[Coral-List] Chagos MPA

David Evans 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 
as well.

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.

Message: 4
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 
those are.
      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% 
per decade.




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