Conservation groups criticise framing of FCO’s consultation on Chagos

This week, the UK Chagos Support Association is taking a look at some of the evidence that has been submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as part of its consultation on marine protection in the Chagos islands (people have until Friday 5 March 2010 to submit evidence). We began by yesterday reviewing the International Union of Conservation Networks’ submission.

Today, we are drawing peoples’ attention to evidence jointly submitted by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and the US-based Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC).

The WDCS and NRDC submission is concise, to the point, and forcefully argued. In a nutshell: these conservationists fully support the principle of enhanced marine protection in Chagos – including via the creation of a marine protected area (MPA) - but have serious reservations about the implementation and the scope of the FCO’s proposals.

On implementation, the WDCS and NRDC point out that the UK Government has been very poor at building a coalition of support for its marine protection plan. They suggest that seeking Parliamentary debate and approval for an MPA in Chagos would give the scheme legitimacy – a note of caution that could prove to be extremely prescient if the FCO’s track record of using undemocratic means to legislate for the Chagos islands is anything to go by.

Furthermore, the authors point out that by refusing to allow the Chagossians to play a full role in the conservation of their homeland (instead choosing to hide behind the ongoing European Court of Human Rights proceedings) and by failing to assuage the concerns of the Government of Mauritius, the FCO has left itself vulnerable to the accusation that it is trying to “unilaterally” implement an MPA in Chagos.

This failure to build a broad base of support could prove to be fateful, they warn: “MPAs created from the ‘top down only’ are much less likely to function effectively.” Even in the short term, the assistance of the Chagossians and the Government of Mauritius would be sorely needed in order to ensure the enforcement, monitoring and proper functioning of an MPA in Chagos.

In terms of scope, the WDCS and NRDC submission raises the thorny issue of the US military base on Diego Garcia, highlighting the awkwardness of excluding Diego Garcia – the largest island within the Chagos archipelago – from any environmental protection regime.

The submission points out that Navy sonar can have a “fatal” effect on some species of whale, and also lists several other ways that the military base is likely to have had a negative impact upon the Chagos marine environment. In addition, the WDCS and NRDC repeat concerns that the usual environmental protection laws have not been followed in the case of Diego Garcia.

In many ways, the military base on Diego Garcia has been the elephant in the room ever since the prospect of an MPA in Chagos was raised. So far, most environment organisations – including those campaigning vociferously in favour of a “no-take” protection zone, such as the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) and, bizarrely, Greenpeace – have thought it unwise to broach the issue. For the WDCS and NRDC, however, the environmental impact of the base is clearly of important concern.

To conclude on a brief aside, it is worth considering that, if the FCO, CEN, Greenpeace et al can envisage an MPA in Chagos that makes an exception for the massive military base on Diego Garcia, why cannot provision for the Chagossians also be built into the MPA?

It is peculiar that organisations such as Pew and Greenpeace should go out of their way to accommodate a military base but will not consider qualifying their support for an MPA with a concomitant support for the rights of the Chagos archipelago’s indigenous people, as the WDCS and NRDC have thought it appropriate to do.

2 Comments

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  2. Pete Bouquet says:

    The Greenpeace position is indeed peculiar. But as a Greenpeace ship´s Captain and as an individual who together with Jon Castle (another member of the original crew of the Rainbow Warrior) sailed into Diego Garcia as a protest I find it that for sure – but also I find it incomprehensible, bizarre and baffling!

    Incomprehensible. I have counted over 50 Greenpeace associated names on the Marine Education Trust petition. There is a great deal of interest and concern about the Chagos situation (in general) at the grass roots level within Greenpeace and has it has been discussed and followed internally for a number of years. It is not just discussion
    either. Individuals within Greenpeace have raised money for one of us to go and meet Olivier Bancoult at the WSF in India in 2004; raised and donated over 1000 pounds for the Chagossians (in an evening fund raiser on one of the ships) at the time of the High Court hearing in Nov. 2005; raised and donated money directly to Mauritius for air fares at the time of the Law Lords hearing; supported my own voyage to Chagos in 2008 financially and practically.

    Bizarre. As an organisation with a long and respectable tradition of opposition to military activity and to nuclear weapons and a commitment to disarmament, we now seem happy to accept a military base known to service nuclear submarines and bomber planes engaged in the killing of civilians – all for the sake of the inadequate MPA as proposed by CEN.

    Baffling. The only Greenpeace public statement that I have seen is contained on this blog on the uk website:
    http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/oceans/help-protect-chagos-20100202

    Supporters of the Chagossians and the fourth MPA option as proposed by the MET should write to GP UK and ask them about this because I can´t help – I´m as mystified as everyone else.

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