in Hawaii
long ago was that the military there was one of the biggest conser
vation agents in the islands, lots of little unused military bases, which
developers can't touch, patrolled in some cases by guys with guns.). A wild
guess is that the US military base at Diego Garcia will not give up to sea
level rise without a fight, and they will have resources that others don't have
to defend it. They may be able to inhabit it long after others can't. Maybe
that will qualify as "inhabited"?
I also know there is a long history in this world of taking land without
compensation, forced removals, etc, in many many places. I fervently hope that
people can work together to find solutions that are fair to people as well as
good for the environment. I hope that we don't have to sell either one out to
get the other. But we'll only know if people work together to try to find a
solution that provides as much as possible of both. I believe that humans and
healthy coral reefs can live together, but it certainly is not easy, more like
incredibly hard. Most worthwhile things are not easy.
News from "Science Now": "Record Hot Summer Wrecks Havoc."
Science Now reports that NASA says this year so far is the hottest on record in
the 131 years of record keeping. Nearly 0.7 C hotter than the average from
1951 to 1980, and NOAA has found essentially the same thing using different
data. Nightime temperatures hit record highs in 37 states this summer. The
National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, has found near-record
ice area loss so far this year in the Arctic, and expects the area to hit a
record low this year. Ice volume is at a record low, 10,000 cubic kilometers
lower than the average of the last 30 years. Ice volume is being lost at 17%
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