[Coral-List] Past human impacts in the Chagos

Richard Dunne RichardPDunne at aol.com
Fri Oct 8 03:56:55 EDT 2010

  Both Rachel and David make valid observations.

My understanding is that much of the debate to date  has been primarily 
about the marine environment and the need to protect that. 
Interestingly, both the land and the coral reefs can for the most part 
be protected under existing legislation and laws, both national and 
international. Indeed some of it is already under such protection and 
management. The proposed MPA extends jurisdiction out  into deeper water 
to encompass the pelagic fish stocks, etc. However, that can also be 
achieved under the existing Fisheries Conservation and Management Zone, 
and the Environment (Protection and Preservation) Zone; the former 
dating from 1991 and the latter from 2003.

The desire to proclaim an MPA is therefore largely a cosmetic exercise, 
albeit many have interpreted it as meaning that the whole area will be 
classed as a "no take zone", although the British Government have never 
actually stated this to be the case, and to do so would be problematical 
under international law. We still await the final details.

Rachel brings the land environment into focus. What should happen to 
this is also interesting. As Rachel points out, the islands have already 
been modified by the former population, and of course in the case of 
Diego Garcia by the the military. I have not visited the outer islands 
but the clear impression I get is that many (most?) are not "pristine" 
nor "nearly pristine" in the sense that we understand this to mean.  In 
these circumstances how and what should be conserved? Should they be 
'tidied up'? Should the non-indigenous species be culled, including the 
birds that have been introduced? Should the coconut trees be uprooted 
and replaced with something else? etc. Should the environment be 
'returned' to its original, pre-colonial state - what was this?  Who is 
going to do this, and how. There seem to be a lot of difficult issues, 
not least because the area is remote. I would be surprised if the UK 
Government had any intention of allocating resources to active 
conservation on the islands, so one must presume the approach will be 

Protection and conservation of the coral reefs seems relatively simple 
by comparison, for the impression is that these have been relatively 
untouched by the former Iiois islanders. A 'hands off' approach leaving 
nature to take its course appears to be the solution here, with the 
deeper ocean being patrolled by one fishery protection vessel to prevent 
illegal fishing, as it is now.

Richard P Dunne

On 07/10/2010 17:08, David Evans wrote:
> 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 WERE
> 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
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