Chagos Campaign

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. 

MET also launched a petition, to give others who shared our view the opportunity to voice their own concerns. The petition again endorsed the efforts of the Foreign Secretary to protect the archipelagos marine environment, but called on him to work with the Chagos islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise an MPA solution that makes provision for resettlement and protects Mauritius’ legitimate interests. Click here to view the letter to David Miliband. 
Over 1,500 people from all over the world signed the petition and gave their support to our campaign. They included a former President of the Republic of Mauritius, 16 Members of Parliament, two Peers, one MEP, ten Professors of Marine and Conservation Science, and over 100 other marine science and conservation professionals, as well as other academics and professionals from a wide range of disciplines, and concerned members of the public. Most of the signatories were from the United Kingdom, United States and Mauritius, and included many Chagos Islanders.
It is difficult to judge from the wording of Foreign Secretary's decision whether the petition, and all the similar submissions from like-minded people, had any effect on the his decision.  The full report on the consultation by the FCO facilitator can be read here.
Thank you to everyone who supported the campaign.  Let us hope that the FCO is indeed proposing a properly zoned MPA, that wide-ranging advice will be sought in preparing the management plan, and that there will be included within it options for future sustainable use by Chagos islanders.
Boddam shore.JPG
It is imperative that we give the strongest possible protection to the Marine Environment of Chagos, but any MPA must take account of the rights of the islanders.
Ben Fogle