[Coral-List] submission on Chagos

David Evans davidjevans1818 at yahoo.com
Thu Nov 6 12:36:23 EST 2014

All - 

I'm encouraged that folks are discussing, or even just thinking about the Chagos MPA. 

I want to echo the appreciation others have already shown Jim Hendee and Coral List for the way they have handled this topic and I acknowledge how difficult it is to moderate something like this.

I offer the observation that this one is especially tricky and just downright awkward, not just because of the apparent advocacy issues related to it, but because both the amount of information and access to that information has been so limited. Without judgment or going into why it's that way, I will just acknowledge that this limited availability of information and background make moderating, discussing, and following this issue very difficult. But aside from the sheer size of this MPA and its invaluable ecological resources, there are so many relevant issues involved that ignoring or avoiding it is an opportunity lost I think. 

Not to be bouncing on the balls of my feet on my side of the court waiting to return zingers back over the net with up-cut forehands and side spinning backhands... but because there is so limited "wider" or "general" knowledge on this topic I offer my thoughts hopefully with respect to all involved, including the reef and fishery resources out there in the Indian Ocean.

First, I do think it does no one any good to gloss over the real challenges involved if some form of Chagossian return occurs or if the MPA remains "empty" and off limits. It does no good for the Chagossians that may undertake such an effort, managers of the MPA, the resources themselves, or the British Taxpayers... . So I think the relevant concerns that are raised should be taken to heart and should be considered and I don't think that's a unique sentiment. 

As for some details (not holding any toes over fires here), it's a misconception to think of this in the context of SIDS as the situation may be imagined to be by many. While an honest misunderstanding and the concerns involved may be related, there is a significant difference. The Chagos never was and isn't intended to be an independent island state entity. The UK has many oversea's territories with varying degrees of financial and government involvement. Not all of them are even expected to be "self sufficient," though I'm sure the British people aren't interested in creating a new "welfare" island. So conflating Chagos with a SIDS (Small Island Dependent State) I think is unhelpful here.

As for what they're going to do once or if they get the chance to, I think we can talk about and be concerned about a range of things including the fishery angle. But from my understanding, the Chagossians are not monolithic and I do not believe there is any formalized position or plan that can characterize them all. There is a Feasibility Study being worked on right now on behalf of the British Government to examine the very question of what the Chagossians could do that could work or what won't work (or be practical or wise). My understanding is that a number of potentialities are being looked at. Hopefully there will be more to discuss when it is finalized and distributed. 

A fishery based at Chagos may be one consideration. But alternatively, there may be involvement of working with already developed fisheries. Then we ask the question: can a managed fishery be more effective at protecting ocean and reef stock levels than a "paper park" no-take reserve with only one patrol vessle over a huge swath of ocean and coral reef islands? Can invested fishers discourage piracy more than that single patrol vessel? Ultimately, which scheme results in less extraction and damage?

My own concern regarding the science surrounding the creation of the MPA is not that MPA's are not effective, but that the science used to support the Chagos MPA just wasn't complete or vetted enough to make the claims and assertions that were used to justify its hasty implementation. 

A robust scientific process hasn't taken place here. As contrast, I suggest what happened in England recently over other marine conservation zones. There have been many areas off of England that had been considered for protected status. These zones, each individually, were given extensive attention to scientific arguments for and against as well as stake-holder input and considerations balanced with budgetary practicality. The Chagos received a slim fraction of the attention and time as that given to these proposed conservation zones around England. 

This article may have been missed. Especially in the US where we hear nearly nothing about Chagos: "David Miliband ‘rushed in’ Chagos Islands protection order" The Independent, CAHAL MILMO  CHIEF REPORTER  Sunday 05 October 2014. 

Also consider: the available landings data for the Chagos EEZ is incomplete (the Sea Around Us project by PEW shows fishery impact already at "Protected" levels even before the no-take MPA was designated). How is the situation in Chagos assessed with confidence without the proper necessary data available? 

Regarding climate change/sea level rise, The US is spending millions if not billions of dollars to stay in the islands. How do we reconcile this with telling a People who have a cultural history with these islands that they just shouldn't bother? My school district where my kids go to school have to vote to raise more money because our taxes we've already paid aren't actually being used to fund our local schools. Why do I want my money to go toward keeping one of the most expensive installations the US owns on an island that's about to drown? I can't reconcile this. I don't understand it. (not getting into the politics here, just the context). That said, sea level is an important issue that should be and has been considered - I just don't think it should be seen as black and white.

Well, I hope this wasn't all too much and that it was more constructive than destructive. Again, I hope it's about the information and the discussion, not about my ego or others. It is the reality but it's unfortunate that related information hasn't been more readily available about what's going on with the people, the science, and the management of Chagos.

But my bottom line is (and I'm not offended if people just jumped down here to see it) has this process set a bad example/precedent for MPA marine protection through? Do people matter or can effective protection be imposed with heavy hands? Can we decide that MPA's are definitely important but we have to give just as much attention to things like International Fishery Agreements, Management of Our Own Foreign-sea Fleets. Can we expect the developing world to bear an un-proportionate brunt of these Massive MPA's if we don't set an example in our own degraded waters? What if the Gulf of Mexico were made into a no-take MPA? 

David J. Evans


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