[Coral-List] The Chagos MPA - what went wrong?

Magnus Johnson m.johnson at hull.ac.uk
Mon Oct 20 18:14:51 EDT 2014

Richard has answered the question re who said what in court re the relationship between MPA and Chagossian right to return but I must say that if one just steps back and ignores the clever dicing with words and posturing, its pretty obvious what is going on, isn't it?  

Really, people should read the paper Richard led on.  If you contact him directly, I'm sure he will be happy to share it.  The volume comes out in December and will have examples of good, bad and ugly LMPAs.

Re the rest . . . . (if you can be bothered reading!)

'From Charles Sheppard, Chair, Chagos Conservation Trust

Designating the Chagos Archipelago a no-take marine protected area (MPA) was based on the best available science.

The precautionary principle<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle> was rightly applied to ensure that lengthy deliberation did not allow further destruction of the world's most pristine coral reefs.


Fisheries scientists would argue that for the pelagic realm the best protection is to have  a well managed, closely controlled fishery where the licensed fishermen have a vested interest in ensuring that IUU fishers stay out of the area.  According to MRAG “making the whole of the BIOT FCMZ a fully no take area will provide no conservation benefit to tuna” (MRAG Ltd, 2010). 

For the reef areas I would agree they require protection.  So I guess building a dirty great tarmac runway on Diego Garcia, having uncontrolled recreational fishing by service personnel, driving no longer required military vehicles into the ocean and dredging up coral for construction should not happen?  Would that all fall under the precautionary principle?  Are these appropriate activities for a RAMSAR site?

I don’t actually have a problem with the military base - I guess its a necessary evil, but to ignore its presence, not challenge their behaviour and to avoid referring to the environmental damage caused by the military presence is bizarre.


Policies should, of course, be reviewed as further scientific evidence comes to light. In the case of Chagos, new research continues to corroborate the decision to protect this unique ecosystem.

It is misleading to claim that the no-take policy is another barrier preventing the displaced Chagossians from returning to the islands. The MPA declaration states that the level of protection would be reviewed – in full consultation with the Chagossians – in the case of resettlement.


This statement makes no sense.  It suggests that there is a link between resettlement and protection, i.e. conditions could be imposed, but that this isn't a barrier to resettlement! Claiming to be "just a simple Scientist" as Charles did at a Chagos bash in the Linnean Soc a few years does not absolve one from the need to defend human rights.  In fact as a pre-eminent scientist with unfettered access to the Chagos for research he has a responsibility.  If human presence is an issue then why are the ZSL and Charles not challenging the presence or at least behaviour of the 3000 US military personnel and associated (non-chagossian) civilians on Diego Garcia?  Or the rich yachties that periodically visit some of the islands on the archipelago?
A mere 2.8 per cent of the world's ocean has any protection, with only 0.6 per cent fully protected, well below international commitments.


This is just rubbish.  Most territorial oceans of the world have _some_ protection - much of it more effective than MPAs or paper parks.  However we do need to do more.  MPAs are often the equivalent of protecting the inflorescence of a flowering plant while ignoring pollution and disturbance around the roots.  They do nothing to prevent pollution, plastics, POPs, dredging (e.g. recently in Australia), IUU and we have little proof that they do anything to increase numbers of wide-ranging pelagic fish.   We need to be building on measures that, while they don't grab headlines and let politicians and unaccountable BINGOS like PEW bray about their "success", actually do some good, change behaviours, protect habitats and account for humanity.


With the cleanest sea water in the world and a staggering diversity of marine life, the Chagos Archipelago is a site of resilience within the heavily overexploited west Indian Ocean.


Recently it has been acknowledged that Navy ships have been discharging into the lagoon in Diego Garcia.  Hardly pristine.  There have been innumerable spills of fuel from the airport.  There are a load of Bioslurp wells specifically in place to recover the ~1.3 MILLION of gallons of fuel that have been spilled and made their way into the water table (http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a424878.pdf)


It is an underwater sanctuary that deserves to be afforded the ultimate protection.
Warwick, UK'


It does and it is evidently not getting it, As Peter Sand reports:

There are over 200 scientific papers cited in the bibliography of the Chagos Conservation Trust and used to justify the MPA. Not a single one addresses the impacts of ANY of the following:

* the massive jet fuel spills (totalling more than 1.3 million gallons) at the US military base on Diego Garcia in 1984, 1991, 1997 and 1998

* the 31% observed increase in alien plant species unintentionally introduced in Diego Garcia since 1988 as a result of US military construction and naval operations, including Leucaena leucocephala (listed by IUCN among the top 100 worst invasive species of the world)

* radiation leakages in the Diego Garcia lagoon from US nuclear-powered naval vessels and submarines regularly transiting or permanently stationed there since 1979, and from the transit of 550 tonnes of low-grade uranium in the lagoon in 2008

* harm to marine mammals caused by the US Navy's continued low-to-medium frequency sonar used for submarine monitoring and long-distance underwater sound propagation programmes at its Diego Garcia Ocean Surveillance Station since 1974 (the Chagos Archipelago is part of the International Whaling Commission's Indian Ocean Sanctuary)


So what is the answer??

1) We should start to base decisions about Chagos management on good science. 
2) We should recognise the fact that the military base on Diego Garcia is both a curse and a blessing.  It cannot help but have an impact, but also it could be a route to supporting a sustainable Chagossian population and appropriate conservation measures.  
3) The best protection for the pelagic stocks is a carefully controlled and monitored fishery - this comes from a highly respected fisheries management organisation.
4) Resettlement isn't an "option", it is a fundamental human right.  If there were no people living on Diego Garcia, no military base, then I could  perhaps understand the reluctance to allow Chagossians to return (even if I didn't agree) but to ban these folks when there are other people living on their homeland is cruel/barbaric.  I fail to see how anyone can espouse such a noble cause as protecting the planet and yet be quiet with regard to abhorrent treatment of fellow human beings.

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