On 1 April 2010, the UK Government took the decision to protect the globally important coral reefs and related ecosystems of the Chagos archipelago. The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, announced the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) covering some quarter of a million square miles, in a measure that could have significant conservation benefits for the whole Indian Ocean.
It is unfortunate that the process of making this decision lacked the transparency and full participation necessary to ensure that the MPA will succeed in the long-term. The conservation community has been divided on the issue, and Members of Parliament, Chagos islanders and the Government of Mauritius have objected to the declaration and the process leading up to it.
The FCO also took its decision to declare the MPA while Parliament was in recess for Easter, despite having given assurances during a Parliamentary debate on 10 March that it would make every effort to further include MPs in the process before making a final decision
The details of the MPA have yet to be released. The Foreign Secretary has not declared, explicitly, that the entire archipelago will be a no-take zone. He has instead has chosen to state that the MPA "will include a "no-take" marine reserve where commercial fishing will be banned". The full text of the FCO statement from can be read here.
Full no-take protection was one of the FCO's prefered options for the MPA, and all of the options initially proposed excluded any kind of fisheries or similar marine activities within the reef areas. These options did not take account of the wishes of the Chagossian community, who were removed from their homeland by the British Government in the early 1970s to make way for the US military base on Diego Garcia.
The Marine Education Trust joined other individuals and organisations in campaigning against full no-take protection, prefering instead the option of a zoned MPA in which some sustainable use would be permitted - a solution that protected both the marine environment and the human rights of the exiled islanders. The letter from MET's trustees to the FCO can be read here.