Why Greenpeace supports a Marine Reserve in the Chagos

Posted by Willie — 2 March 2010 at 12:00pm - Comments

Greenpeace believes that there is an overwhelming case for giving full protection to the waters of the Chagos as a no-take Marine Reserve and has now formally responded to the UK government's consultation on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area.

But the UK Government consultation does not address everything that needs to be addressed in the Chagos Islands: The Chagossian people, who were removed from the islands prior to the creation of the Diego Garcia military base, are still fighting for justice. Early Greenpeace campaigner Rex Weyler tells that sorry tale in his blog here.

Greenpeace wants to see justice for the Chagossians, and believes that on their return to the archipelago they must be fully involved in managing their waters and protecting their seas. Our submission points to some successful models whereby careful zonation has enabled small-scale sustainable fishing to be incorporated into large-scale Marine Reserves.

Moreover, Greenpeace is of course fundamentally opposed to the existence of the Diego Garcia military base.

You can read our full submission here.

In the submission we set out the rationale for why Marine Reserves are more effective than other kinds of marine protected area (MPA) and the need for large-scale protection.

Establishing a Marine Reserve would immediately start delivering tangible benefits to the environment and prohibit destructive fishing practices.

Some key points from our submission:

  • Greenpeace supports the creation of a no-take Marine Reserve in the Chagos archipelago. This type and scale of protected area is what we have been campaigning to establish for many years, and what globally our oceans desperately need. If created, this would be the largest no-take Marine Reserve in the world, but even then we would still be a long, long way off what we need, which is a global network of large-scale, fully-protected Marine Reserves covering some 40% of our oceans.
  • Creating a no-take marine reserve would not only allow exploited stocks to recover and thrive, but also give sanctuary to species likes sharks and turtles, as well as help make the coral reef system around the Chagos Islands more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • The Marine Reserve should be established without prejudice to the rights of the Chagossians or the sovereignty claim of Mauritius. The Chagossians have experienced an egregious and historic wrong for which the UK government should make full amends. Indeed, we believe another important rationale for the creation of a full no-take Marine Reserve is to put an immediate end to the ongoing commercial exploitation of these disputed waters prior to the resolution of the dispute.
  • Upon the return of the Chagossian people, Greenpeace would be happy to engage with them on how they can best develop small-scale, low-impact, sustainable fishing practices whilst continuing to ensure the effective protection of this globally-important ecosystem.
  • Greenpeace is of the view that the Diego Garcia nuclear-capacity military base represents a threat to the local and global environment, as well as to world peace, and should be abolished.

The establishment of a Marine Reserve is a first step towards securing a better and sustainable future for the Chagos Islands, a future which must include securing justice for the Chagossian people and the closure and removal of the military base.

Although it is good that Greenpeace has finally recognised Chagossian human rights, I still find some of the language in your submission to the consultation troubling, in particular this:

"Upon the return of the Chagossian people, Greenpeace would be happy to engage with them on how they can best develop small-scale, low-impact, sustainable fishing practices whilst continuing to ensure the effective protection of this globally-important ecosystem."

Greenpeace must realise that Chagos was sustainable until the Chagossians were evicted. We should be teaching the Chagossians nothing. As some of the living Chagossians once lived there I am sure they are well aware of sustainable practice. We really should be focussing our efforts on our own doorstep.

Greenpeace should be an advocacy group. The skillset does not necessaril exist within the organisation in my opinion to beging to engage with people as teachers of marine conservation.

Please continue your good work, but do not tarnish it with top-down language. Co-management is the only way forward. Top-down management by NGOs is potentially even more harmful than top-down management by governments.

Thank you for your support for the Chagossian people but there is one more thing that you can do - support and publicise the fourth option proposed by the Marine Education Trust in their letter to the Foreign Secretary:
"We do not support any of the three broad options proposed in the consultation documents, however, because full no-take protection of reef areas would provide no means for resettled islanders to utilise their marine resources for subsistence or income generation. Communities and Marine Protected Areas coexist across the world, and there is no reason why the islanders could not be successful stewards of their coral reef environment. We urge you to work with the Chagos islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise an MPA solution that makes provision for resettlement and that protects Mauritius’ legitimate interests. This could be achieved through, for example, zonation that permits the sustainable use of marine resources in specific reef, lagoon and open ocean areas."

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

Celia Whittaker

The Greenpeace campaign for a marine reserve around the Chagos Islands cannot be justified at the present time. This is because the overwhelming issue for this region is the immediate return of the islanders forcibly exiled from there, together with restoration of the rights due to any independent nation to self-determination. Until that happens the Greenpeace initiative is wholly inappropriate.

The Greenpeace website claims that their campaign for a marine preserve around Chagos “should be established without prejudice to the rights of the Chagossians or the sovereignty claim of Mauritius.” This is completely meaningless and looks suspiciously like a cynical ploy to deflect the legitimate concerns of campaigners for the return of the Chagos Islanders. If the reserve were established it would inevitably present yet another hurdle for these terribly mistreated people to overcome, firstly as yet another excuse to refuse their return, and secondly, if they could return, to severely restrict their rights to their own waters. Unless the Chagos Islanders themselves are being included as a principle party to the Greenpeace initiative, this campaign must be strenuously resisted.

While I appreciate the sentiment and good intent behind your statement that

"the overwhelming issue for this region is the immediate return of the islanders forcibly exiled from there"

The fact is that the 2,000 islanders have already been exiled for nearly 40 years and, given the status of Diego Garcia as a US base, there is little or no immediate prospect of their return.

How long would you suggest that the creation a marine reserve in this area should be delayed for? Five years, ten years? Much longer and there won't be any point creating one at all - the species we're trying to protect will have vanished.

The plight of the Chagos Islanders is a tragedy, but not one that should be compounded by a failure to protect the natural world when a golden opportunity arises, surely?

Assuming the extinction of the Chargossians, along with accepting the right of the US to have a military base there at all is setting a dangerous precedent. I can't see that the reserve would have a significant effect on the preservation of marine life - but it would help the US to remain there undisturbed for as long as it chooses to.

The sentiment that is supposed to be behind the Greenpeace initiative sounds nice, but is largely ineffectual. The single most important factor affecting the planet's eco-systems is its exploding human population. Once I see Greenpeace directly tackling that (by campaigning that no woman should normally have more than two babies), I won't be entirely convinced about Greenpeace's motives.

I'm not opposed to a marine reserve around Chargos, or anywhere else, but cuttiing out the Chargos Islanders from the decision-making is simply unacceptable.

Although it is good that Greenpeace has finally recognised Chagossian human rights, I still find some of the language in your submission to the consultation troubling, in particular this: "Upon the return of the Chagossian people, Greenpeace would be happy to engage with them on how they can best develop small-scale, low-impact, sustainable fishing practices whilst continuing to ensure the effective protection of this globally-important ecosystem." Greenpeace must realise that Chagos was sustainable until the Chagossians were evicted. We should be teaching the Chagossians nothing. As some of the living Chagossians once lived there I am sure they are well aware of sustainable practice. We really should be focussing our efforts on our own doorstep. Greenpeace should be an advocacy group. The skillset does not necessaril exist within the organisation in my opinion to beging to engage with people as teachers of marine conservation. Please continue your good work, but do not tarnish it with top-down language. Co-management is the only way forward. Top-down management by NGOs is potentially even more harmful than top-down management by governments.

Thank you for your support for the Chagossian people but there is one more thing that you can do - support and publicise the fourth option proposed by the Marine Education Trust in their letter to the Foreign Secretary: "We do not support any of the three broad options proposed in the consultation documents, however, because full no-take protection of reef areas would provide no means for resettled islanders to utilise their marine resources for subsistence or income generation. Communities and Marine Protected Areas coexist across the world, and there is no reason why the islanders could not be successful stewards of their coral reef environment. We urge you to work with the Chagos islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise an MPA solution that makes provision for resettlement and that protects Mauritius’ legitimate interests. This could be achieved through, for example, zonation that permits the sustainable use of marine resources in specific reef, lagoon and open ocean areas." http://www.marineeducationtrust.org/petition/protect-chagos Celia Whittaker

The Greenpeace campaign for a marine reserve around the Chagos Islands cannot be justified at the present time. This is because the overwhelming issue for this region is the immediate return of the islanders forcibly exiled from there, together with restoration of the rights due to any independent nation to self-determination. Until that happens the Greenpeace initiative is wholly inappropriate. The Greenpeace website claims that their campaign for a marine preserve around Chagos “should be established without prejudice to the rights of the Chagossians or the sovereignty claim of Mauritius.” This is completely meaningless and looks suspiciously like a cynical ploy to deflect the legitimate concerns of campaigners for the return of the Chagos Islanders. If the reserve were established it would inevitably present yet another hurdle for these terribly mistreated people to overcome, firstly as yet another excuse to refuse their return, and secondly, if they could return, to severely restrict their rights to their own waters. Unless the Chagos Islanders themselves are being included as a principle party to the Greenpeace initiative, this campaign must be strenuously resisted.

Assuming the extinction of the Chargossians, along with accepting the right of the US to have a military base there at all is setting a dangerous precedent. I can't see that the reserve would have a significant effect on the preservation of marine life - but it would help the US to remain there undisturbed for as long as it chooses to. The sentiment that is supposed to be behind the Greenpeace initiative sounds nice, but is largely ineffectual. The single most important factor affecting the planet's eco-systems is its exploding human population. Once I see Greenpeace directly tackling that (by campaigning that no woman should normally have more than two babies), I won't be entirely convinced about Greenpeace's motives. I'm not opposed to a marine reserve around Chargos, or anywhere else, but cuttiing out the Chargos Islanders from the decision-making is simply unacceptable.

I'm very glad GP is supporting this, I have a family member who has visited this area and had commented how something needed be done. Are there any active awareness campaigns we can also promote along this one? Fundraising would be a good thing. Germany Promotes New Energy Policy

Wikileaks reveals that the Chagos Marine Protected Area was just a ploy to keep Chagossians out of Chagos and to keep the US military base secure. (See New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/12/mauritius-british-chagos and The Guradian http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-cables-diego-garcia-uk). How on earth did Greenpeace fall into this trap? Isn't it time for Greenpeace to admit that it was snared and how this actually happened?

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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