[Coral-List] The Chagos MPA - the Chagos Conservation Trust and Chagossians

Richard Dunne RichardPDunne at aol.com
Sat Oct 25 05:36:57 EDT 2014

This post also refers back to that of Charles Sheppard (Chagos 
Conservation Trust Chairman) a couple of days ago.


Sheppard claims that the conservation of the Chagos is often conflated 
with "the Chagossian issue" (their right to return to their homeland) 
implying that the two should be unrelated issues. The very fact that the 
no-take Marine Protected Area, which the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) 
zealously advocated, extinguished the historical rights of a Chagossian 
owned and part-crewed inshore fishery, based in exile from Mauritius, 
demonstrates that a neat separation of these issues is simply not possible.


Sheppard promotes the work that CCT does with Chagossians and "hopes 
that the work we do .... is understood". I am sure it is but this is far 
from the whole story. We are not told of the continuing distrust and 
dislike that the largest community organisation, the Chagos Refugee 
Group (CRG) has for the CCT. Whether rightly or wrongly, many 
Chagossians consider both Sheppard and CCT as 'anti-resettlement'.

Despite £88,000 of Government money, CCT's 'outreach' programme has made 
no progress with the Chagossian community in Mauritius not because as he 
implies, of the lack of support by the Mauritian Government, but because 
the community there does not want to have anything to do with them. This 
was made plain to me when I visited Mauritius in October 2013 at the 
invitation of the CRG.

A brief example may illustrate some rationale for Chagossian beliefs.

In 2000, Chagossians were granted the right of abode but could not 
return through lack of funding. There was then a resettlement 
feasibility study commissioned by the British Government which concluded 
in 2002 that resettlement was unfeasible. That study was claimed to be 
'independent' but has now been shown to have been interfered with by 
government officials, and its conclusions and science flawed.

The direct result of the study was that the Government banned 
Chagossians from their islands in 2004. The Government meanwhile 
concealed documents relating to the study until 2012, claiming many 
times that they had been destroyed. The Chagossians were unable to 
effectively challenge the outcome of the study and as a consequence lost 
their case in the House of Lords in 2008 (by a majority 3:2 ruling). 
Within the next few months an action will commence in the English 
Supreme Court to have the 2008 decision overturned.

The documents disclosed in 2012 show that Sheppard was the reviewer of 
that study for the Government and whilst he was highly critical of some 
parts which appear favourable to resettlement, he failed to identify 
flaws in the Coastal & Oceanic Processes sections which led to the 
overall negative conclusion. His summary stated that these sections were 
"scientifically sound" and whilst he acknowledged that he was not fully 
qualified to review all aspects he reassured officials that: "the 
results and arguments are convincing - and very important". He did not 
recommend that an expert be asked to check these crucial aspects. A 
subsequent expert review has assessed Sheppard's review "uncritical" and 
that "those tasked with assessing the robustness of the science were not 
qualified to do so" [see NOTE below for link].

It could thus be argued that Sheppard played a key role in a flawed 
report which led to Chagossians being banned from their homeland. It is 
hardly surprising therefore that he and the organisation which he now 
leads (CCT) is regarded with deep distrust.

Following his 2002 review, and for the next 10 years, Sheppard was the 
environmental adviser to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) 
Administration. In July 2013 at a meeting with the BIOT Deputy 
Commissioner, Chagossians and their representatives raised the issue of 
Sheppard's role in the 2002 study and expressed a lack of confidence in 
his impartiality. He was 'retired' from this post several months later 
and replaced by Dr Mark Spalding.

NOTE: A detailed 31 page document examining the 2002 feasibility study 
has been presented by Chagossian lawyers to the British Government and 
to the courts. It is publicly available at this link 
together with a recent expert review of the study which examines the 
scientific flaws.

Richard Dunne

On 22/10/2014 16:33, Sheppard, Charles wrote:
> There have been several posts lately under the title "The Chagos MPA - what went wrong?”
> As Chair of Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) I would like to note that as far as conservation and research there is concerned, the answer to that question is “Nothing went wrong”.  There will be several government funded and private Foundation funded science expeditions to the area in the coming year.
> Concerns have mostly focussed on the Chagossian issue, often conflated with the initiatives to conserve one of the best and last remaining, rich reef sites in the world.  The Chagossian issues are certainly important, and CCT has had a meeting with the All Party Parliamentary Group interested in this.  We have posted two docs towww.chagos-trust.org  : both the briefing asked of us beforehand, and our notes post-meeting, prepared and posted for our members.  Note that these documents explain only part of the total work done by CCT and its numerous partners and collaborators.
> I have also had some private correspondence concerning Chagossians and hope the work we do regarding this (outlined in the documents) is understood.  I would note that CCT is not the government and we do not speak for it, though we DO strongly support the government’s decision to create strict protection around this set of coral reefs and atolls including closure to the industrial tuna fleets (another opponent of the tuna fishing ban).   Over 100 scientists now have researched there, with double that number engaged without visiting yet - a large number of us in other words.  Conservation decisions by BIOT were and are based on the scores of published papers produced as a result of this, many by CCT members and many more not.  For summaries, see the five chapters in the UK Overseas Territories volume published in the Coral Reefs of the World series by Springer (series eds. Riegl and Dodge). The BIOT Government recently also produced an interim management plan, which is encouraging, a
> mbitious, and relies firmly on science.  More and more, scientists are ‘using’ Chagos reefs as a reference site to learn what reefs did, could and one day might again look like.
> I am sure all readers of this list are well aware of the dire and declining state of reefs globally.  Recent postings to this list concern why we are not managing to do much in arresting declines.  I hope many are aware now too of the exceptional condition of Chagos atolls.  However, climate change and related factors may mean that global factors will catch up even with these most isolated atolls.  (We are watching with great concern the current warming trend especially).  It seems to me that, with the seemingly remorseless global decline of reef and ocean biota, the need for conservation is increasingly self-evident – for the sake of people.
> Now, an invitation: if within reach of London, do come to our annual scientific meeting at the Zoological Society of London on Friday 5 December (link 1 below) to hear about many more sets of results obtained this year.  I look forward to seeing some of you there!  It is timed to occur the day before Reef Conservation UKs annual meeting in the same place (link 2), which also is always a great day of information.
> 1.http://chagos-trust.org/news/chagos-conservation-2014-annual-conference-0
> 2.http://www.zsl.org/conservation/whats-on/reef-conservation-uk-2014
> Best wishes
> Charles
> --------------------------
> Professor Charles Sheppard OBE
> School of Life Sciences
> University of Warwick, UK
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