Letters to the Editor: On Chagos, MPA terminology

MPA News

Letter: Many Chagossian refugees support the new MPA

Dear MPA News:
The September-October 2010 issue of MPA News was brought to my attention due to the article on MPAs and indigenous people, including its mention of the new Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area. I was born on the island of Diego Garcia in Chagos in 1970. When I was one year old, my family and all other remaining Chagossians were evicted from the islands to make way for a US/UK joint military base on Diego Garcia. We moved to Mauritius, and I now live in the UK.

While it is true that some islanders, notably the Mauritius-based Chagos Refugee Group, oppose the Chagos MPA, it is wrong to assume the 4000-strong worldwide population of original islanders and their descendants are united on every one of the complex issues facing them.

As chairman of the Diego Garcian Society, which represents a 2000-strong community, I want to clarify that we are dedicated to the preservation of our homeland and we backed the British Government on its decision to create a marine reserve. We believe the reserve is an entirely separate issue from resettlement in Chagos.

[Former UK Foreign Secretary] David Miliband and the current UK Coalition Government have made it clear that the establishment of the MPA is "without prejudice" to the current European Court of Human Rights case in which islanders are fighting the British Government over their right to return. Without protection, Diego Garcia and the outer islands would have continued to be vulnerable to the effects of commercial fishing and the islands' natural resources would be threatened. Not only will protection benefit Diego Garcians and other islanders should we return one day; it will also help us maintain our cultural and ancestral heritage, as well as benefit millions of people who rely on the Western Indian Ocean for their daily needs.

Allen Vincatassin
Diego Garcian Society, UK. E-mail: contact [at] diegogarciansociety.org; Web: www.diegogarciansociety.org


BOX: Chagos closed to commercial fishing

The last remaining commercial fishing licenses in the Chagos Islands expired at midnight on 31 October, following the April 2010 decision by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office to designate an MPA around the Indian Ocean archipelago. With the licenses' expiration, there is currently no commercial fishing allowed in the 544,000-km2 Chagos Marine Protected Area. This effectively makes it the world's largest no-take marine reserve, as long as no licenses are reissued. The UK's new Coalition Government has not committed to permanent closure of the MPA, although it says it has "no plans to issue any more fishing licenses."

Enforcement of the current no-take area is being funded by a donation from the Switzerland-based Bertarelli Foundation. In September, the foundation provided £3.5 million (US $5.6 million) to operate a patrol vessel responsible for covering the entire Chagos MPA. The donation will also help offset the UK's loss of £750,000 ($1.2 million) per year in tuna fishing license revenues. For more information, go to http://bit.ly/Bertarelli-Chagos.


Letter: With marine spatial planning, MPA terminology will be more important than ever

Dear MPA News:
I am becoming weary of picking up the latest paper or report on MPAs and seeing, yet again, another term being added to the all-too-long list of what we are calling our protected sites. There are many terms for place-based managed areas in the ocean, and we are all painfully aware of the lack of consistency and transparency. While this discussion has gone on for many years, our community of practice might benefit greatly from embracing some broadly accepted system of terminology.

More than ever this is the case as nations embark toward comprehensive coastal and marine spatial planning. Such planning, because of its breadth, will affect even more stakeholders than MPAs do. To do it effectively will require predictability and transparency. When terminology is unclear, the affected public isn't sure what planners are trying to do, and they will always presume the worst outcome for them. As a result they push back. While some rationalizing of our terminology is not the entire answer, it is a step toward transparency and clarity in what we are asking the public to accept and embrace.
A more universal terminology should be simple and straightforward. For example, it could embrace three of the terms currently in use:

  1. Marine protected area (MPA);
  2. Marine conservation area (MCA); and
  3. Marine managed area (MMA).

MPAs would be focused on "protection", identifying fully protected marine reserves. MCAs would be areas that allow some extractive uses, but generally focus on resource conservation as their primary goal. Lastly, MMAs would be areas where the primary goal is effective multiple-use management, largely dealing with the many issues related to balancing uses of the ocean. Such a system for area-based management terminology would be far more transparent to the public.

The benefits arising from this undertaking would be worth the time and effort. We are all wedded to what we call our sites, and in many cases the terminology is embedded in legislation. But if we could develop some "Rosetta stone" for binning these existing terms into such a naming system, sort of like we do with the current IUCN categories, we could retain the familiar while achieving the much needed consistency and clarity we currently lack.

Brad Barr
Senior Policy Advisor, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Maryland, US. E-mail: Brad.Barr [at] noaa.gov

[Note: The opinions expressed in this letter are those of Brad Barr alone, and are not official policy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, or US Government.]