Tuesday, 6 April 2010
The Guardian, Tuesday 6 April 2010
The foreign secretary's announcement (UK sets up marine reserve in controversial area, 2 April) of the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) around the Chagos archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory) following the recently completed consultation is welcome news in principle. The area's conservation value is undisputed. However, as John Vidal's article (Good news for the warty sea slug is devastating for Chagos islanders, 30 March) indicates, there are important associated controversies regarding the displaced Chagossians' right of return and Mauritian sovereignty claims. The FCO's unilateral action over the MPA is exacerbating these tensions and unnecessarily undermining what should have been near universal support.
The Mauritian foreign minister is reportedly furious, having repeatedly requested a bilateral approach to the MPA process. Many Chagossians are similarly angered that the "no-take" commercial fishing zone may damage their future livelihood prospects. Their right of return – at least to the outer islands – could easily also have been granted magnanimously as part of the deal, thereby resolving what even the British government admits to have been a shameful historical injustice.
Thursday's announcement repeats earlier assertions that the MPA should not prejudice resolution of either of these issues. Significantly, it also implicitly leaves open the possibility of subsistence fishing and implies that Diego Garcia, site of the massive US military base, will be included within the MPA. However, it ignores the key fact that once established under international conservation instruments, MPA status is hard to change or rescind. Why does the FCO never fail to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity over the Chagos/BIOT?
Royal Holloway, Universityof London
• While some Chagossians are undoubtedly concerned by the marine reserve, there are many others who support its establishment. The Pew Environment Group and others supporting protection of the Chagos Islands have been working closely with the Diego Garcian Society, the largest Chagossian group in the UK.
Designation of Chagos as a protected area means the islands and their resources will be protected for the future, whatever it holds. If the Chagossians are one day granted the right to return, conservation arrangements could be modified to accommodate their needs.
Without protection, the Chagos' resources will continue to be damaged and diminished by commercial fishing.
It is difficult to think of anyone other than a few distant water fishing fleets that would be disadvantaged by the protection of the Chagos' resources, whereas millions would be advantaged, including those benefiting from the replenishment of the Western Indian Ocean's marine resources and those benefiting from better climate and marine science.
Pew Environment Group
Posted by Graham Crawford at 06:53:00