[Coral-List] The Chagos - A new and rosy future.

Richard Dunne RichardPDunne at aol.com
Mon Mar 23 12:31:28 EDT 2015

Anne Sheppard ["Bad news for coral reefs"], a Trustee of the Chagos 
Conservation Trust, thinks that the Tribunal's decision is a "tragedy" 
and presents an alarmist view. But is she right to do so?

Firstly, the Tribunal's decision is about law and not politics. The only 
"politics" were in the motives of the British Foreign Secretary, David 
Miliband, in 2010 and his hasty decision to create the MPA. Indeed, the 
Tribunal noted: "The absence of any justifiable rationale for the United 
Kingdom’s haste ... ".

Nor was this some ad hoc result. This was the unanimous judgment of 5 
highly regarded international lawyers which included the UK's own 
appointee, Sir Christopher Greenwood QC. The judgment runs to 227 pages 
and has been nearly a year in the making. As one commentator has already 
noted "[The judgment] is encyclopaedic in its breadth and depth and 
addresses many difficult questions under the law of the sea; I predict 
it will become required reading for students of the field and of 
international law in general”.

Two of the judges commented that in respect of the 1965 excision of the 
islands from Mauritius: "British and American defence interests were put 
above Mauritius’s rights. Fast forward to 2010 and one finds a similar 
disregard of Mauritius’s rights, such as the total ban on fishing in the 
MPA. These are not accidental happenings". Such was the the disregard, 
that the Government of Mauritius only found out about the MPA proposal 
from a newspaper article.

So any blame firmly attaches to the British Foreign Office and the poor 
advice of their advisers. This culminated in the Public Consultation 
which contained grossly misleading information. Lawyers who contributed 
to that consultation warned as to problems of legality.

The Mauritian inshore fishery in the Chagos is not and has never been an 
"artisanal" fishery. It was pursued by very few vessels, Chagossian 
owned and part crewed. It was licensed and well-managed by the BIOT 
Government. Nor is there any evidence that it has depleted the resources 
of the reefs of the Chagos, unlike the US military's recreational 
fishing which has impacted the reefs of Diego Garcia. The full and 
accurate story can be found in Dunne, Polunin, Sand & Johnson [2014] The 
Creation of the Chagos MPA: a fisheries perspective. Advances in Marine 
Biology 69:79-127.

A proper reading of the Tribunal's judgment shows that there is no 
question of States other than Mauritius gaining access to the Fishery 
Conservation and Management Zone (FCMZ). To suggest so is simply alarmist..

Chagos was and continues to be well protected whether or not we call it 
an MPA. Since 1998, 1,374 sq km of the reefs and islands have been 
Strict Nature Reserves.  Since 1991, 640,000 sq km (the same area as the 
MPA) was controlled as a fishery conservation zone (FCMZ) and in 2003 an 
Environment (Protection and Preservation) Zone was created to protect 
the reefs of the Great Chagos Bank which are outside the Chagos 
territorial sea. The cessation of the tuna fishing on 1 November 2010 
was a result of these zones, and not because there was an MPA. It 
remains a legal right of the UK to restrict this now and in the future.

To suggest that Mauritius will now somehow degrade the Chagos reefs is 
neither supported by the facts, nor by their past conduct in Chagos. It 
also ignores the public commitment by Chagossians (many of whom are also 
Mauritians) to protect their homeland and its environment pending their 
forthcoming resettlement.

Certainly one thing we should be doing right now is stopping the 
destructive and totally unnecessary recreational fishing on Diego Garcia 
if we are serious about conserving the reefs of the Chagos. This 
requires only political will. Thankfully it will no longer simply be a 
decision of the UK alone, which has so far failed to address this. As a 
result of this judgment, Mauritius may now insist that better 
environmental practices are followed throughout the territory.  It also 
has a right to be consulted about resettlement and the future of the US 

This decision marks a landmark for the transition of the Chagos from a 
territory which has been governed by the UK in secrecy and with a 
colonial arrogance to one where the rule of law, international and 
national, must now be respected by all concerned. The Government of 
Mauritius is to be commended for achieving this in a struggle that has 
been likened to David and Goliath.

So there is little need for the negativism of Anne Sheppard - the future 
for the Chagos is once again rosy.

Richard P Dunne

On 22/03/2015 16:24, Anne Sheppard wrote:
> It is a tragedy that the UN court has judged the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory Marine Protected Area to have been illegal.
> The tragedy is for all of us, who will lose the benefits of this rich and protected place and especially for the people of the Indian Ocean rim.
> The only change that this ruling will have is that it will allow Mauritius, which has an appalling marine environmental record and has seriously degraded its own reef fishery, to come into the territory and carry out so called 'artisanal' fishing.  This involves little boats and line certainly, but feeds a large nearby mother ship as it has in the past.  It may also allow the international industrial fishery into the territory to plunder this rich and now no longer fully protected area.  Any who might crow about this being a success story must be anti conservation and pro the pillage of some of the best reefs in the Indian Ocean.
> So politics wins over common sense and the needs of the ocean.
> A sad day for coral reefs.
> best wishes
> Anne Sheppard 		 	   		
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