Socio-economic considerations of establishing a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Archipelago

The British Ecological Society recently submitted a response to a Foreign and Commonwealth Office consultation document supporting the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago. In producing the response to the consultation, the BES recognised that there may be some conflict between conservation objectives and the potential resettlement of the islands, by Chagossians who were removed from the islands in the 1960s to allow the US to establish a military base.

In February 2010 the report of a workshop was released, which considered the socio-economic issues relating to the establishment of an MPA in the Chagos Archipelago. The workshop was held on 7th January at Royal Holloway, University of London, and follows on from a scientific workshop on the same topic at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton in August 2009. Participants were invited to the workshop on the basis of their involvement or interests in Chagos, including representatives from the Chagossian Social Committee in the UK, Chagos Refugees Group Mauritius, and UK Chagos Support Association. All participants agreed that establishing an MPA recognises the importance and value of the Chagos Archipelago and is an important opportunity to provide long-term protection. The chair of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All Party Parliamentary Group explained that the number of Chagossians wishing to return is small and hence there should not be a conflict with marine conservation.

However it was emphasised that the MPA proposal must not be used in such a way that detracts from the rights of the Chagossians. Participants agreed that the process must be done in such a way that allows the consideration of future issues with respect to resettlement or changes in jurisdiction. Some proposed the establishment of an MPA that makes provision for sustainable utilisation of natural resources if Chagossians resettle some of the islands. Many participants also voiced the opinion that representatives of Chagos and Mauritius should be closely involved in the MPA discussions, and were concerned that the initial exclusion of these groups may have already undermined the process. Since establishing a no-take MPA will require enforcement, this would certainly require involvement of Chagossians and Mauritians in MPA planning. Discussions in the workshop also raised the issue that economic analysis had been based on the current situation and did not take account of the costs of benefits of potential Chagossian resettlement or change of sovereignty.

Overall, the conclusion of the workshop was that the establishment of an MPA in the Chagos Archipelago should be done in such a way that involves all stakeholders in order to create a robust conservation area that can withstand future challenges.