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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)

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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) - at 210,000 square miles, it would be twice as big as the whole UK itself - bigger than New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia put together!    There is a map at the bottom of this page.

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 pronounciations 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:

FAQs About the Chagos Protected Area

This set of Q&As was collected from several people intimately involved with the MPA and the science of the Chagos.  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...

Given that there are already protection measures in place in Chagos, what impact will the Marine Reserve have?

    This clarifies several local protection laws that already exist regarding certain of the reefs and islands, and substantially extends these protections to the entire archipelago. 
     A major new change is the extension of ‘no commercial fishing’ to pelagic species throughout the very large area of deep water. Previously, huge quantities of fish and so-called bycatch (often targeted) have been taken.  This now will provide some refuge for declining fish stocks in the Indian Ocean. 
     Some fishing interests have argued that there is no point to this MPA, because the half-million sq km would be too small to have any effect.  Other interests have said it is unnecessarily large!  However, a recent analysis by the Zoological Society of London suggests that the Marine Reserve will have a beneficial effect on pelagic species.
     Also, as this MPA adds to new pelagic protected areas in adjacent countries, the total effective area will be even larger.

Why now?

     Reef resources of the Indian Ocean are in steep decline.  Forty years ago, there was little difference between the condition of Chagos and many other places in the Indian Ocean.  Since then, most reef systems in that ocean have suffered damage or destruction to varying degrees.  Chagos now contains about half of the good quality reefs left in the Indian Ocean, mainly because of the absence of all the direct impacts that usually accompany communities with economic needs.  The need for Marine Protected Areas is increasing in urgency if we are to preserve the world’s oceans and meet internationally agreed targets.  Following the publication of the Chagos Environment Network’s booklet, “The Chagos: Its Nature and the Future” last April, which urged the government to consider greater protection of the area, the British government launched a consultation on the issue in November.

Who has jurisdiction over Chagos, and where does the MPA fit in to its governance?

     The United Kingdom.

     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 made under the Royal Prerogative on the advice of a Secretary of State, usually the Foreign Secretary.
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 Commissioner 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 MPA falls into #3.

How big is the Chagos Protected Area?

  • About 544,000 sq km (210,00 square miles) which is about the size of France.  It is larger than the UK or the Northeastern US.
  • 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).

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, there is none - 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 tertiary treatment and disinfection - the effluent that is discharded into the ocean 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 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" (where 90% of the corals in the Chagos died from unnaturally high water termperatures during the El Niño year) of 1998.  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 species that have been subject to heavy legal and illegal fishing, such as tuna, sharks and sea cucumbers, have had their populations are depleted at the moment.  The protected area will hopefully help them restore their numbers back to more natural levels.

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 invasive terrestrial species of note, two are serious pests - rats and coconut.

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 generally consisted of 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, and coconut because the plantation workers  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 aresignificant groves of native trees, and they are often noisy with seabirds.  In contrast, the previously inhabited islands are silent because of the introduced predators, and are still choked by an continually renewing, inpenetrable 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 absense from the Outer Islands, and half of Diego Garcia have permitted terrestrial nature to "take its course".  Fifty years ago, the typical inhabited island was a beautiful park-like setting of coconuts 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. 

First it was the arrival of man that changed the terrestrial ecology completely, then his departure allowed a new set of species to carve out their niches in a new dynamic.

But the absence of man (or in the case of Diego Garcia, his exclusion from "off-limits" areas) has benefitted 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 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 absense of extractive activities to other species in the archipelago, such as the Sea-Cucumber and various species of shark.    

Are there areas of particular interest to scientific research?

      It is important today to understand what a reef system in excellent condition should look like, and this is one of very few locations where current interest in reef resilience can be researched, and it is a control site also for understanding fish populations and responses to climate change.  See the list of 200+ science publications arising from the last few expeditions (
      For global and regional issues especially, Chagos fills a huge gap for work on atmospheric CO2 levels, ocean carbonate levels, sea level work and other issues connected with global climate change.  
    Heterogeneity of reefs is high, from the ocean’s most wave-exposed to some of the most sheltered, with widely different coral assemblages.  
     Palaeo-climate work has been very successful, using cores of 300 year old Porites corals. 

Is Chagos a useful reference site to other scientists for other regions?

     Chagos is already established as a reference point of great importance, with considerable demand from many of the world’s marine, environmental scientists. With its establishment as a protected area and greater awareness of the need, it is hoped that scientific work will be increased.

Is there any useful deep water biological science from this area?

     None has yet been done.  Funding for such expensive work has always been difficult to obtain, but again with this area being better publicized and protected, this may make such science more attractive to funders

Is sea level rise or increasing storms likely to become problematic for the islands?

     Almost certainly, but there are still uncertainties surrounding this at present.  Work by consultants nearly a decade ago suggested it would become a serious problem.  Since then there has been considerable shoreline erosion in many parts.  Measured sea level rise from a short time series is approximately 8 mm per year or more, which matches much longer records from the Maldives.  Dynamics of the coral islands is more complex, especially given periodic coral mortality, and this is currently being investigated.  (NOTE from the webmaster.  I am not personally convinced that climate change (beyond normal fluctuations) is occurring.  HOWEVER, what better place than the pristine Chagos to settle the matter through rigorous scientific field work?  This is the true value (to me) of the MPA - as the standard against which all questions can be judged!)

How will the Chagos Protected Area affect the biodiversity or productivity of surrounding areas?

     Chagos is a refuge for many species.  Early evidence is hinting increasingly at a role in seeding, or in being an important stepping-stone for species, suggesting that the Chagos is directly linked to the western Indian Ocean and to Africa’s East Coast.  Chagos also serves as a reference site for many areas where such good condition is a fading memory.

Where does the military base on Diego Garcia atoll fit?
  •      Present government documentation indicates that it may not be included in the Marine Reserve, but this is not clear yet.
  •     Diego Garcia atoll contains about 1% of the reefs in the protected archipelago (and less than 1/10th of 1% of the entire area of the MPA) so its exclusion is not critical to the MPA as a whole, provided the current level of environmental protection continues on and around Diego Garcia.  
  •      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. 
  •      The presence of the military base in Diego Garcia should not be used to justify a decision to NOT protect the Chagos and its incredibly important marine biodiversity.  As a parallel, the presence of the nearby Pearl Harbor military complex does not negate the value of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands protected area.

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

     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.  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.  Indeed, conservation is greatly welcomed by most!  (Note from the webmaster.  Please see my own comments on the islanders below.)

What infrastructure is there and how many people could return without causing damage, if resettlement did in fact take place?

  • There is no infrastructure on any island other than Diego Garcia.
  • Clearly the potential population on any currently uninhabited island or atoll would depend on how the community would sustain itself.
  • Several proposals have been seen for numerous externally driven and vastly expensive projects, which would not be sustainable from resources within the archipelago itself.

But isn’t it true that conservation with people will be better than conservation without people?

  •        It is abundantly clear that a large uninhabited area will remain less damaged by people than one containing people. 
  •      Of course, if people are already there, ignoring residents certainly leads to failure; almost all inhabited MPAs are only partially or minimally successful.  Chagos has been uninhabited for 40 years.  
  •       People may have political and moral objections to the reasons why such areas are unpopulated, but it is most unwise to suggest that significant conservation activity should not be attempted urgently because they are uninhabited.

What is the economic value of the Chagos?

  •      Using ‘Costanza (1997) values’ the estimated annual values of Chagos fall between $0.5-1.5 billion, a wide range which varied with whether or not elements such as tourism are incorporated. 
  •      A current study has used a meta-analysis of just the coral reef values, and concludes that, even excluding tourism and other values related to economic activity, the Chagos’ reefs could be worth up to £8.5 billion.
  •      Of course many of the values associated with Chagos are intangible and therefore hard to quantify financially, but the current study concludes that they are “potentially matched by economic values on a global scale”.

Are there poaching issues within the MPA?

     Poaching for sea cucumbers and sharks has been marked.  Pressures are likely to rise along with the rising Indian Ocean human population and with the decline in marine resources in other places.

What are the costs of providing patrol and protection for the MPA?

     Protection can be achieved for the same price as currently is spent on fishery patrol, particularly if better surveillance information is made available and this is something that is being explored.  Costs are currently about $5 km2, which is about 10-100 times less than for most coral reef areas with protection measures.  Provisional, working documents are available on request.

Is any thing about the MPA binding upon the Mauritian government if and when the Territory is ceded over in the future?

     There is no international law or agreement requiring them to recognize or maintain the MPA.  Their official government response to the public solicitation was to not create the MPA. 

Patrol - The Surveillance and Maritime Police

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 Brits have 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.

Personally, I expect the Brits to issue more speeding tickets and raise the price of beer at the Brit Club.  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 patrol for the 15 years they've been contracted to do so.  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.  This will require three things:  A suitable equipment set, adequate personnel numbers and skill sets, and a suspicious mind set.

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.

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.  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:




The Special Status of Diego Garcia

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 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."


What does this mean to you?  It means that Diego Garcia out to the 3 mile limit will continue to be environmentally protected while still serving as the important fleet and air base we all rely on in today's fight, and in preparation for any contingencies that may come about in the future.  I support such an exemption, and you should too.

The Scientific Research Station and Monitoring Sites
In progress...

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 writhing 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.

The Chagos Islanders

I also 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 subsistence fish, if and when they are given the right to return to the Chagos (see page 13 of the Consultation Document).

Regarding all that...  We must for a moment descend into the darkness of international politics. A couple years ago, the UK Chagos Support Association (UKCSA) proposed resettling Peros Banhos Atoll which is about 125 miles northwest of Diego Garcia.  The proposal 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 (erroneously), the Howell Plan.  The entire land mass of Peros Banhos is 13 square kilometers - 3,212 acres - roughly half the size of Diego Garcia, and scattered across 32 "micro-islands", the largest of which is only 320 acres.  That proposal was just one step in a continuum of bad options offered by those who support the UKCSA.

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. 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 support the DGS, while the UKCSA, CRG, CICA do not.  There is also a Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (CI APPG) which is similar to a Congressional Caucus in the U.S.  When the British government announced the public comment period for the proposed MSA 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.

All of these organizations just mentioned are linked by overlapping membership.  The most prominent common denominator and the chief spokesman opposing the establishment of an MPA without commercial fishing and resettlement, based not least on his continuing submissions to opinion pages in the public record, is David Snoxell, who 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) to Mauritius.  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)

So.  As of this writing, the CRG-supporting organizations all oppose the MPA and want to repopulate the Outer Islands.

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)...

Here's what I think:

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.

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.  In addition, many want to maintain a physical relationship to the archipelago because it is the homeland of their ancestors, and some living islanders as well.  Some would like to live there.  Others would like to 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, it doesn't mean we want to return to malaria-infested swamps or the slums of Glasgow.  A visit is fine, but we are Americans now.  Just as the Chagossians in the UK are now English.

3.  The value of the Chagos as a functioning ecosystem outweighs permitting extractive industry in the MPA.  Its primary value is as a standard by which to measure all other marine environments, and planetary health.  So, no commercial fishing, no sea-bed exploration and mining, no collecting reef fishes or coral for aquariums in rich homes and businesses.  You get the idea.  And no population centers pumping sewage into the lagoons or fuel storage depots leaking toxins into the freshwater lenses.

4.  The value of Diego Garcia in the defense of freedom outweighs closing the base to accommodate the MPA.  Therefore, an exception to the MPA is acceptable, provided the environmental standards are of the highest caliber.  DG and its territorial waters are less than 1/10 of 1% of the MPA, and  thus will not detract from the overall value of the MPA.

5.  There is no, repeat, no difference between having British Citizens living just outside the fence at RAF Lakenheath and NSF Diego Garcia.  There is no, repeat, no difference between allowing qualified and cleared British Citizens to work on RAF Lakenheath and NSF Diego Garcia.  The Chagossians living in the UK are British Citizens.

6.  The current prohibition against marriage and dependents on the base at Diego Garcia is a remnant of those times when the U.K. and the U.S. were actively hiding the situation of the Chagossians from the press, and the island was too primitive for dependents.  Today, neither of those conditions exist, and it is now a stupid prohibition - doubly so, since neither the Brits nor the USN will own up to who established it or continues to insist upon it!  Look at Midway in its hay-day, or Kwajalein today.  There is no reasonable excuse for continuing this rule.  Allowing dependents would require housing built, amenities provided, schooling authorized (on island for youngsters, boarding for older dependents).  However, this is not the same as re-settling Diego Garcia.  But long term employment is common on DG already, with several U.S. and Filipino employees remaining 20 years or more.  Chagossians should have the same opportunity, but not be separated from their families in the process.

7.  Allowing the islanders to return as long-term employees is NOT to be construed as an argument to repopulate the islands.  Environmentally, that would be insane, even on Diego Garcia - there simply is not enough food, nor could the islands produce enough - they never were able to in all history.  Socially, repopulation would condemn the residents to an existence isolated from the rest of the world.  Economically, it would condemn the people to eternal poverty, unless they turn to extractive industry - exactly what the MPA is designed to prohibit.

8.  Therefore:

  • The U.S. and U.K. should ensure that British Citizens of Chagossian descent receive preference in hiring for jobs on Diego Garcia, all other qualifications being equal.
  • The employees of the base at Diego Garcia should be provided with the opportunity to bring family members with them to the job. 
  • The airfield and port facilities of Diego Garcia must be made available for appropriate use for tour groups of British Citizens of Chagossian descent.
  • No, repeat, no repopulation of the fragile Outer Islands should be considered.  Period.  Only Diego Garcia should be resettled.
  • If repopulation is ever approved, the BIOT must remain British in perpetuity.  The UK must never again abandon the Chagos Islanders 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.  CCT/US is also getting its feet on the ground, and I'll have more information about it as I receive it!

Chagos Environmental Network - A consortium of scientific and conservation groups dedicated to the protection of the BIOT, including the CCT, the Marine Conservation Society, The Linnean Society, Kew Botanical Gardens, The Royal Society (founded so long ago Isaac Newton was its fourth President!), The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Professor Charles Sheppard, and Global Ocean Legacy of the Pew Environmental Trust.

Coral Cay Conservation - An Internationally renounwned NGO dedicated to the preservation of tropical coral reefs and forests.  CCC pioneered the participation of volunteers to collect vital scientific information about forests and reefs around the world.  For the experience of a lifetime, go on a CCC Expedition!

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