[Coral-List] Past human impacts in the Chagos

Douglas Fenner dfenner at blueskynet.as
Fri Oct 8 03:14:56 EDT 2010

     I believe it is possible for atoll islands to be impacted as Rachel's 
message describes, and yet the reefs to be lightly impacted.  Never having 
been to Chagos or Diego Garcia, from the descriptions I would guess that the 
reefs of Chagos are not nearly as impacted as the island of Diego Garcia is, 
or the reefs around and within DG.
     The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have been described as having reefs 
that have had low impact, yet some of the islands have had considerable 
impact, in my understanding.  I'd hazard the guess that entire bird species 
can be destroyed on an island, with little impact on the reefs around it. 
Seabirds eat small pelagic fish, like anchovies, not reef fish, I believe. 
I'm certainly not advocating or condoning destroying bird populations on 
islands, I'm just suggesting that these two ecosystems may not have huge 
critical links in their natural state on an atoll (until humans produce 
runoff products that really do damage reefs in a major way, or start fishing 
heavily or producing other direct impacts on the reefs).
     It's good to keep in mind the very real impacts that have occurred in 
some of these very remote places.  On the other hand, in this imperfect 
world, they are the most pristine reefs left on the face of the planet.  We 
need to protect the very best that we have left.  Best as in least impacted. 
(If we think these reefs are impacted, heaven help us with the reefs near 
people.)  They are our best chance of understanding what a nearly natural, 
low impact reef is like.  Without them we have little chance of knowing how 
much we've lost, and I think that is critical to saving reefs.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "David Evans" <davidjevans1818 at yahoo.com>
To: <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Cc: <Rachel.Jones at zsl.org>
Sent: Thursday, October 07, 2010 5:08 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] Past human impacts in the Chagos

> Rachel,
> My apologies. I certainly accept your correction of my broad statement. As 
> I
> indicated in my post, I studied the reefs and fishes of Diego Garcia in 
> 2004. My
> specialty and focus is not ornithology or island terrestrial ecology 
> itself,
> though I fully understand that they are connected and cannot be separated.
> In discussing the MPA, my focus has been on the "Marine" aspect of it and 
> the
> potential of re-settlement for impact in the water and its ecosystem 
> (which I do
> agree is connected to the land - eg., runoff, effluent, leeching, landfill
> etc.).
> Maybe those terms should be included as well in this discussion - 
> terrestrial
> vs. marine. Surely terrestrial island habitats need protecting as well, 
> but are
> we tying them, in the same breath, to the plight of coral reefs and the 
> oceans
> around the world? Does protecting the terrestrial side of it have the same
> urgency?
> I do still feel that my statement should be considered as accurate as 
> originally
> intended in relation to the marine environment (lagoons, barachois, reefs, 
> and
> open water). Over several centuries, their overall impact seems to have 
> been
> rather small.
> I do not know if the Chagossians (originally and at that time called the
> "Ilois") harvested sea cucumbers, but at the time of the establishment of 
> the US
> Base on DG, sea cucumber populations could safely be called abundant 
> (Stoddart
> et al. 1971). However, by the time of our survey in 2004, they were noted 
> to be
> in decline in the lagoon. The reason was unknown, but harvesting was a 
> common
> practice by the local Filipino workers (DoN 2005 - Marine Biological 
> Survey of
> DG).
> Fishing pressure did exist there in 2004 and reefs were being impacted by
> anchorage activity and runoff in the lagoon. Seaward algal platforms had 
> been
> dynamited and harvested for landfill on the lagoon side in building up the 
> US
> Base (DoN 2005).
> Runoff and waste from the original plantations surely affected the reefs. 
> And of
> course there must have been fishing pressure. I do not intend to minimize 
> or
> 'write off' the impacts of those activities from the colony and later
> plantations (under the Chagossians themselves). But in order for the terms
> "Pristine" and "Near-Pristine" to keep being used, can we ask how severe 
> were
> those impacts? How quick the 'recovery' since their eviction last century?
> However, the passages you present in your message brings up an important 
> point.
> It seems to me that prospects of re-settlement now in the 21st Century are
> continually compared to the original colonization during the Age of 
> Imperialism
> (which I think was rather damaging wherever it took place, no matter which
> nation was involved).
> That is one of the "fear tactics" I was referring to earlier (along with 
> the
> comment about the Indian Ocean Sea Cow).
> It also brings to mind (and raises the question) how the "advertising 
> campaign"
> for creating the No-Take Conservation Zone MPA keeps using the terminology 
> of
> "Pristine" and only more recently "Near-Pristine" when trying to sell the 
> idea
> and importance of protecting this last piece of "untouched" island 
> wilderness in
> the world. Certainly the folks in charge of public relations for the 
> Chagos MPA
> have been in touch with the researchers and have been made aware of this 
> reality
> (on the terrestrial side of some of the islands at least)? They seem to 
> want it
> both ways.
> But what effect would a 21st Century ecological ethic along with 21st 
> Century
> capabilities and procedures have on a limited re-settlement of the 
> islands?
> Especially if that re-settlement were made within the framework of 
> maintaining
> the goodness of an MPA both for the sake of conservation itself and for
> protecting the vested interests of the 'settlers?'
> In a perfect world, there would be several options for this crisis not to 
> exist:
> The Portuguese never discovered the islands. The French and British never
> colonized it (or did so with an appropriate conservation ethic). The
> Chagossians' human rights were never abused forty years ago when they were
> removed from their homes (or several hundred years ago when they were 
> brought to
> the islands as slaves). Or maybe the Chagossians don't want to return (and 
> the
> Maldivians don't want the rights to their EEZ and the Mauritians don't 
> want
> their former territory back) ... and the full No-Take MPA can be 
> established in
> good conscience and health.
> But this is not a perfect world and it's not worth trying to re-live 
> history
> that way.
> So given the current situation (that the Chagossians DO indeed exist, they 
> wrongfully removed, and at least some WANT to return in some capacity)... 
> Can an
> MPA at the Chagos in the 21st Century be successful and incorporate the
> Chagossians at the same time? Can they both move forward together somehow?
> Those are some of the questions that I feel ought to be looked at with 
> Honesty
> and Good Faith.
> Regards,
> David J. Evans
> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> Message: 4
> Date: Mon, 4 Oct 2010 16:31:10 +0100
> From: "Rachel  Jones" <Rachel.Jones at zsl.org>
> Subject: [Coral-List] Past human impacts in the Chagos (Rachel Jones)
> To: <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> Message-ID: <41E1ED29E5E8E34BBDD8B82CFA1A9D04076F08D1 at ZSL26.zsl.org>
> Content-Type: text/plain;    charset="us-ascii"
> David
> Your message suggests that Stoddart et al (Atoll Research Bulletin No.
> 149, 1971) shows that human impact in the Chagos was 'rather small
> before the eviction of the islands human inhabitants', but a quick look
> through that reference comes up with the following quotes:
> "Diego Garcia, which is now (1971)  largely devastated from an
> ornithological point of view by nearly two centuries of the activities
> of man and other introduced animals"
> "Guano has been exported from Diego Garcia...indicating the presence of
> important seabird colonies in the past...though they are now much
> reduced on the inhabited islands"
> "rapidly and successfully colonised by the French who with the
> assistance of slave labour...soon felled the majority of the native
> woodland and replaced it with exceptionally productive coconut
> plantations wherever there was room for them"
> "the coconut plantations on this atoll (Salomon) always appear to have
> been particularly prosperous and the numerous human population in
> association with its small size does not appear to have been compatible
> with a rich avifauna"
> "it is one of the numerous unpublicized tragedies of insular ornithology
> that their (the Chagos) natural history was not investigated before
> major changes had resulted from human colonisation of the larger
> islands"
> There is to this day a legacy of coconut palms and rats that are still
> numerous on previously inhabited islands to the detriment of birds,
> turtles and native plants. So past impacts from humans and the species
> they brought with them seem, at least for terrestrial habitats and
> animals, to have actually been quite significant.
> Regards
> Rachel Jones
> Rachel Jones
> Deputy Team Leader
> Aquarium
> ZSL London Zoo
> Regents Park
> London
> NW1 4RY
> The Zoological Society of London is incorporated by Royal Charter
> Principal Office England. Company Number RC000749
> Registered address:
> Regent's Park, London, England NW1 4RY
> Registered Charity in England and Wales no. 208728
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