The Chagos Archipelago: Britain's Environmental Responsibility

Publication: openDemocracy

Author: Caspar Henderson


03/01/2010 - As anyone who has seen the film The End of the Line will know, one of the greatest failures of governance in the world today is in the management of marine resources and unsustainable fishing practices in particular. This month the United Kingdom may have an opportunity to make an important difference for the better. By quirk of history the U.K. still governs the Chagos archiplego , the largest system of coral atolls in the world and home to a stupendous abundance of life that remains relatively undamaged.

A public consultation on the future conservation status for the islands, now extended to 5 March (see FCO pdf ) lists the following options: a full no-take marine reserve for the whole of the territorial waters; a no-take marine reserve for the whole of the territorial waters with exceptions for pelagic fishery such as tuna; and a no-take marine reserve for the vulnerable reef systems only. Based on the consultation, and other factors, the Foreign Secretary and the Commissioner for what is still known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) will then make a decision.

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Justice for the Chagossians and their descendants, who number about 4,000 (and descend from labourers first brought to the previously uninhabited by the French and British in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), is a vital matter. And there is a strong case that the U.K. has failed to meet its responsibilities. But conservation groups continue to argue that this doesn’t have to be inconsistent with better protection for the natural environment right now. “The political issue needs a solution but it is largely a separate matter” Alistair Gammell, Chagos Campaign Manager for the Pew Environment Group says to ourKingdom; “The key thing is there is an opportunity now to improve protection of the area. If the Chagossians do return in future at least the resources will have been kept in a better state for them.”

Read the entire article The Chagos Archipelago: Britain's Environmental Responsibility on the openDemocracy Web site.

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