Help protect the Chagos and create the world's largest Marine Reserve

Posted by Willie — 2 February 2010 at 11:41am - Comments

An octopus adds its support to our Marine Reserves campaign

12 Feb update: consultaion extended until 5 March. Click this link to add your voice in support of the new Marine Reserve

The chances are you’ve never heard of the Chagos Islands, let alone ever been for a visit, but over the next few days we all have an opportunity to help protect the amazing life in the seas around them.

The Chagos archipelago is a group of 55 small islands in the Indian Ocean, that makes up Britain’s Indian Ocean Territory. The UK government is currently consulting on whether to establish a Marine Reserve in the waters around the Chagos – which, if created, would be the largest Marine Reserve in the world, covering around 210,000 square miles. Crucially that area includes half of the Indian Ocean’s pristine coral reefs, the world’s largest coral atoll, as well as charismatic critters like turtles, sharks, coconut crabs and seabirds. Not to mention well over 200 species of coral, and a thousand species of fish!

Email Foreign Secretary David Miliband and let him know you support the creation of a no-take Marine Reserve in the Chagos »

However, as with so many parts of the world, the Chagos is an area with sad skeletons of a colonial past. The issue, and the impassioned involvement of long-standing Greenpeace activists over the years, have been well documented here by Rex Weyler - much better than I could hope to explain.

The bottom line is - Greenpeace acknowledges and supports the Chagossians in their struggle, and hopes that they are successful. But at the moment, the Chagos Islands are being administered by the UK government, and whatever way you look at it, taking steps to protect the marine life there is a good idea. At the simplest level the tuna fishing that is happening in their waters can be seen as the theft of Chagossian fish, and creating a no-take Marine Reserve is a way of reclaiming and protecting those fish for the islanders. Of course the tuna fishing interests are busy lobbying against this outcome.

If and when the Chagossians are repatriated, then the protection of the seas around the archipelago will need to be readdressed, and yes, that may well involve allowing fishing by the islanders. Protecting the waters now is putting them off limits to further exploitation, and putting them in trust for the Chagossian people. Greenpeace looks forward to the happy day when we can discuss with the returning Chagossians how to develop selective, small-scale sustainable fishing operations in their waters. But for the moment, we think setting the area off-limits and creating the world's largest Marine Reserve is a fantastic idea.

Just to put that into context, at 210,000 square miles the Chagos Marine Reserve would be around 26 times the size of Wales. It would also signal that the UK was starting to get serious about the creation of no-take Marine Reserves, given that our only previous effort to date is a miniscule reserve off the island of Lundy, not much larger in size than the proverbial postage stamp.

The government is now requesting your views on whether to protect this area as a Marine Reserve. But the window for comments is only open for a very limited time - in fact it closes next week on 12th February.

So, please take a minute to help.  Email Foreign Secretary David Miliband and call on him to create a no-take Marine Reserve to protect the colourful coral reef life around the Chagos. And please ask your friends to add their voices as well - this definitely is one of these times where a few short words from a lot of us really can make a big difference.

Take Action

Email David Miliband and let him know you support the creation of a no-take Marine Reserve in the Chagos »

This is a great initiative, but does this take into consideration the repatriation of the Chagos islanders? It would be a great shame if the formation of a marine reserve was the ultimate end to the claims of those removed to make way for American bases.

My name is Yan Hookoomsing, aged 34, and i live in Mauritius. As an ex-journalist and a Mauritian, i have followed very closely the campaign by the Chagossians to regain their homeland. In parallel, i am also a part-time environmental activist. While I value strongly the general principle of urgently preserving the exceptional biodiversity setup of the Chagos, I am very concerned as to how this campaign is playing - unknowingly and with the best of intentions - directly into the hands of neo-colonialism, militarism and the denial of basic human rights. As mentioned in the article, the UK and US Governments removed by force during the 60s and early 70s the Chagossians, a settled community which had been residing in the archipelago for generations. Today, even if the project of a Chagos Marine Park is a wonderful idea, the way the campaign is implementing this vision is proceeding with worrying disregard with the Chagossians. The FAQ section on the campaign's website mentions consultations which were held only with Chagossians groups based in the UK and states that not even all of them were involved. The bulk of the Chagossians in exile are in Mauritius and Seychelles, not in the UK. They have the greatest stake in ensuring that their homeland remains preserved. They need to be empowered for that role. Simply giving, as stated on the campaign website, "two scholarship places [...] to Chagossians wishing to learn how to scuba dive and to learn about the importance and fragility of coral reefs, as well as how and why we need to protect them" is paternalistic to the extreme. Furthermore, the Chagos were excised from Mauritius unilaterally by the UK in 1965 prior to our independence in 1968. This has been condemned already twice by the United Nations. I will be happy to provide you later with the UN General Assembly resolutions related to that. But in short, the UK's presence in the Chagos is illegal, first. Second, expelling the local people to establish a military base has made UK presence not only more criminal, but simply immoral. Had it been another power, Iran let's say, the public uproar who have been global and British opinion would have been overwhelmingly intense in its criticisms. To put it bluntly, the campaign now is confirming that criminals need to stay in charge of a natural paradise. This is so amazingly wrong. Finally, at this very moment, the US are actively executing major infrastructure works in Diego Garcia for its nuclear submarines to be able to use Diego's lagoons. This is a confirmed fact, while the base is already strongly suspected of being a nuclear base. Therefore, the mention in the website's FAQ concerning "Is the presence of the military base a threat to the Chagos ecosystem?", that "the island of Diego Garcia where the military base is located is in the far southeast of the archipelago, and is tens of miles, and in many cases hundreds of miles, away from most other islands, reefs and their surrounding waters" is really shocking. How can you accept having a nuclear military base within a marine park? How can a military base, even non-nuclear, be compatible with environment protection and sustainable development? This just does not make any sense, I am sorry, except in consolidating the US and the UK's position. As an inhabitant of the Indian Ocean, i refuse to have nuclear weapons and a military base on my doorstep. I thus cannot see how by avoiding the nuclear issue, by ignoring the people who are the original inhabitants of the Chagos and by hiding the illegality of UK presence there, the long-term protection of the archipelago's unique marine biodiversity can be achieved. I would be glad to support the project if it were to say that the zone must be nuclear-free, must be managed by its own people and must build on the time-old bond that had united the Chagossians with their homeland. UK collaboration to preserve the Chagos would indeed most welcome, as it would then be in the true spirit of North-South cooperation in a post-colonial world where the expertise of developed countries is shared with developing ones for the common preservation of global heritage zones. Otherwise, this project is not acting any differently to the missionaries of the 19th century whose religious zeal helped enslave the regions they targeted. Which would be immensely sad, and which is something i am sure Greenpeace would not want to adhere to.

I have heard of the chagos [british indian ocean territory]archipelago in particular diego garcia the leasehold of this island having recently come up for renewal,there is a lot of bad blood over this, the indigenous population was forcibly [and illegally] removed, threatened, dogs shot, then forced to live in slums on neighbouring mauritius where the elders died of sadness[heartbreak]. This was to make way for an american air base which is used to police the area ie, somalia, iraq, iran, afghanistan. There will doubtless be less fish around diego as a result of spear fishing. Interestingly the entire base seems to have avoided the recent Tsunami [there is no justice].
I hope this information may be of some interest or use and that some good comes from this countries dominion over this atoll at long last.
I would also like to take this opportunity to ask for Greenpeaces support for a small fellow organisation called Friends of cardigan bay of whom I am also a member in our battle to create another marine reserve and to prevent desertification by scallop dredgers in the afore mentioned bay,regards L.Tiffany.

As an long-time GP activist (i have sailed & worked for the organisation since 1974) I recommend that GPUK & GPI stop & think a bit more about this one... GP is dreaming if they think that ones an Marine Protected Area is declared around the Chagos Archipelago, the UK govt. will assist the Chagossians in any way to return to their isles.
The Chagossians have been illegally removed by the UK govt. from their islands, after the UK govt. made a back-room deal with the USA, so the US could set up on Diego Garcia as a huge offensive military base & the UK could get Tridents and nuclear missiles on the cheap...
Now, from Diego Garcia the B1 bombers, etc. take off to bomb targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. The base has been used as well for rendition flights & also functions as a nuclear sub repair & supply base.
The Chagossians have not been granted the right of return by both the UK (& US governments), even tho' they have been granted the right of return four times in the UK by the various courts... (they currently are taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights).
For GPUK now to back Milibands proposal and to only pay lipservice to the Chagossians hurts deeply...
GP has a long standing opposition to nuclear weapons, is for disarmament, did send their ship "Rainbow Warrior" to help and evacuate the US nuclear test victims from their irradiated island (Rongelap), opposes wars, etc.. But in this case GPUK would allow a offensive military/nuclear base to exist in a Marine Reserve! Stop & think! A military base pollutes! Think fueling facilities for ships & planes! 100's of military & civilians running around a small island, for the making of the runway, for which huge amounts of coral reef where destroyed (google-earth Diego Garcia & check out the huge holes in the reef!)... I could go on & on... But yes, a MPA would be great around the Chagos Archipelago, but GHreenpeace should only support such an proposal IF (and only IF!) the right of return for the Chagossians is fully & unconditionaly recognized! by the UK government.

By *Ram Seegobin*, Lalit de Klas

February 8, 2010 -- Dear leaders of Greenpeace, we understand that your organisation has taken a position in favour of the British government’s outrageous plan to create a “Marine Park” on territory which is not its
own, thus tricking ill-informed people into supporting the British state on rather vague grounds of “the environment”, while they are in fact banishing the people who lived there and flaunting the Charter of the United Nations.

We write in order to request you to re-think your position on what would in fact be the British government’s perfidious imposition of a planned Marine Protected Area on part of Mauritius in order to mask the fact that it colonises the land illegally. Britain colonises the Chagos under the name of “British Indian Ocean Territory”. This colony is, as far as
we know, recognised by no government in the world, except the USA, which has a huge military base on it [at Diego Garcia].

Full article at http://links.org.au/node/1527

To be fair to Greenpeace I don't think it has backed anything, rather it has sat on the fence.

The above article is neither a ringing endorsement of any options provided by the UK government in the official consultation or a denial of them.

I personally would like to here Greenpeace back the Marine Education Trusts campaign for Chagossian repatriation and marine protection, which would basically ask the UK government for this new option.

http://www.marineeducationtrust.org/petition/protect-chagos

I still don't see how the UK can hope for credibility in
lobbying for a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Archipelago when they:

1. overlook the claims of human beings called Chagossians, which they expelled from there in the most shameful fashion, and then put the uninhabited situation as optimal for a Marine Protected Area.
Did the Chagossians pollute when they lived there? No. The way they lived was most environmental friendly - what one cannot say about the military base in Diego Garcia or the fishing licensing managed by the so called BIOT - each a theme one could write long essays about.

2. disregard the Mauritian claims for sovereignty and side stepping ongoing bilteral talks with Mauritius on the Chagos Archipelago to announce an international consultation paper on a marine protected area. ( by the way, why would the UK need to stoop for negotiations in bilateral talks on the Chagos Archipelago with its tiny former colony if the Mauritian claims were not founded?)

3. totally overlook the environmental danger of Diego Garcia, which belongs to that archipelago and is being used as a military base by the US.

4. misinform the public at large on the issue by conveniently failing to bring up relevant information essential for the public to come to a free opinion.

5. believe - in the present age of IT!! - that those essential bits of information would not come up and not only complete the picture for all to see, but also badly soil the image of the UK. And that just before elections!

If we combine the past barbaric treatment UK conferred to the Chagossians with the 130,000 of their own unwanted orphans and other children sent to Australia under hair raising conditions (- on BBC news and heard all over the world including Mauritius), one wonders if the spirit of colonialism did not linger to the detriment of 21st century politics and diplomacy.

It is a pity. I do hope a civilized solution is agreed upon soon. An honestly win-win solution for all would lay the foundation for a pleasant and smooth future for all concerned.

A marine park or any kind of natural sanctuary today will be a blessing for this world. However, defending a marine park for the Chagos archipelago in the condition it is being done by the British Government is immoral and disrespectful of human rights. Immoral, because US occupation of Diego Garcia, bailed by the UK, which forms part of the Chagos is immoral/illegal and inhuman. So far we are all aware in which condition and what lies beneath the so called BIOT, thus whatever project proposed by the British there, no matter how noble it might sound, will be illegal and immoral. You simply cannot force your neighbor to get out of their home so that you can enjoy their living room. Greenpeace better be aware that whatever they have achieved so far as credits will not be taken into account if they maintain their support to the British Government regarding the Chagos Marine Park, cause make no mistake, justice will prevail. When this will happen those who were supportive of the British forgery regarding the Chagos (whichever way it might be, even for a noble cause as a Marine Park) will need to face the international blame and disgust. If Greenpeace wish is that there shall be a Marine Park in Diego Garcia, then Greenpeace should talk to the legitimate owner of the Archipelago even though they have been thrown out of the island.

This is a great initiative, but does this take into consideration the repatriation of the Chagos islanders? It would be a great shame if the formation of a marine reserve was the ultimate end to the claims of those removed to make way for American bases.

My name is Yan Hookoomsing, aged 34, and i live in Mauritius. As an ex-journalist and a Mauritian, i have followed very closely the campaign by the Chagossians to regain their homeland. In parallel, i am also a part-time environmental activist. While I value strongly the general principle of urgently preserving the exceptional biodiversity setup of the Chagos, I am very concerned as to how this campaign is playing - unknowingly and with the best of intentions - directly into the hands of neo-colonialism, militarism and the denial of basic human rights. As mentioned in the article, the UK and US Governments removed by force during the 60s and early 70s the Chagossians, a settled community which had been residing in the archipelago for generations. Today, even if the project of a Chagos Marine Park is a wonderful idea, the way the campaign is implementing this vision is proceeding with worrying disregard with the Chagossians. The FAQ section on the campaign's website mentions consultations which were held only with Chagossians groups based in the UK and states that not even all of them were involved. The bulk of the Chagossians in exile are in Mauritius and Seychelles, not in the UK. They have the greatest stake in ensuring that their homeland remains preserved. They need to be empowered for that role. Simply giving, as stated on the campaign website, "two scholarship places [...] to Chagossians wishing to learn how to scuba dive and to learn about the importance and fragility of coral reefs, as well as how and why we need to protect them" is paternalistic to the extreme. Furthermore, the Chagos were excised from Mauritius unilaterally by the UK in 1965 prior to our independence in 1968. This has been condemned already twice by the United Nations. I will be happy to provide you later with the UN General Assembly resolutions related to that. But in short, the UK's presence in the Chagos is illegal, first. Second, expelling the local people to establish a military base has made UK presence not only more criminal, but simply immoral. Had it been another power, Iran let's say, the public uproar who have been global and British opinion would have been overwhelmingly intense in its criticisms. To put it bluntly, the campaign now is confirming that criminals need to stay in charge of a natural paradise. This is so amazingly wrong. Finally, at this very moment, the US are actively executing major infrastructure works in Diego Garcia for its nuclear submarines to be able to use Diego's lagoons. This is a confirmed fact, while the base is already strongly suspected of being a nuclear base. Therefore, the mention in the website's FAQ concerning "Is the presence of the military base a threat to the Chagos ecosystem?", that "the island of Diego Garcia where the military base is located is in the far southeast of the archipelago, and is tens of miles, and in many cases hundreds of miles, away from most other islands, reefs and their surrounding waters" is really shocking. How can you accept having a nuclear military base within a marine park? How can a military base, even non-nuclear, be compatible with environment protection and sustainable development? This just does not make any sense, I am sorry, except in consolidating the US and the UK's position. As an inhabitant of the Indian Ocean, i refuse to have nuclear weapons and a military base on my doorstep. I thus cannot see how by avoiding the nuclear issue, by ignoring the people who are the original inhabitants of the Chagos and by hiding the illegality of UK presence there, the long-term protection of the archipelago's unique marine biodiversity can be achieved. I would be glad to support the project if it were to say that the zone must be nuclear-free, must be managed by its own people and must build on the time-old bond that had united the Chagossians with their homeland. UK collaboration to preserve the Chagos would indeed most welcome, as it would then be in the true spirit of North-South cooperation in a post-colonial world where the expertise of developed countries is shared with developing ones for the common preservation of global heritage zones. Otherwise, this project is not acting any differently to the missionaries of the 19th century whose religious zeal helped enslave the regions they targeted. Which would be immensely sad, and which is something i am sure Greenpeace would not want to adhere to.

I have heard of the chagos [british indian ocean territory]archipelago in particular diego garcia the leasehold of this island having recently come up for renewal,there is a lot of bad blood over this, the indigenous population was forcibly [and illegally] removed, threatened, dogs shot, then forced to live in slums on neighbouring mauritius where the elders died of sadness[heartbreak]. This was to make way for an american air base which is used to police the area ie, somalia, iraq, iran, afghanistan. There will doubtless be less fish around diego as a result of spear fishing. Interestingly the entire base seems to have avoided the recent Tsunami [there is no justice]. I hope this information may be of some interest or use and that some good comes from this countries dominion over this atoll at long last. I would also like to take this opportunity to ask for Greenpeaces support for a small fellow organisation called Friends of cardigan bay of whom I am also a member in our battle to create another marine reserve and to prevent desertification by scallop dredgers in the afore mentioned bay,regards L.Tiffany.

As an long-time GP activist (i have sailed & worked for the organisation since 1974) I recommend that GPUK & GPI stop & think a bit more about this one... GP is dreaming if they think that ones an Marine Protected Area is declared around the Chagos Archipelago, the UK govt. will assist the Chagossians in any way to return to their isles. The Chagossians have been illegally removed by the UK govt. from their islands, after the UK govt. made a back-room deal with the USA, so the US could set up on Diego Garcia as a huge offensive military base & the UK could get Tridents and nuclear missiles on the cheap... Now, from Diego Garcia the B1 bombers, etc. take off to bomb targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. The base has been used as well for rendition flights & also functions as a nuclear sub repair & supply base. The Chagossians have not been granted the right of return by both the UK (& US governments), even tho' they have been granted the right of return four times in the UK by the various courts... (they currently are taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights). For GPUK now to back Milibands proposal and to only pay lipservice to the Chagossians hurts deeply... GP has a long standing opposition to nuclear weapons, is for disarmament, did send their ship "Rainbow Warrior" to help and evacuate the US nuclear test victims from their irradiated island (Rongelap), opposes wars, etc.. But in this case GPUK would allow a offensive military/nuclear base to exist in a Marine Reserve! Stop & think! A military base pollutes! Think fueling facilities for ships & planes! 100's of military & civilians running around a small island, for the making of the runway, for which huge amounts of coral reef where destroyed (google-earth Diego Garcia & check out the huge holes in the reef!)... I could go on & on... But yes, a MPA would be great around the Chagos Archipelago, but GHreenpeace should only support such an proposal IF (and only IF!) the right of return for the Chagossians is fully & unconditionaly recognized! by the UK government.

By *Ram Seegobin*, Lalit de Klas February 8, 2010 -- Dear leaders of Greenpeace, we understand that your organisation has taken a position in favour of the British government’s outrageous plan to create a “Marine Park” on territory which is not its own, thus tricking ill-informed people into supporting the British state on rather vague grounds of “the environment”, while they are in fact banishing the people who lived there and flaunting the Charter of the United Nations. We write in order to request you to re-think your position on what would in fact be the British government’s perfidious imposition of a planned Marine Protected Area on part of Mauritius in order to mask the fact that it colonises the land illegally. Britain colonises the Chagos under the name of “British Indian Ocean Territory”. This colony is, as far as we know, recognised by no government in the world, except the USA, which has a huge military base on it [at Diego Garcia]. Full article at http://links.org.au/node/1527

To be fair to Greenpeace I don't think it has backed anything, rather it has sat on the fence. The above article is neither a ringing endorsement of any options provided by the UK government in the official consultation or a denial of them. I personally would like to here Greenpeace back the Marine Education Trusts campaign for Chagossian repatriation and marine protection, which would basically ask the UK government for this new option. http://www.marineeducationtrust.org/petition/protect-chagos

I still don't see how the UK can hope for credibility in lobbying for a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Archipelago when they: 1. overlook the claims of human beings called Chagossians, which they expelled from there in the most shameful fashion, and then put the uninhabited situation as optimal for a Marine Protected Area. Did the Chagossians pollute when they lived there? No. The way they lived was most environmental friendly - what one cannot say about the military base in Diego Garcia or the fishing licensing managed by the so called BIOT - each a theme one could write long essays about. 2. disregard the Mauritian claims for sovereignty and side stepping ongoing bilteral talks with Mauritius on the Chagos Archipelago to announce an international consultation paper on a marine protected area. ( by the way, why would the UK need to stoop for negotiations in bilateral talks on the Chagos Archipelago with its tiny former colony if the Mauritian claims were not founded?) 3. totally overlook the environmental danger of Diego Garcia, which belongs to that archipelago and is being used as a military base by the US. 4. misinform the public at large on the issue by conveniently failing to bring up relevant information essential for the public to come to a free opinion. 5. believe - in the present age of IT!! - that those essential bits of information would not come up and not only complete the picture for all to see, but also badly soil the image of the UK. And that just before elections! If we combine the past barbaric treatment UK conferred to the Chagossians with the 130,000 of their own unwanted orphans and other children sent to Australia under hair raising conditions (- on BBC news and heard all over the world including Mauritius), one wonders if the spirit of colonialism did not linger to the detriment of 21st century politics and diplomacy. It is a pity. I do hope a civilized solution is agreed upon soon. An honestly win-win solution for all would lay the foundation for a pleasant and smooth future for all concerned.

A marine park or any kind of natural sanctuary today will be a blessing for this world. However, defending a marine park for the Chagos archipelago in the condition it is being done by the British Government is immoral and disrespectful of human rights. Immoral, because US occupation of Diego Garcia, bailed by the UK, which forms part of the Chagos is immoral/illegal and inhuman. So far we are all aware in which condition and what lies beneath the so called BIOT, thus whatever project proposed by the British there, no matter how noble it might sound, will be illegal and immoral. You simply cannot force your neighbor to get out of their home so that you can enjoy their living room. Greenpeace better be aware that whatever they have achieved so far as credits will not be taken into account if they maintain their support to the British Government regarding the Chagos Marine Park, cause make no mistake, justice will prevail. When this will happen those who were supportive of the British forgery regarding the Chagos (whichever way it might be, even for a noble cause as a Marine Park) will need to face the international blame and disgust. If Greenpeace wish is that there shall be a Marine Park in Diego Garcia, then Greenpeace should talk to the legitimate owner of the Archipelago even though they have been thrown out of the island.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, part of the Greenpeace UK biodiversity team. I work mostly on oceans and fishy issues.

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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