Chagos workshop contributes to debate over islands’ future, university says
As reported on this blog, last week saw the bringing together of numerous experts from many different fields to discuss the future of the Chagos islands. Participants at the workshop, held at Royal Holloway, University of London, discussed the socio-economic impact of a marine conservation zone around Chagos, in particular. Now, Royal Holloway have issued a statement on the event, which is reproduced in full below:
“Following the launch last March of the proposal by the Chagos Environment Network to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the Chagos Archipelago, experts gathered at Royal Holloway, University of London on 7 January 2010 to consider the socio-economic issues surrounding this proposal. This workshop was chaired by Professor David Simon, Head of Geography at Royal Holloway, and its findings will contribute to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s consultation on the Chagos’ MPA.
“While the 55 islands of the Chagos Archipelago have a combined land area of just 16 sq km, their total Exclusive Economic Zone for jurisdiction of marine resources, based on 200 nautical mile limits, is 635,000 sq km2 – nearly three times greater than the UK land area. This marine space includes abyssal habitats of the open ocean as well as coral reefs and banks, and has exceptional biodiversity value due to its species richness and the low level of human impacts. The near-pristine Chagos Archipelago area provides both a source region and refuge for marine life in the wider Indian Ocean.
“A workshop held at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in August discussed the science issues and opportunities related to the potential creation of a substantial MPA in the Chagos Archipelago.
“The principal aim of the workshop at Royal Holloway was to bring together participants from Marine Centres, Universities, and NGOs who have practical experience of MPA development and management, as well as Chagossian, Government and marine industry stakeholders, to discuss socio-economic obstacles and opportunities in the context of a possible MPA in the Chagos Archipelago. The meeting provided the opportunity for input from stakeholder groups, particularly representatives from the Chagossian community, the Indian Ocean fishing industry, and the Government of Mauritius.
“Dr David Bellamy, the world-renowned conservationist, said: “I am delighted that this workshop took place, and commend the organisers for having taken this initiative. It has long been my contention that the preservation of this unique Archipelago requires everyone to work together – Chagossians, the British and Mauritian Governments, scientists, environmentalists and conservationists across a wide spectrum of disciplines.”
“He adds, “The issues are complex and challenging but with good will and cooperation on all sides we can help to bring about a secure future for the Chagos Islands that protects the environment and bio-diversity as well as the interests of the Chagossian people. Carefully managed, a limited resettlement should be compatible with conservation, and indeed could enhance the overall protection of the Islands. The challenge to us all is to make this possible.”
“Professor David Simon adds, “This specially convened workshop formed a vital step in the contentious process of negotiation over the future conservation status of the renowned Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It brought together the many interested parties and stakeholders who debated how to secure the environmental integrity of the islands in a manner compatible with the interests of the Chagossian people who were evicted some 40 years ago and who may yet have their right of return restored by the European Court of Human Rights. Viable proposals must also take account of the possible future change of sovereignty from Britain to Mauritius. It was a great honour to have been asked to host and chair this important event at Royal Holloway.”
“The workshop contributed in important ways to the ongoing debate. For many participants, it was their first exposure to the firmly held views of the Chagossian representatives. These perspectives, echoed by some other participants, informed debate and the agreement that the FCO consultation required a fourth option that includes resettlement as a fundamental component and which would be acceptable to whichever government exercised future sovereignty over the archipelago.”
Participants at the workshop will hopefully have left with a fuller understanding about what an MPA could mean for the Chagossians. In particular, it should have been made clear that a no-take ban on fishing would be disastrous for the Chagossians’ campaign to pursue a future resettlement.
UPDATE 17/1/2010 – Dr Sean Carey’s impressions of the workshop are available to view here, on the Mauritius Times website. The workshop’s official report has yet to be published.