'You put your life within three or four fingers' width of death, the thickness of the ship's wood hull.'
- Diego Garcia de Palacios,
INSTRUCCION NAUTICA PARA NAVEGAR
Diego Garcia - Below the waves...
In August of 2004 I was part of a small team (three) that surveyed the reef habitats of Diego Garcia, Chagos in the Indian Ocean.
[ Visit also: Footprint of a People: a Graphic Tour of Diego Garcia]
US Naval Base, Diego Garcia, Chagos (BIOT = British Indian Ocean Territory)
The Chagos Conservation Trust, PEW Charitable Trusts organization, and other conservation groups presented a proposal that would develop a conservation zone around the incredible islands of the Chagos Archipelago similar to the 'marine monuments' announced for the Pacific Ocean in 2008.
The plans, however, exclude the Chagossians from a seat at their own table.
This is from an Associated Press report (AP; Dina Cappiello): "[In the Pacific Ocean,] Northern Mariana Islands government officials and indigenous communities initially objected to the monument designation, citing concerns about sovereignty, fishing and mineral exploration."
The Chagossians, however, already having been removed from their homes in the early 1970's, are currently in the middle of their legal process to regain their rights. They have indeed gained the legal recognition of the British Government and Courts for their rights to their homes and for the acknowledgment of the moral wrongs done to them in the past. They won these rights in the British Courts, despite repeated appeals by elements of the Government.
They won those rights, that is, until they were recently blocked by a final appeal (certainly to the pleasure of the US State Department & Pentagon) to ultimately deny them those very rights.
The Chagossians are now appealing to the Courts of the European Union.
What is interesting in regards to the common features of these marine protected areas in both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans is that they all involve US Naval Bases and Naval Operating/Maneuvering Areas.
Places the Navy would be interested in having 'buffer zones' against silent running submarines.
It is interesting that the announcement of the conservation zones in the Pacific coincides with legal tussling over the Navy's use of their harmful high powered low frequency sonar.
If the Navy agreed to limit the sonar use in biologically diverse areas, then they might "request" that those areas be as "mechanically silent" as possible to assist with their mission.
Creating conservation zones is a solution that "might" be developed... It is what is called "quid pro quo" or in environmental terms "mitigation."
If nothing else is true about this sad affair, then this certainly is: Neither Bush nor his administration had an environmental bone in their bodies (if they had any bones at all). The fox does not go into the chicken house to enjoy the scenery! When he tells you that's why he's there you KNOW he's choking your chickens and giving you a rotten egg (and sneering the whole time)! (At least, that is what my "intuition" is telling me.)
Conservation Zones are fine and good (vital in fact).
But if the Pacific Islanders have realized their benefits from them, the
Chagossians have received none from the US and the UK other than to be swept under the rug once already.
The irony is that the Chagossians are in favor of conserving and preserving the unique biological resources of the Chagos.
It is a matter of respect and inclusion. Something I know from experience, the Navy does not do well with.
Lagoon waters (shallow south end) and tropical greenery
Rollers and breakers over shallow algal/reef platform at Simpson Point
Shallow coral community... Clownfish (Anemonefish), Parrotfish, and others
Table and boulder corals and doctor/surgeon fish
Mountainous coral formation [photo by dive team member]
Curl-Q "cracklin' coral formations with squirrel and damselfish . These are free growing corals (not attached), able to move or roll with surges. [photo by dive team member]
Balanced boulder coral formation, shallow lagoon habitat. [photo by dive team member]
Butterflyfish over algae and coral. [photo by dive team member]
Moorish idols over coral and algae. [photo by dive team member]
Clownfish (Anemonefish) over giant anemone. [photo by dive team member]
Tawny nurse shark resting under an arch.
Schooling swirling Cardinalfish in crevice.
Powderblue surgeonfish over corals and algae.
Blue-green chromis over Acropora coral fingers
Fusiliers pass by.
Large groupers parade (this Squaretail grouper is over three feet in length).
Napoleon wrasse passes in the shadows (this fellow is about four to five feet in length).
Napoleon wrasse float by in the haze over chocolat-dip damsels. The Napoleon wrasse are a listed and protected species due to their overfishing for the 'live fish' trade.
Oreintal sweetlips with Cleaner wrasse on its nose.
Butterflyfish over reef.
Convict surgeon fish descend on reef to feed.
Manta ray flys by. [photo by dive team member]
Manta ray soars by (with shark sucker). [photo by dive team member]
Large groupers patrol the atoll slope amid bright Anthiase.
Sea star on coral and algae.
Giant clam, colorfully encrusted. [photo by dive team member]
Nudibranch zipps by on bottom sediments.
Reef squid darts through sun's rays.
Green seaturtle pauses while munching on sponges.
Green seatrutle rests under rocky shelter on atoll slope.
Butterflyfish over corals.
Parrotfish over algae encrusted coral rubble.
Oriental sweetlips swims off to mingle among a diverse school over reef habitat on atoll slope.
Yours truly, recording data for reef fish survey.
The problem with the plans is not the establishment of a conservation zone or conservation ethics at the Chagos Archipelago. It is the exclusion and lack of respect for the Chagossians. It is the denial of self-determination over their own homeland.
Creating an exclusionary conservation zone the way the Chagos Conservation Trust proposes out of the jewel that the Chagos truly is, is like claiming the "blood diamonds" of Africa as our own and keeping them 'conscience free' because we have paid for them and have them in our own hands.
Do the masterpieces of Europe belong in museums because the Germans stole them in WWII or do they belong to the families who once owned them?
But more realistically and to the point, the "conservation zone" has more to do with the US Navy wanting 'quite zones' for listening posts in ever more 'dangerous' waters.
The exclusionary conservation zone happens to be a "good fit" with the current military mission in the Indian Ocean.
... at least... that is what my "educated intuition" is ... "telling me" ...
Marine Biologist - coral reef ecology
Co-author "Marine Biological Survey at Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory"
PS: The Chagos are NOT "Pristine" ... they are "Pristine-Like" ... They are inhabited islands returned to nature for nearly 40 years. They still bear the footprints of the Chagossians, who are alive but miss their homes and want to return.
PPS: It is amazing that inhabited islands (for at least 300 years) should be able to present a near-pristine environment after a respite of 40 years. It seems the Chagossians didn't trash the place when they lived there the first time!
But the Chagos Conservation Trust wants to tell you now that if they return, it will all go up in smoke!!! (I am terribly saddened by that attitude ... it sickens me).
PPPS: The sea cow is now extinct from the Chagos... only, it wasn't the Chagossians that did it. It was the Europeans... Ironic, isn't it?"
See also: What is Chagos...??