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The Provisional Peoples' Democratic Republic of Diego Garcia
(The Web Site Providing the World With Its Diego Garcia Fix Since August 20, 1998)

The PPDRDG Thanks Everyone who Helped

Those of you who have read this website over the years know of my love for the natural beauty and environment of Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos Archipelago. You may not know it, but Diego Garcia is the largest continuous atoll in the world, and the Chagos Archipelago is the 2nd largest living reef anywhere (after the Great Barrier Reef).  Ecologically, it is critical to the health of the Indian Ocean, and a key bell-weather for detecting marine environmental problems and in determining if climate change is actually happening and if it is, to what extent.  Those of us who spent time out there remember the unpolluted waters, the unspoiled reefs, the clean air, and the abundant birds, wildlife and sea life.  These are the classic signs of a healthy environment!

Because of its remoteness, lack of any population trying to make a living off the natural resources of the archipelago, the wise environmental regulation by the Brits and the DoD, and the care taken by the American and British Sailors, Marines, Airmen, contractors and Merchant Marines over the last 40 years, the Chagos Archipelago is the most pristine marine environment in the Indian Ocean, if not the world.

On November 10, 2009 the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, announced that the UK Government was seeking comments on a proposal to preserve the Chagos that way forever and for all mankind by creating the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA).

He went on to say, "I strongly encourage you to participate in this consultation."  By that he meant the whole world could comment, and that included veterans of Diego Garcia!  After all, there are over 100,000 of us, and we sacrificed a big portion of our lives out there defending the free world, and it's was only right that many of us spent a few moments to help protect the place that meant so much to us once upon a time!

In the end, over 275,000 people world-wide sent in comments and signed petitions, with 90% favoring the creation of the MPA (I mean, what in the world were the other 10% thinking?), and on April 1, 2010, the Foreign Minister announced that the UK would establish the MPA.  Here's the news release:  And here is the full 30-page report:

O.K.  So the difficult political decision has been made.
Now What?

Like most of my readers, I spent a lifetime on Diego Garcia one year, and therefore feel uniquely qualified to make random pronunciations about DG and all things around or about it.  Plus I've been running a website about the darn place for more than a decade, so I'm doubly qualified.  So, here's what I think about:
Below is some other information that you may find useful when discussing the MPA.  If you can think of any other Big Question that needs an answer, please don't hesitate to ask me to include your Question and find a reasonable answer!  Just drop me an email...

FAQs About the Chagos Protected Area

Here is a set of Q&As compiled by scientists and other people intimately involved with the MPA and the science of the Chagos:   The Coral Cay Conservation website keeps up on the latest Q&A issues as well.  You can also listen to Professor Charles Sheppard explain the MPA - a really thorough discussion.  And don't forget the Chagos Environment Network's website for all the latest news. 

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Who has jurisdiction over Chagos? Where does the MPA fit in?

     The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Despite what you may read in the blogs, the US does not rule Diego Garcia and the Chagos!

     The French settled Diego Garcia in 1793 and administered it from its colony of Mauritius.  The British "captured" it by invading and conquering Mauritius in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars, and France ceded it to the England at the Treaty of Paris in 1814.  The British administered the Chagos archipelago originally as part of a colony containing Mauritius and the Seychelles (which became its own colony in 1902)

     In 1965,  Britain paid the self-governing colony of Mauritius £3 million for the archipelago and established the British Indian Ocean Territory, administered by the Commissioner of Mauritius.  In 1966, the UK and US executed an "exchange of notes" making the islands available to both countries for defense purposes through 2016 with a 20 year option through 2036.  When Mauritius became independent in 1968, Britain made verbal statements (and continues to do so) that it would cede the BIOT to Mauritius when the archipelago is no longer needed for defense purposes.  Also in 1968, Britain appointed the Commissioner of the Seychelles as the Commissioner for the BIOT, and transfered all administration to the Seychelles.  When the Seychelles became independent in 1972, the Commissioner was appointed from within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO - the British equivalent of the US State Department) in London. 

     Occasionally there is some question as to when the BIOT will be transfered to Mauritius.  The US has consistently (since 2001 at least) stated that the base at Diego Garcia is critical to national defense.  So it currently appears that Diego Garcia, if not the entire BIOT, will remain British through 2036, if not longer.

   Administratively, the BIOT is governed by a single individual, the Commissioner.   Each year (sometimes biannually) the US State Department and Department of Defense (DoD) representatives meet with the representatives of the UK 's FCO and Ministry of Defence (MOD) in a series of meetings called The Pol/Mil Talks (standing for Political and Military).  During these talks the two sides propose and discuss the future plans for the BIOT and Diego Garcia in particular.   Serious issues and those regarding major infrastructure construction projects, are formalized with an "Exchange of Letters" between the two governments.

      Ultimately, the BIOT is a British Overseas Territory without a resident citizenry, and its law is based upon English Common Law, specifically (found in Section 3 of the Courts Ordinance promulgated by the Commissioner) "...the law of the Territory shall be the law of England as from time to time in force in England and the rules of equity as from time to time applied in England".  Be that as it may, here's where the laws for the BIOT come from

1.  Orders in Council issued by the Queen made under the Royal Prerogative on the advice of a Secretary of State, usually the Foreign Secretary.  These form the "Constitution" of the B.I.O.T.

2.  UK Statutes (i.e., made by Parliament) expressly extended to the Territory.

3.  UK Statutory Instruments (made by permission of Parliament) expressly extended to or applying to the Territory.

4.  Local Ordinances (Statutes) made by the B.I.O.T. Commissioner (in FCO in London) under powers granted to him by various Orders in Council (i.e., from the Queen)

5.  Local Statutory Instruments (Regulations, Rules, Proclamations, Notices, etc.) made by the British Representative on Diego Garcia (the "Brit Rep")

        The law establishing the MPA falls into #2.

How big is the Chagos Protected Area?

  • The CPA encompasses the 200-mile fisheries and management zone, which was established in 1991.  The zone extends 200 nautical miles (371 km)  from the low water line of each and every island in the Chagos.
  • In total, it is about 640,000 sq km in area (248,000 square miles), which is bigger than Washington, Oregon and Idaho put together - that's almost as big as Texas!
  • As big as that may seem, it covers just 4/10ths of one percent of the world's ocean area, and only 8/10ths of one percent of the surface of the Indian Ocean.
  • Even so, it contains 16% of the world’s fully protected coral reefs and 40% of the world’s effectively protected marine areas.
  • It doubles the amount of no-take (commercial fishing banned) marine protected area in the world. 
  • It is the biggest Marine Reserve in the world (at the moment).

Map of the
                        Chagos Marine Reserve or Protected Area.

Above:  Map of the Chagos Protected Area.

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I've heard that the US base on Diego Garcia is exempt.
What's up with that?

Those of you who have read my website, or know me personally, know that my first and foremost concern is for the defense of the United States and our democratic republic.  Diego Garcia is essential to that defense, and therefore anything that would limit our military use of Diego Garcia would not receive my support.  But the British Government does recognize DG's critical place in the defense of liberty and freedom.  Here is what the FCO proposal had to say about the joint American and British use of Diego Garcia as a major base in the defense of freedom (see page 12 of the Consultation Document): 

"Neither we nor the US would want the creation of a marine protected area to have any impact on the operational capability of the base on Diego Garcia.  For this reason, it may be necessary to consider the exclusion of Diego Garcia and its 3 mile territorial waters from any marine protected area... The existing environmental protection on Diego Garcia which includes a large Ramsar site and several Strict Nature Reserves and other conservation regulations such as those that affect turtles will not be affected by this exclusion."

It therefore appears that the MPA will not necessarily include the Diego Garcia Atoll and its territorial waters (out to 3 nautical miles - about 5.6 kilometers), and instead may leave that area to be regulated separately.  This is because strict adherence to the provisions of an MPA could impact the national defense strategies of both the US and UK.  Some facts to consider before you make up your mind about including Diego Garcia:

  • Diego Garcia atoll contains only 1% of the reefs covered by the MPA, and less than 1/10th of 1% of the entire area of the MPA.  Its exclusion would not be critical to the MPA as a whole, provided the current level of environmental protection continues on and around Diego Garcia (see following paragraphs).  
  • Diego Garcia is already well served separately by four Strict Nature Reserves and a Ramsar site occupying over half the atoll, all of which are off limits to people and which are extraordinarily rich in reef and bird life. 
  • There have already been calls to NOT protect the Chagos because of the presence of the military base in Diego Garcia.  This makes as much sense as terminating the Everglades National Park because of the adjacent Homestead Air Base, or the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington State because of the proximity of numerous Navy, Air Force and Army bases.
  • Here's what the Diego Garcia Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan of September 2005 says regarding US and UK responsibilities: 
    • "The [U.S.] Navy is required to provide plans and programs to ensure proper protection, enhancement, and management of applicable natural resources and any biological species declared protected, threatened or endangered by either the United States (U.S.) or the United Kingdom (U.K.) ... complying with natural resources protection laws, and conserving and managing natural resources follow OPNAVINST 5090.1B, Environmental and Natural Resources Program Manual Chapter 22.
    • "....The full governmental and civilian judicial authority, including that relating to natural resources conservation and environmental protection, rests with the British Representative (BRITREP), a Senior Royal Navy Commander. The U.K., through the BRITREP, generally monitors environmental matters. Larger environmental concerns are referred to the annual U.S.-U.K. Political Military (Pol-Mil) Talks for resolution."
    • For the complete lists of applicable US and UK environmental law applying to Diego Garcia and its waters, see:

Some literature refers to the water of Chagos as "Pristine".  Is it really?

The word implies an aquatic wilderness, uncorrupted by the intrusions of man, with unspoiled beaches lapped by unpolluted waves.  This essentially describes the waters surrounding the Outer Islands of the Chagos.  Although beaches are seen contaminated with the plastic flotsam and jetsom that plagues even the world's most remote shores, the water quality is beyond pristine.  Tested many times by scientific expeditions for industrial pollutants and heavy metals, none have been found - not even one part per trillion.

Diego Garcia and its territorial waters (making up 1/10th of one percent of the Chagos Protected Area), with its military complex and as many as 20 large cargo ships anchored in the lagoon at any given time, is possibly the cleanest inhabited atoll in the world because of strict environmental and anti-pollution laws and practices by both the UK and US.  The ships in the lagoon are not allowed to discharge anything into the water, and the sewage treatment system on the base includes can conduct tertiary treatment and disinfection (although secondary is sufficient for household wastes).  That effluent that is discharged into the ocean and meets US Environmental Protection Agency standards for discharge into natural water sources.  In the case of Diego Garcia, it is discharged far out to sea and the dilution is immediate and complete, so much so that water samples taken at the outfall (the spewing end of the pipe) do not reveal waste of any kind.

Recently, some claims have been made that the lagoon is without a doubt contaminated by radioactive pollutants.  These charges have been made because US and UK nuclear powered submarines and ships routinely visit the island and since there have been radiation leaks elsewhere in the world over the last half-century by similar vessels, the lagoon at Diego Garcia must be polluted, and that because there is no international oversight in place on Diego Garcia, the US Navy and UK would automatically cover up any incident that may have occurred.  Although I do not personally believe there has ever been a nuclear incident in the Chagos, the US and UK should conduct accepted tests to confirm the matter one way or the other.

Underwater the situation is more complex, as documented in about 200 scientific, peer reviewed papers. 

  • The most visible sign of an "unpristine" situation is to be found on the reefs, but it is changing rapidly for the better.  Chagos suffered from the world-wide tropical mass coral "bleaching event" of 1998 when 90% of the corals in the Chagos died from unnaturally high water temperatures during an El Niño year.  However the Chagos reef system has been shown to be robust and has largely recovered in all  ecological senses, although it is not a "mature" reef again quite yet.
  • Reef fish populations are exceptionally rich, and coral and soft coral cover is high.  
  • In the waters, a number of pelagic (ocean-going) species that have been subject to legal and illegal fishing, such as tuna and sharks, have been relatively well protected in the MPA since commercial fishing was officially permitted two decades ago.  Beginning in October 2010, commercial fishing was outlawed in the BIOT.  Studies undertaken during 2010 show that the Chagos had more than 10 times the biomass of fish as comparable areas in the Indian Ocean and Pacific, clearly showing both how important the Chagos reserve is and how damaged by overfishing most other areas of the ocean are.  Once again, the value of Chagos as a scientific reference site is critical to determining baselines where the original levels of abundance and diversity can be reasonably estimated - "scientific reference site" is (as I say elsewhere and often) the true value of the Chagos to the world.
  • Sea cucumbers have had their populations depleted by poaching in the northern islands.  The protected area will hopefully help them restore their numbers back to more natural levels.
You can read the literature itself on this issue.  Google up "Ecology of the Chagos Archipelago" and start buying and reading the studies that have been done!  Unfortunately, scientists have to eat too, so their papers are published in journals that charge you to read them on-line, or to subscibe.  If you are near a good University Library, they likely have these journals in the archives, so go there and ask what you need to do to see them!

Are Invasive Species a Problem?

There are no invasive species in the waters of the Chagos.

On land, the story is not the same.  Although there are several introduced animal and bird species of note, like the chicken, cattle egret, and those cute little red birds (actually the male of the Madagascar Fody),  two common, world-traveling species are serious pests - rats and coconut.  Yes, coconuts.

Although coconut is found everywhere in the tropics, on "pristine" islands it is found in balance with the rest of the vegetation.  In the Chagos, the native vegetation (which originally was dominated by a hardwood forest) was cleared from most major islands to establish the coconut plantations beginning in the 1790s.  Rats were inadvertently introduced on many islands and were already noted as a nuisance by the time the French began planting coconuts.  Together these two species served to drastically affect the vast seabird colonies - rats as predators of eggs and chicks, and coconut because the plantation workers had to eat, and they considered seabird colonies a major food source (as long as they lasted).

On those islands that were too small to be economically converted to plantations there are significant groves of native trees, and they are often noisy with seabirds.  In contrast, the previously inhabited islands are virtually silent because of the introduced predators, and are still choked by an continually renewing, impenetrable understory of young coconut that makes it difficult for the native hardwood forests to re-establish themselves.

Of course the invasive predator at the top of every food chain is man, and his absence from the Outer Islands, and half of Diego Garcia (off-limits by custom since the arrival of the SEABEES in 1971, and under penalty of law by BIOT Ordinance No. 6 of 1994) have permitted terrestrial nature to "take its course".  Fifty years ago, the typical inhabited island was a beautiful park-like setting of coconut palms planted in endless rows 10 meters apart, with a cleared understory of grass and coconut fronds.  Even a cursory look at Google Earth shows those mature plantings are still there, choked out below by the juvenile understory.  Below is a photo of Isle du Coin (Corner Island) which was the main populated place in Peros Bahnos Atoll, on the Northwest edge of the Chagos Archipelago.  Note the endless rows of coconuts - 38 years after the island was abandoned and depopulated.  The yellow line is 450 meters long.

                        Plantation, Ile du Coin, Peros Banhos Atoll,
                        Chagos Protected Area

First it was the arrival of man in the Chagos that changed the terrestrial ecology completely, then his departure allowed a new dynamic, still flawed by the invasive pests he introduced.

Even so, the absence of man (or in the case of Diego Garcia, his exclusion from "off-limits" areas) has benefited several indigenous species.

  • As mentioned above, the seabirds are flourishing.  For example, on Diego Garcia, a rookery of Red Footed Boobies now numbers over 10,000 birds - there were zero (none, zip, zilch, nada) 20 years ago.
  • A signature terrestrial species, the Coconut Crab, has recovered from near extinction to become abundant everywhere - in fact the density on Diego Garcia (where they are fully protected) is the highest of any island studies in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. 
  • Green and Hawksbill turtles are recovering from heavy past exploitation, with twice as many (600) nesting from each species as compared to the numbers nesting in 1970.
  • The Chagos Protected Area is designed to extend the protection provided by an absence of extractive activities to other species in the archipelago, such as the Sea-Cucumber and various species of shark.   
To conclude this discussion, it is irrefutable that from an ecological point of view, human re-settlement of the archipelago would re-introduce a third dangerous invasive species.

Aren't sea level rise and Al Gore's hurricanes
going to submerge the islands?

     A decade ago, consultants studying the potential for re-settlement concluded that sea level rise would be a serious problem in the Chagos (and of course the rest of the world).  With high points just a few meters above sea level now (just 22 feet on Diego Garcia), it seems like it wouldn't take much to drown the islands completely.   There has been considerable shoreline erosion noted recently, and measured sea level rise from a short time series is approximately 8 mm per year (3/10ths of an inch) or more, which matches much longer records from the Maldives.  

     However, the dynamics of the coral islands are complex.  How do coral islands rise above sea level at all?  Will the islands of the Chagos rise if and when sea level does, or will they disappear?  There are so many questions that need to be answered, and an unspoiled wilderness like the Chagos can provide all those answers!  Some questions include, is it sea level that is rising in the central Indian Ocean, or is a sea bed drop responsible for the observations?  When it comes to erosion, is it caused by increasing storms, or storms that come from a different direction than usual?  Either could be a sign of climate change, but just as likely, it could be a never-before-noted phenomena.  The history of weather observations in the Chagos only goes back to World War II, and it is only in last decade that measurements of a single phenomena over time have been made.

For example, compare these photographs, taken on the lagoon side of the eastern arm of the Diego Garcia atoll within the last five years.  These should raise some very serious concerns.  How extensive is the erosion along that shore?  How long has it been going on?  Few people are allowed in the nature preserves these days, and none were allowed there in the 1980s, so who has verifyable data regarding this phenomena?  Some have said this erosion is the result of climate change, which has caused a shift in storm tracks and the resulting wash ashore.  Others note that there has been extensive construction in the NW corner of the lagoon and the channels to the open sea have been dredged over the decades, and the resulting shift in currents is man-caused.  So, is this erosion the result of CO2 and melting ice, or bulldozers and dredges right there on the island?

Exposed Roots
                        from erosion, Diego Garcia 2006

The above photo was taken between the East Point Plantation HQ and the R&R Center by Eli Carling in 2006.  It shows exposed roots of a Takamaka Tree caused by erosion of the coral sand beach.  The photo was taken a low tide as can be seen by the algae growing on the root system (which would be underwater at high tide).

The photo below was taken on the lagoon beach on the east arm of the atoll north of the Plantation in 2009 by Charles Sheppard.  This was a very old tree, with a diameter at breast height of about 2 meters (9 feet) and has been dead for a very long time.   Note the toppled tree in the distance.  Were these trees  killed where they lie by beach erosion and immersion of the roots in salt water?  Or were they blown ashore by a storm?  If by a storm, where did they come from and how did they get inside the lagoon at Diego Garcia?  And how did this one wind up standing up?

Trees killed by erosion? Diego
                      Garcia, 2009

No matter what you think about climate change or the evils of dredging, the above photos graphically illustrate that something is happening, and we better determine what it is.  Whether it is climate change or man-made, cyclical or permanent, the Chagos is the ideal place to study all these questions through rigorous scientific field work.  This is the true value of the MPA - its untrammeled nature can serve as the standard against which all such questions can be judged.

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Well, I believe the islands are going to sink, and soon.
Why should we save them?

The fact is that we are not trying to save the islands, but the marine environment that surrounds them.  The islands themselves are important as measurements against the changes occurring in the waters around them.  However, if the sea level was to rise 20 feet suddenly and the islands were to submerge, the reefs and surround waters would still hold the value to science and the world that they currently hold!  So, strange as it might seem, we really don't care much about the terrestrial Chagos.

So why don't we let the islanders go back and re-settle the islands then?

That's a good question, and relies on some follow-up questions.  And here they are:

Isn't the Protected Area just a ruse to prevent resettlement by the former inhabitants?

     That's what some US State Department weenie wrote quoting a British FCO pogue according to wiki-leaks in 2010.  But the real answer is "No".  The population was removed about 40 years ago - no conservation justification was needed then.  This conservation initiative was declared in April 2010.  If or when people return, the area will be in best possible condition.  The issue of resettlement of the archipelago is a separate legal issue from establishment and maintenance of the MPA.  Should resettlement ever be agreed, it has repeatedly been stated that the provisions of the MPA can be modified as necessary.  Of course I personally believe that the marine rules and laws established by the MPA should NOT be modified to accomodate a human population - if we did, we would sacrifice the ideal reef/oceanic/fisheries/climate "control" in the world!

     In the meanwhile, the area will be maintained in best possible condition for any possible future use. There should be no reason to oppose conservation interventions in Chagos just because other political agendas are not met by this badly needed conservation measure.  (Note from the webmaster.  Please see my own comments on the islanders below.)

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What infrastructure is there, and how many people could return without causing damage,
if re-settlement were to take place?

  • The infrastructure from the "Plantation Period" on any of the islands was primitive indeed, and can now justifiably be called "ruins".
  • There never was what we would call distributed utilities.  For example, when the SEABEEs came ashore in 1971, there was no electricity except at the MET Station, and rain water collected from roofs in cisterns was the only drinking water source, and there were walk-in pits dug into the water table for watering the domestic animals.  The workers and their families lived in shacks.
  • Clearly, any resettlement effort would require construction of everything needed for the population.
    • Docks, fuel storage, agricultural facilities, airfields, electrical production and distribution, fresh water production (wells, collection, de-salination, etc.) and distribution, sewage collection, treatment and discharge, etc.  The list can be virtually endless, depending ont he standard of living provided for the settlers.
    • To what standard would the housing be built?  One-room shacks with thatched roofs as existed in the Plantation Period?  Apartment complexes?  Townhouses in the London style?  Single family ranch-style homes with a pool in each back yard?
    • As a follow up, if the electrical infrastructure can provide a 20 amp service for each home, and the home-owner (or would they rent from the "government?") wanted to put in an air-conditioner, would a 50 amp service be permitted?  In other words, would the settlers be forever restricted from improving their lives vis-a-vis infrastructure and employment, or will they be free to exploit the environment to better their lives?
  • The question of "how many" must be addressed as well, for it will determine the cost, size and future modification of the infrastructure.  What will happen when infrastructure designed for 2,500 people must provide for increases due to population growth?  Mauritius has a historical annual population growth (entirely due to births exceeding deaths) of 1% per year for the last 50 years.  If that holds true in a re-settled Chagos, in 10 years there would be 2,750 residents.  In 50 years, 4,100.  Although 4,100 doesn't sound like very many people, remember, they will have to make their livelihoods and feed themselves from just 1,300 hectares (about 3,000 acres) of dry land that has been in continuous production for half a century.  What happens then?
  • During the Plantation Period, the island reasonably sheltered a population of about 1,000 with supplemental rations provided.  The islands relied on continuous emigration to keep the population stable.  There is no evidence that this emigration was voluntary - basically, if you weren't an employee or child-dependent younger than 14 years old, you were not paid, nor fed from Company resources, and you left.  Will there be similar draconian policies in place for the re-settlers?

But isn’t it true that 'conservation with people' is better than conservation without people?

  • This question turns entirely on the peoples' needs within the protected area.  If they need something from the MPA for existence, they will do anything to obtain it, regardless of what the world's 'needs' from the MPA may be.  Will the local people just look at needed food or other resources through a fence, or will they visit it on foot or in a canoe?  Do they participate in regulated hunting and fishing, or do they need to extract food from the archipelago with seasonal farming or subsistence hunter/gatherer activities?  Do they need it for fiscal reasons - is it the source of their disposable income?  Do they need the lands and waters as  tourist attractions?  To what extent do those visitors demand motorized access, or trophy hunting and fishing? 
  • The Chagos has been uninhabited for 40 years.  NONE of these questions has been seriously addressed, let alone resolved, regarding the creation of a new "native" population.  Neither has the ecology of the Chagos been desribed clearly enough to determine to what level any or all of those activies could be accommodated without loosing the value of the Chagos as a "Wilderness".
  • An uninhabited area will remain less damaged by people, than one containing people who rely on the environment for the necessities of life.   So, while National Parks and Wilderness Areas suffer some degredation by visitors - even those who practice the 'take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints' - they are not impacted by a resident population constantly in need of exploiting the environment.
  • Of course, if people are already living in or adjacent to the protected area, ignoring the needs of those residents certainly leads to failure of the reservation through poaching, intentional damages, illegal mineral exploration and extraction, etc.  One need only look at the history of sub-Saharan African parks, or set-asides in the Amazon basin to see this clearly.
  • But there is NO resident population in the Chagos at this time.  Do we really want one?  The fact is that the youngest former employees of the Plantations are now in their mid-fifties.  Many are in their old age.  The London Times estimates there are only 500 people alive today who lived in the Chagos before the clearances.  Few, if any of them, have had the opportunity to live a life that would prepare them for subsistence living on minimally supplied micro-islands, let alone prepare them educationally or by inclination to preserve an environment (as compared to exploiting it).  The fact that it was the US and UK that initiated the events that resulted in this sad state of affairs cannot be used as a reason to re-populate the islands and turn over the conservation of the Protected Area to people completely unprepared to see to it.
  • There certainly are political and moral reasons to object to this situation, which has left the Chagos uninhabited and its former inhabitants in need, but it is utter nonsense to suggest the islanders must return before the MPA will be effective. and it is doubtful in the extreme that if allowed to return, the islanders would be able to care for the MPA in a meaningful way.

I've read that Mauritius should have a major role
in setting up and managing the MPA.
Is anything about the MPA binding upon the Mauritian government?

  • There is no international law or agreement requiring them to recognize or maintain the MPA. 
  • The official Mauritian government response to the public solicitation was to not create the MPA. 
  • On December 20, 2010, Mauritius formally challenged the creation of the MPA under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  As of April 2011, the case was still in dispute.  Click here for a good PDF file explaining the dispute to date.
  • There can be no doubt that if the Territory is ceded to Mauritius, which shows no sign of changing its basic political and environmental policies, they will rapidly populate it with non-Chagossians and proceed to extract every resource until the archipelago resembles the exploited reefs and seas around Mauritius itself.

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Who will Patrol the MPA?  How much will it cost?

Somebody's got to patrol the MPA and chase off the poachers and commercial fishing fleets.  In the 1980s, every USN P-3 that launched from DG took a swing through the rest of the Chagos, and reported back any suspicious activities.  Then, once a month the Brit Marines would load up on one of MSPRON 2's freighters and sail off to check on the islands and the yachties who hang out at Salomon Atoll. 

None of that happens anymore.   Instead, the UK decided in 1992 to start making money off the B.I.O.T. by selling commercial fishing licenses to foreign fleets.  As can be seen from the chart below, the UK was making on average £1,345,175 per year in license fees.  At any rate, the US Navy doesn't participate in crass commercialization, and so no longer patrols the Chagos on behalf of the B.I.O.T.

So, beginning in 1994, the Brits had to start patrolling their own territory, and they also started publishing the costs of operating the B.I.O.T. in a yearly ordinance.  Here's what Fisheries and the Patrol Vessel cost through the years (through 2009):  £ 24,213,142.   (many thanks to Richard Dunne for the numbers below)

            Appropriated             Actually              Fisheries                  Profit or
Year    Expenditures (
£)       Spent (£)            Revenue (£)             Loss (£)

1992         118,000                  10,387                      41,549               31,162
1993         115,000                210,197                2,007,735          1,797,538
1994      1,701,000                756,543                2,612,822          1,856,279
1995      1,866,000                920,682                1,405,729             485,047
1996      1,555,000             1,036,064                2,096,064          1,060,000
1997      1,640,000             1,372,632                1,573,094             200,462
1998      1,167,000             1,104,848                2,271,595          1,166,747
1999      1,712,000             1,709,738                   744,042           (965,696)
2000      1,801,000             1,559,678                1,108,072           (451,606)
2001      1,735,000             1,438,486                    822,497          (615,989)
2002      1,790,945             1,624,466                    724,740          (899,726)
2003      1,885,350             1,946,719                    564,818       (1,381,901)
2004      2,132,188             1,889,662                    670,838       (1,218,824)
2005      2,097,000             1,885,184                    738,848       (1,146,336)
2006      2,204,000             1,667,952                    885,244          (781,800)
2007         492,000             1,632,952                 1,160,425          (472,527)
2008      1,809,000             1,789,875                    757,781       (1,032,094)
2009      2,250,000             1,657,985                    778,208          (879.777)

While not a huge amount of money, it cost the UK £3,249,041 more operate the fisheries patrol and associated administration costs as it gathered in commercial license fees.  Plus, the coverage isn't continuous 365/year.  The Brits contracted for an ocean-going tug, the PACIFIC MARLIN, to spend six months a year at sea, most of it during tuna migration from January - March or so, making sure only paying customers are allowed to commercially fish the Chagos. 

Now that there's an MPA, there won't be a  couple million dollars in fees pouring in to the BIOT coffers, and we can anticipate something new will be set up.  [NEWS AS OF APRIL 2011:   From the Chagos Environmental Network's "First Anniversary" newsletter:  "To help make up for the loss of revenue from tuna licences, the Blue Marine Foundation has raised a substantial contribution from the Bertarelli Foundation to support the indispensible enforcement work .  All those concerned with Chagos conservation would like to thank the Bertarelli Foundation for this very generous and important support."]

Even with the new money from Bertarelli, personally I expect the Brits to issue more speeding tickets and raise the price of beer at the Brit Club on Diego Garcia to make up for the lost revenue!  One thing we know at this point is that the BIOT intends to keep the PACIFIC MARLIN in the islands for patrol.  No offense to the contractor MRAG (who operates the PM) or to the Swire Group crews involved, but they haven't been able to effectively stop poaching for the 15 years so I'm wondering how effective they will be now.  Frankly, no ship with a cruise speed of eight knots can effectively patrol an area the size of Texas unassisted.

I happen to have a great deal of experience in ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) from the Drug Wars to the GOWT, and essentially the campaign against illegal fishing and other 'extractive' poaching will be an ISR mission, followed up by police action on scene.  This will require three things:  A suitable suite of equipment, adequate personnel numbers and skill sets, and suspicious minds.

Let's take the mind-set first.  Naturally, we would expect the Surveillance and Maritime Police (SMP - a term I just made up) team to go where the action is at predictable times of the year.  For example, we should expect the tuna fleet to hover around during the migration season and spend a lot of resources monitoring their location and activities.  But the in-shore fishery (from dories off of mother ships) is year round, as is sea-cucumber poaching.  A clever program to surveil those activities unpredictably will also keep an eye on unexpected activities, and of course our dear friends, the yachties in Salomon and Peros Bahnos Atolls.

The use of an aircraft is essential to such unpredictability.  Once sighted by aircraft, a fast-enough patrol boat must be available to apprehend miscreants, and once arrested, a suitably sized tug is necessary to tow a seized poaching vessel.  Therefore, the ideal combination of equipment is a "mother ship" capable of sustained operations at sea, a fast patrol boat supported from the mother ship, and an amphibian aircraft capable of carrying about a ton of surveillance gear and people and able to land in protected waters to investigate suspicious small boats and shore based activities.  Satellite imagery and radio intercepts would be helpful, but the "enemy" of the Chagos MPA will prove to be capable and quiet, and we need to rely on eyeballing of real territory by real people.

Without going too deep into minutia, here's my recommendation for this equipment set:  The PACIFIC MARLIN for the mother ship and a 30-meter patrol boat capable of fielding heavy machine guns.  Don't laugh, Somali pirates have already been reported to make approaches to the Maldives, just 400 miles north of the Chagos.  As for aircraft, there is only one manufacturer of a large amphibian left in the whole world (Bombardier).  However, there are much less expensive alternatives that would prove suitable to the Chagos, and I recommend the Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian.

Here are some photos of what we need:

                      Pacific Marlin, Mother Ship for Patrolling the
                      Chagos Archipelago - based at Diego Garcia

A typical patrol boat
                      suitable for the Chagos Protected Area - based at
                      Diego Garcia

An ideal patrol aircraft for
                      the Chagos Protected Area - based in Diego Garcia

The Scientific Research Station and Monitoring Sites
In progress... This is the key to understanding the Chagos!!!

But there's no Foundation yet which has offered to fund this sort operation.  Then again, the MPA has only been in operation for a year!  So, to show some of the things that need to be monitored, and to demonstrate the vast areas yet to be explored, here's the blurb on "science" from the Chagos Environmental Network's April 2011 "First Anniversary of the BIOT MPA" newsletter:

     "A survey of the Chagos islands was recently undertaken by scientists from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and by ornithologists.  They are developing a systematic method of assisting natural restoration from coconut monoculture to native hardwood trees, and are prioritising islands of the archipelago on which to enhance conservation efforts.  The return of native vegetation is occurring naturally, but extremely slowly.  

     "Because of conservation measures and a very effective local conservation policy on Diego Garcia, the red-footed booby colony which prefers natural vegetation has already expanded to become the Indian Ocean’s largest colony.  Also on Diego Garcia, studies on coconut crabs have shown that the Chagos has the densest population of this species in the world (up to 600 per hectare, many of them huge in size).  This is a species which is widely exploited and therefore much rarer on other less-protected islands.  [The photo here depicts the capture of a rat by a gravid female adult coconut crab. (photo: Charles and Anne Sheppard)] .

     "Underwater, the key components for reef building - the corals - have bounced back rapidly following the ocean-wide mortality of 1998, which was caused by ocean warming. Today, the corals appear to be nearly fully recovered and are in an ecologically healthy state.  Research has shown that 60-75% of reefs in the Indian Ocean today are either dead or under threat, and Chagos contains now fully half of all reefs in the Indian Ocean that remain in good condition.
     "Samples to detect chemicals of global concern have been taken and show that Chagos remains amongst the least chemically contaminated marine environments in the world.  (Even the presence of the military base in Diego Garcia, close to the Chagos Marine Reserve, where over 100 potential contaminants are routinely searched for, does not affect this). Studies are underway to evaluate climate change impacts, monitor temperature change impacts on the reefs and to look at evidence of past sea levels.  This research will help to fill a huge gap in the global monitoring networks.  A programme of DNA analyses of key marine species is in the process of clarifying genetic relationships between the Chagos ecosystem and other parts of the Indian Ocean, with results so far showing that clear linkages exist between Chagos and the increasingly damaged and overexploited reefs of the western Indian Ocean.
     "Scientific collaborations in the last few years have allowed work in Chagos to be done by about 30 scientists from numerous institutions worldwide.  A new scientific advisory group is currently being formed to guide future management and it is hoped that the first meeting of this group will take place in early 2011.  This will establish a shared and rigorous scientific agenda for monitoring and scientific discovery in the reserve.
     "Only 3% of Chagos has been fully explored, making it a place where groundbreaking scientific discoveries are still being made.  The last expedition identified an immense area of seagrass, for example, and a large stand of mangroves, neither of which were previously known.  There are 10 endemic species now identified for the Chagos (including the ‘secret mollusc’). The brain coral Ctenella chagius is listed as one of the top 10 species by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) Coral Reefs programme, an initiative that uses the expertise of an  international group of experts as well as scientific literature to identify the top 10 EDGE coral species globally.  A global review identified 86 seamounts and 246 knolls in the Chagos Marine Reserve. As only 2% of the world’s seamounts are under protection, the Chagos is a globally important site."

On May 15, 2011, the Chagos Conservation Trust issued the following on this subject:

British Indian Ocean Territory
Scientific Programme and Facility

The following scientific programme was put forward to the Royal Society Global Environmental Research Committee in 2007/2008 by Professor Charles Sheppard (University of Warwick), Professor Alex Rogers (University of Oxford) and Dr Heather Koldewey (Zoological Society of London) following discussion with scientists engaged on related work and the Royal Society and with the support of the Chagos Conservation Trust.

The Royal Society commented (25 August 2008) 'The Royal Society Global Environmental Research Committee recently considered a proposal by Professor Charles Sheppard from Warwick University for funding a research programme in the Chagos Archipelago. Although we were unable to fund this proposal due to a change in our funding structures, the Committee recognized the very high scientific and environmental values of the Chagos, and supported the urgent need for a comprehensive programme of research.’

Overall objective: To use the Chagos Archipelago as a globally significant site for understanding biodiversity and ecosystem function in the Indian Ocean. The Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory, BIOT) lies in the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean. It is the ocean's most remote group of atolls, and the only one which has been uninhabited for over 35 years. It has
the rare potential to provide an uncontaminated reference site for a wide range of ecological studies and is the one tropical place where global climate change effects can be separated from the effects of pollution, protein extraction or coastal development. It also sits in the middle of one of the world's largest gaps in current global climate monitoring programmes. Four main themes are

(1) Global reference site for biodiversity and ecological analysis. This proposal will establish Chagos as a central reference site for tropical marine studies in the Indian Ocean. These will include studies of reef biodiversity and ecology, including deep-reef habitats and the upper bathyal zone of the atolls. Interest has been expressed by international programmes including Census of Marine Life's (CoML) Coral Reefs Programme (Creef), the US National Coral Reef Institute, and by numerous other institutes and universities.

(2) Long-term, global climate change monitoring for atmospheric gases, sea levels, sea surface and deeper temperatures, using Chagos as a reference site.  The unique undisturbed nature of the archipelago will also provide unrivalled opportunities to study the impacts of climate change on reefs from the molecular to community level.

(3) Evolutionary and biogeographic status studies of Chagos in the Indian Ocean, particularly its putative role as an up-current source for the massive, overexploited 'sinks' of the western Indian Ocean.

(4) Research facilitation through provision of a permanent facility in Diego Garcia atoll to help with scientific projects and storage of equipment. This will respond to the many requests from researchers and institutions for samples, measurements and readings from this location, in order to obtain 'baseline' information against which to compare data from around the world.

(5) Public understanding of science to communicate the ground-breaking, diverse and interdisciplinary science on Indian Ocean coral reefs being carried out in a remote region (that is a UK Overseas Territory).

The booklet 'The Chagos Archipelago: Its Nature and the Future' published by the Chagos Conservation Trust in 2009 included the following passage on the subject of a Permanent Scientific Facility:  "So far scientific monitoring and research have been carried out with official support, including the essential role of the BIOT Patrol Vessel. The present mechanism of expedition-type research visits has served well enough in the past but there is now a need for a small permanent facility which remains for authorized scientific work. Much new science requires equipment which cannot simply be flown out on a temporary basis but needs a non-humid, fixed location."

At the present time increasing the research programme and enforcement might have a higher claim on limited funding than a new facility. It is important that that location is logistically the most convenient, would cost the minimum amount to build and maintain and would do the minimum damage to the environment. All of these factors point to Diego Garcia being the best location.

Return to FAQ List

What About Sport Fishing?

Please note that since 1998 the BIOT government has regulated recreational fishing on and around Diego Garcia, and placed most of the lagoon and outer waters off limits to fishing.  However, unless the proposed MPA includes an exemption for DG's territorial waters, it would ban all recreational fishing by personnel stationed on Diego Garcia.  I believe that the research to date shows such a ban is unnecessary for the environmental health of the Chagos (see Chapter 7 of the BIOT's Conservation Management Plan).

However, you can be sure that there are radical environmentalists and lawyers who want to ban any fishing at all in the entire BIOT, for military personnel, but also for the natives, if they are ever allowed to return.  As you read this, they are no doubt contacting their Members of Parliament and writing in their professional journals urging the ban.  Their argument will be "we don't know enough about the effect, and therefore need to ban it."  Here is what you need to know and do if you would like to preserve responsible sport fishing on our favorite island.

The US and the UK agree to policies affecting the people on DG during bi-annual meetings call the "POL-MIL Talks".  Representatives of the UK's FCO & MoD - including the Brit Rep - and the U.S. State Department and DoD - including the NSF Commander - get together for a week or so in London and hash things out.  In the end they sign "Notes" (now called "letters") which modify the existing agreements

If you want them to talk about recreational fishing, you should write letters to your Commanding Officers, the Secretary of your service, and the Secretary of State.  Otherwise, they won't and you'll get to sit on the beach and wish you had something to do.

Return to FAQ List

What About The People and Politics that Surround the
Resettlement of the Chagos Islands?

Right up front, I tell you that I support the Diego Garcian Society (DGS) and its desire to maintain a physical relationship with the homeland of its members, so the MPA needs to have a provision protecting the rights of the Chagossians to visit and work and subsistence fish it the B.I.O.T., whether or not they are given the right to return to the Chagos (see page 13 of the Consultation Document).  I also support the DGS's desire to allow individuals to resettle on Diego Garcia, but only if the B.I.O.T. remains British.  (Keep reading - hopefully the whys and wherefores will become clear in this section).

Regarding all that...  We must for a moment descend into the darkness of international politics.  There are many permutations of the answer to the question:  "What do the Chagossians Want?"  Since they were granted British citizenship in 2002, the answers given are basically:  Additional compensation and "The Right of Return".

Almost everyone, even the judges who ruled on the various court cases and the government functionaries who have had to refuse to give the islanders anything for decades believe there is a moral imperative to resolve the "additional compensation" issue.

It is the "Right of Return" that is problematic in the extreme.  This demand has been included in essentially every islander claim since Michel Vincatassin filed the first legal action in 1975.

The follow on questions have always been things like "To What?" and "Who Will Pay For It?"  These basically refer to the fact that there is no surviving infrastructure from the Plantation era, and thus whatever the returnees would need would have to be "built from scratch".

No Chagossian has ever asked to return to what was there during the Plantation era.  There were "no phones, no lights, no motorcars, it was primitive as could be" to quote the Gilligan's Island song.  So, in 2000, the UK funded a study to determine if resettlement was feasible.  The preliminary study concluded that there was no physical reason why the outer islands could not be repopulated. The final work in 2002 said resettlement was "not feasible".  There is now some controversy about the conclusions of the study, but I have not found any evidence that anyone doubts that resettlement would be costly.  Not only the building costs, but the sustainment costs as well.

How much of those sustainment costs are offset by local industry is the real question when it comes to accommodating resettlement of the islands.  If the settlers were to be provided with all their necessities of life, as is done on the base at Diego Garcia, then settlers could live "in harmony" with the MPA.  If they need to generate some of their own cash, then the determination of what is sustainable is still to be made.  Eco-tourist hotels and commercial fishing are the two ideas consistently touted for funding the resettlement.  This is to be expected as there are no other known resources to exploit in the Chagos, even thought the Government of Mauritius has claimed the same area as the MPA for oil and gas exploration and extraction.

Further discussion about the potential for resettlement was delayed after 2002 by the continuing court cases filed by Olivier Bancoult, until in March 2008, the UK Chagos Support Association (UKCSA) proposed resettling Peros Banhos Atoll, which is about 125 miles northwest of Diego Garcia.  They established a website ( - now defunct) and posted the proposal which included an airfield, docks, fuel storage facilities, power plants & electrical distribution, agricultural fields (they planned to grow their own food), administration center, eco-tourism high-end hotel, commercial fishing operations, and single-family homes for  2,500 returnees.  This is the "Returning Home" plan, often called the Howell Plan after its primary author.  The main flaws in this Plan were the failure to consider that the entire land mass of Peros Banhos is 13 square kilometers - 3,212 acres (scattered across 32 "micro-islands", the largest of which is only 320 acres and the distance from Mauritius is about 1,200 nautical miles (as with every other plan presented by UKCSA and its adherents, transfer of the islands to Mauritius is central).  Nevertheless, the Plan was pushed hard until it was abandoned as unworkable, although in the Times article linked above, Mr. Howell claimed vindication of his Plan.
The UKCSA's Honorary President is Olivier Bancoult, who is also Chair of the Mauritian-based Chagos Refuge Group (CRG), which also has a UK-based branch.  Bancoult and the CRG, you may remember, are the ones who sued the U.S. in 2001 for $10 Billion, claiming we had practiced genocide on them.  That is typical of the outrageous claims Bancoult and his supporters make all the time.  How does this tie in to the UKCSA?  The Secretary of the UKCSA is Hengride Permal, who is also Chair of the Chagos Island Community Association (CICA), which is also associated with the CRG and stands in opposition to the DGS.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I repeat that I support the limited resettlement goals of the DGS.)  The UKCSA, CRG, and CICA do not - they want to return to the islands en masse - and to choose which islanders will return.  They are so vociferous in their demands that MP Moffatt of Crawley stated in Parliamentary debate on the B.I.O.T. on March 10, 2010, that "When the court cases were under way, many people who had settled [in Crawley] from the islands came to see me to say, 'It doesn't mean that I'll have to go back, does it?' "  In other words, there is a continuum of desire to return - from the desire to be King of the Chagos, to a deep fear of being forced to return.

In Parliament, there is a Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (CI APPG) which is similar to a Congressional Caucus in the U.S.  Jeremy Corbyn, is the Chair and as you can see if you read the entire debate on March 10th, the main proponent of sending the Chagossians back to the Chagos, to make up for taking them away all those decades ago.

As of April 2011, the membership of the APPG consisted of:

Title:  Name - Party
Chair:  Jeremy Corbyn - Lab.
Vice-Chairs:  Lord Ramsbotham - CB, Lord Avebury - LD, Andrew Rosindell -Con.
Secretary/Treasurer:  Andrew George - Lab.

TWENTY QUALIFYING MEMBERS (Parliament need only publish the names of 20 members, regardless of how many there may be.  We do not know how many more members there are, if any):  Andrew Rosindell – Con, Andrew George – LD, Sir Peter Bottomley – Con, Lord Avebury - LD, Lord Steel of Aikwood – LD, Henry Smith – Con, Mark Harper – Con, Andrew Tyrie – Con, Alistair Carmichael – LD, Geoffrey Cox – Con, Jeremy Corbyn - Lab, Baroness Whitaker - Lab, Tony Lloyd - Lab, Mark Lazarowicz - Lab, Lord Lea of Crondall - Lab, Kelvin Hopkins - Lab, John McDonnell, Lab, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead - Lab, Lord Ramsbotham - CB, Lord Luce - CB

Groups designed to "help" the Chagossians seem to bloom continuously.  When the British government announced the public comment period for the proposed MPA back in November 2009, a new organization emerged, the Marine Education Trust (MET), urging the public to not support the MPA until the "Chagossian Question" has been resolved completely.

The key here is that the UKCSA, CRG, CICA, CI APPG, and MET are all linked by overlapping membership, and by one particular individual who is at the center of every discussion concerning the future of the B.I.O.T. and the Chagossians.

This common denominator is the chief spokesman opposing the establishment of an MPA which does not include commercial fishing and resettlement, is David Snoxell.  Mr. Snoxell is the "Co-ordinator" of the CI APPG, Chair of the MET,  and was  British High Commissioner to Mauritius  from 2000-2004, where (according to a 2007 interview with Malcolm McBain) he developed the idea and then lobbied his own government to cede the Outer Islands of the Chagos (everything but Diego Garcia - e.g., the area of the MPA) to Mauritius immediately.  He now writes opinion pieces and gives interviews urging international pressure (including in the UN) against the UK to overturn the MPA's no commercial fishing provisions, and to repopulate the islands and turn them over to Mauritius (see his Mar. 31, 2010 interview).  On Feb 11, 2010, Mr. Snoxell sent a letter to Minister Milliband stating that "resettlement by Chagos islanders and a transfer of sovereignty to Mauritius is the best way ahead."  The MET website's Chagos Campaign page on April 30, 2010, continued to state:  "Full no-take protection was one of the FCO's preferred options for the MPA, and all of the options initially proposed excluded any kind of fisheries or similar marine activities within the reef areas.  These options did not take account of the wishes of the Chagossian community ... [therefore]  The Marine Education Trust joined other individuals and organizations in campaigning against full no-take protection."  This despite the fact that on April 27, 2010, he emailed me that "I have never, and do not support commercial fishing or the aquarium trade!" to my by which I assumed he meant, 'in the Chagos', although he did not exactly say so.  Mr. Snoxell is an expert at the use of the English language, that's for sure.  He works tirelessly on virtually all the current pro-Mauritius, Bancoult-support actions in the UK.

So.  As of this writing, the CRG-supporting organizations all oppose the MPA unless it repopulates the islands with Chagossians who will make their livelihoods from the islands and the surrounding waters.  Not only that, from the pamphlets and brochures and testimony in the various court cases, they all want to return Chagossians to the island as a group.

Only the DGS asks for a right of return to Diego Garcia and believes return is an individual, not a group decision.  All the rest view the Chagossians as a homogeneous mass that can be moved about at will - manipulated as it were.  And there is always that element of racism that is found universally in the communal philosophies that drive many seekers of social justice.  For example, Richard Gifford, Bancoult's attorney in the case before the European Court of Human Rights recently called the islanders "the anthropomorphic native species on Chagos". defines anthropomorphic as "ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human."  Was this just a bad choice of adjectives, or does it reveal that old, white Englishmen may still be manipulating the islanders for their own purposes?  I also wonder what Al Sharpton thinks of that description of the descendants of African slaves?

Here's What I Think About the "Chagossian Issue"...
(as if my opinion mattered in the least)

Is there a reasonable alternative to an archipelago that allows no one to enter but military personnel and scientists, or one teeming with hungry and poor masses of humanity catering to the Mauritian fishing and tourism industries?  Of course there is (or I never would have brought it up)...

1.  We have a moral obligation to the Chagos Islanders to compensate them fairly.  Regardless of the conclusions of the UK and US courts, we created the conditions which left them prostrated before an uncaring and manipulative Mauritian government for 35 years.  The UK has done a lot to compensate the islanders, including granting them full British Citizenship.  But more is due, including US assistance in balancing the books.

2.  These British Citizens of Chagossian descent want the same things we all want - a decent standard of living, a good education, opportunity, freedom of choice.

3.  Many Chagossians have an emotional relationship with the archipelago.  Many want to maintain a more physical relationship - to live there, or work there, and/or visit on occasion.  Americans in particular can understand this longing to see the "old country".  But, just like with the islanders, we tend to remember only the good parts of our past, and we have no interest in returning to malaria-infested African swamps or the slums of Glasgow.  From what I have heard and read, Chagossians have no interest in returning permanently to a Chagos without electricity, a hospital, or any other modern convenience.  However, that does not lessen the emotional bond with the homeland.

4.  The value of the Chagos as a functioning, virtually pristine ecosystem is priceless to the world of science.  Its primary value is as a standard by which to measure all other marine environments, and planetary health.

5.  As such, the MPA must be protected from extractive industry.  So, no commercial fishing, no sea-bed exploration and mining, no collecting reef fishes or coral for aquariums in rich homes and businesses should be permitted.

6.  Therefore, settlements that would require extractive industry to survive must be prohibited.  Any population centers must be strictly regulated to prohibit pumping sewage into the lagoons or constructing fuel storage depots leaking toxins into the freshwater lenses, etc., etc., etc.

7.  Combined, all these factors mitigate against the resettlement of the archipelago.  In addition, the UK has valid concerns regarding the costs and care for a permanent population, and permanency does not appear to be a valid option for the Chagossians currently.

8.  However, allowing the islanders to return as long-term, even life-long employees on Diego Garcia is a valid compromise to meet both the desires of the Chagossians, the concerns for the environment, and the military use of Diego Garcia.

                Contractors doing business in the BIOT must provide Chagossians with preferential hiring selection when all other qualifications are equal.

                A formal management training program should be instituted to hone the skills of Chagossians who show promise.

                In addition, a local economy composed of cottage industries and truck farming should be encouraged among the employees and their families.

                Over time, a “native corporate trust” should be formed to integrate and manage the various formal positions occupied or potentially occupied by Chagossians.

9.  There is little if any difference between having British Citizens living just outside the fence at RAF Lakenheath and NSF Diego Garcia.  There little or no difference between allowing qualified and cleared British Citizens to work on RAF Lakenheath and NSF Diego Garcia, and it is important to remember that the Chagossians living in the UK are British Citizens.

10.  The current prohibition against marriage and dependents on the base at Diego Garcia must be revised in favor of long-term employment of Chagossians.  This practice is left over from those times when the development of Diego Garcia was too primitive and limited for dependents, and when the UN’s Committee of 24 was an agency to be feared by Western Colonialists.

                Currently, permitting married couples and dependent children to reside in the Chagos is left entirely to the discretion of the Immigration Officer (see BIOT Immigration Ordinance 2004, Paragraph 9).  Of course none of us are so naïve as to believe that policy is not set at a much higher level, to be implemented by the various Immigration Officers.  As no married couples are allowed on Diego Garcia, the policy clearly is to deny married persons or dependent children to reside there, although they are routinely permitted on yachts anchored in the northern atolls.

                It should be noted that the lifting of the marriage ban is not the same as granting a right of abode or re-settling Diego Garcia.  Instead, it permits long term employment where the workers are not separated from their families in the process.  This practice is common at places as diverse as the old Panama Canal Zone, Ascension Island, and US National Park employee housing areas.

11.  Although Chagossians employed for long terms on Diego Garcia would not currently be considered permanent residents, they will require additional family-oriented infrastructure - housing, schooling, commissaries, and recreational facilities segregated from the unaccompanied population.

12.  Ensuring the Human Rights of the Chagossians entails infinitely more than simply returning them to the islands.  It involves not only a physical “quality of life” but a level of free choice and liberty that allows for the evolving ambitions of an ever-increasing population.

13.  There is nothing to be gained by the Chagossians by aligning with the government of Mauritius.  The Mauritian government has kept the Chagossians uneducated and underemployed for four decades, and uses them as pawns in its continuing sovereignty contest with the UK.

14.  Currently, the needs of any population of Chagossians in the islands is best met by the British Government and the constitutional monarchy it represents.

15.  Therefore:

                The U.S. and U.K. should ensure that British Citizens of Chagossian descent receive preference in hiring for jobs on Diego Garcia, and establish a management training program with the aim of employing as many qualified Chagossians as possible for the Base Operations and Support functions on the island.

                The employees of the base at Diego Garcia should be provided with the opportunity to bring family members with them to the job, and compete for long-term, even life-long, employment.

                No repopulation of the fragile Outer Islands should be considered.  Period.  Only Diego Garcia should be occupied.

                In the event that repopulation is ever approved, the BIOT must remain British in perpetuity.  The UK must never again abandon citizens to a foreign government.

Want To Know More? 

Here are some links to the environmental literature about Diego Garcia and the Chagos Archipelago which will help you understand the 'big picture'...
Chagos Conservation Trust - If you are serious about protecting the wonderful environment of our favorite island and the rest of the archipelago, without going too Greenie-Weenie, go to this site and read all about the CCT! JOIN TODAY!  I belong to it, and encourage you to consider membership too. 

American?  The Chagos Conservation Trust - US (CCT/US) is up and running, so if you are interested in joining the movement on this side of the Pond, check it out!

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