HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence submitted by the Chagos Conservation Trust

Summary and Recommendations

· The Chagos Marine Reserve was established in 2010 to safeguard the greatest marine biodiversity under the UK’s jurisdiction. This Marine Protected Area (MPA), currently the world’s largest ‘no take’ marine reserve, contributes significantly to the globally agreed target under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 10% of the oceans by 2020, and establishes the UK as a world leader in marine conservation.

· Since its designation, the marine reserve has seen a dramatic increase in interest and visits by scientists for monitoring and research but only careful management through a properly co- ordinated and centrally managed programme of enhanced enforcement, scientific monitoring, and conservation projects will it be possible to show whether the ban on fishing and other activities in the reserve has been successful over time in protecting its rich biodiversity.

· To secure this, CCT strongly recommends that:

Ø the BIOT Administration in the FCO enacts specific legislation and accompanying regulations for the effective enforcement of the ban on fishing and other extraction activity and for the conservation and management of the ‘no-take’ marine reserve;

Ø the BIOT Administration should adopt an up-to-date management plan to guide future conservation management priorities based on the suggestions already submitted by CCT;

Ø the FCO and DEFRA should establish a specific, ring-fenced budget to fund the management of this reserve in the long term;

Ø MOD should periodically deploy Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels present in the region to provide faster and more effective enforcement than is possible using the current chartered vessel (the Pacific Marlin);

Ø measures are taken to enhance surveillance by technical means, including through collaboration with the US forces based on Diego Garcia, to facilitate the detection of poachers and other illegal activity in BIOT waters;

Ø the BIOT Administration continue to support and fund the development of Chagossian capacity in conservation already begun under the pilot project run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) with CCT and others; and that

Ø the FCO and the BIOT Administration make greater efforts to secure good publicity for this spectacular marine reserve, in particular through collaboration with selected wildlife film-makers.

Background

1. The Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) is a UK registered charity, established in 1992 to promote the protection and conservation of the natural environment of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) and to raise awareness of environmental issues affecting the Chagos archipelago. It seeks to do so by supporting scientific and historical research and sustainable conservation projects, often in collaboration with partner members of the Chagos Environment Network (CEN). The CEN comprises, in addition to the CCT which acts as its secretariat, The Linnean Society of London, Pew Environment Group, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Blue Marine Foundation, and Professor Charles Sheppard of Warwick University, amongst others.

2. CCT promotes scientific expeditions to monitor the status of the marine and terrestrial environment in the Chagos ; provides a channel for bringing relevant environmental problems to the Government's attention; establishes links with other groups and scientists concerned with reef and island ecology, particularly in relation to the Indian Ocean; encourages research into the history of the Chagos Archipelago, and seeks to educate and to make available the results of its work to a wider audience both directly and through its website – visit www.chagos-trust.org .

3. Located in the centre of the Indian Ocean, the Chagos Archipelago, a UK Overseas Territory, contains the world’s largest living coral atoll, over 60,000 square km of shallow limestone reef and associated habitats, and about 300 seamounts and half a million square kilometres of deep and abyssal habitats. It holds by far the greatest marine biodiversity under the UK’s direct control and responsibility. It also has one of the healthiest reef systems in the cleanest waters in the world, supporting half the total area of good quality reefs in the Indian Ocean. As a result, the ecosystems of the Chagos have so far proven resilient to climate change and environmental disruptions, and as such can provide unique insights for the scientific and wider community.

4. In March 2009, the Chagos Conservation Trust, with members of the Chagos Environment Network, published "The Chagos Archipelago: its Nature and the Future" proposing a large scale highly protected marine reserve be established in Chagos.

5. Following a public consultation during the winter of 2009-10, the UK Government formally designated the Chagos Archipelago on 1 April 2010 as a strictly ‘no-take’ marine reserve totalling more than 640,000 square kilometres (397,678 square miles), currently the largest such ‘no take’ reserve in the world. The reserve covers all the islands and the entire EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) in BIOT, save for Diego Garcia and an area of 3 nautical miles of sea around that island. The combination of tropical islands, unspoiled coral reefs and adjacent oceanic abyss makes this marine reserve comparable in global importance to the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. As a fully protected marine reserve, all extractive activities, such as industrial fishing and deep sea mining, are prohibited in the Chagos . The reserve will safeguard the rich diversity of marine life found in the area and is a conservation legacy almost unrivalled in scale and significance. It will also contribute greatly to a number of globally agreed targets, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity target to protect 10% of the oceans by 2020, and undoubtedly establishes the UK as a world leader in marine conservation.

6. Since its designation, CCT with its CEN partners has encouraged various initiatives to support the BIOT Administration’s environmental management and conservation of the Chagos . Funding has been obtained to increase dramatically the number of science expeditions to BIOT for environmental monitoring and research, and to involve and train people of Chagossian descent in conservation work. A successful pilot project on the latter has already been completed by ZSL and its partners for Chagossians living in the UK (Crawley and Manchester), which we hope will be continued into future years (and extended, if possible, to Chagossian descendents living in Mauritius and the Seychelles) – see www.zsl.org/chagos.community . Major proposals have also been submitted (or are being prepared) for conservation projects to restore islands through the re-establishment of native forest, to conduct a major botanical survey, to map and protect existing mangrove areas (which are under significant threat), and to establish a rat eradication programme on Ile Vache Marine.

7. Only careful management through enhanced enforcement, sustained scientific monitoring, and a programme of co-ordinated and well-targeted conservation projects will show whether the ban on fishing and other extraction activities in the marine reserve has been successful over time in protecting its spectacular biodiversity.

8. The BIOT Government has relied over the past years on existing fisheries and other legislation to manage the marine reserve. Whilst this has been generally effective, the reserve does not have specific protective legislation. Other countries have brought in legislation to protect their marine protected areas, which is stronger than that currently applying in BIOT. We believe that it would be desirable for the BIOT marine reserve to have its own specific (and tougher) legislation. Furthermore, there is a BIOT management plan which pre-dates the establishment of the marine reserve. We believe that it would be desirable to update this to take account of the new reality of the marine reserve. A paper, requested by the BIOT Administration, making various recommendations to support a new management plan was submitted by Professor Charles Sheppard and others to the BIOT Administration several months ago (and published o the CCT website). We hope that the BIOT Administration will issue a new management plan soon.

9. It seems to us to be a reasonable assumption that the US uses various forms of surveillance to ensure the security of its base on Diego Garcia from sea-borne and other threats, the more so because of lawless elements present in the Indian Ocean. We believe that this surveillance could, if it was routinely shared with the BIOT authorities, be used to guide the UK’s enforcement efforts in the marine reserve to good effect. This would help both base security and the security of the marine reserve.

10. There may also be other measures that the UK Government could adopt, though we recognise the financial constraints. The marine reserve is currently enforced by a contracted vessel, the Pacific Marlin. This is an old and shallow drafted boat. Whilst the shallow draft is invaluable for passing over the reefs close to the islands, it is much less suitable for enforcement over the deep water between the islands and the 200 mile outer limit of the marine reserve. It is simply too slow. The periodic involvement of RN and RFA vessels that are in the region to patrol BIOT’s deep water area, particularly if combined with satellite surveillance information, would make a considerable difference to the effectiveness and extent of enforcement in the reserve.

11. For the long-term sustainability of this marine reserve, we believe that the FCO, supported by DEFRA, should establish a transparent, ring-fenced budget to fund the protection of the reserve.

12. Evidence has shown that there is considerable interest by wildlife film makers to produce programmes on the marine reserve and the terrestrial environment in the Chagos . We believe that it would be advantageous to the UK to get the publicity for its good custodianship of this marine environment that such programmes would bring   .

30 November 2012

Prepared 14th January 2013