Letter to New Scientist in reply to the Fred Pearce opinion piece ‘Chagos Marine Reserve Polluted by Politics’

A letter is published in New Scientist by Charles Sheppard as Chair of CCT in response to the opinion article by Fred Pearce recently. Part of our letter responds yet again to the erroneous claim that the conservation of Chagos, specifically the creation of the marine reserve, was done to prevent the return of Chagossians. As many of us know, a High Court judgement of March-April (Bancoult vs Secretary of State, before Lady Justice Gloster and Lord Justice Vos) states, after a detailed 93 paras, that: "the MPA was not actuated by the improper motive of intending to create an effective long-term way to prevent Chagossians and their descendants from resettling in the BIOT." The text as submitted to New Scientist is inserted below:

Professor Charles Sheppard, Chair, Chagos Conservation Trust

Designating the Chagos Archipelago a no-take Marine Protected Area (MPA) was based on the best available science not ‘bad science’, as suggested in Fred Pearce’s article (29 September 2014, New Scientist). The precautionary principle was rightly applied by David Miliband to ensure that deliberation in Whitehall did not lead to further destruction of the world’s most pristine coral reefs. Policies should of course be reviewed as further scientific evidence comes to light. But in the case of Chagos, new research continues to corroborate the decision to protect this unique ecosystem.

What’s more, it is misleading to claim that the no-take policy is another barrier preventing the Chagossians from returning to the islands. The MPA declaration states that the level of protection would be reviewed - in full consultation with the Chagossians – in the case of resettlement. A mere 2.8 per cent of the world’s ocean currently has any protection, with only 0.6 per cent fully protected, well below international government commitments. With the cleanest tested sea water in the world, a staggering diversity of marine life, and a site of resilience within a heavily overexploited West Indian Ocean, Chagos is an underwater sanctuary that deserves to be afforded the ultimate protection.

Warwick, UK

CCT, Chagos, MPA, Marine reserve