Magazine article New Internationalist

Islanders Divided by Environmental Quandary

Magazine article New Internationalist

Islanders Divided by Environmental Quandary

Article excerpt



In the late 1960s and early '70s the inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago, a cluster of coral atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, were forced to leave their homeland to make way for a US military base on the largest of the islands, Diego Garcia.

More than 40 years later, Chagossians are divided over the creation of a marine protected area (MPA) around their islands, announced by the British government last April. Many believe it will prevent them from ever being able to return. One year on, some Chagossian groups are planning demonstrations outside the UK Parliament to vent their anger.

'The MPA makes it very hard for us to go back,' says Roch Evenor, chair of the UK Chagos Support Association. And even if we can go back, [it] prevents us from fishing, which we need to do to survive.'

The islands are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory and the marine reserve, the world's largest, covering a 545,000-square-kilometre area, was set up ostensibly to protect the area's wildlife and corals from industrial fishing and deep-sea mining.

'The world's oceans have been drastically overfished in the last 30 years so it is of huge benefit to the Indian Ocean,' says William Marsden, chair of the Chagos Conservation Trust. 'It is an extremely good example given by the British government.'

But the government's good intentions were brought into question by a US cable published by Wikileaks in December in which the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Director of Overseas Territories, Colin Roberts, is reported to have said that the protected area should have 'no human footprints' or 'Man Fridays' and that such a reserve would make it 'difficult, if not impossible' for former residents to pursue their resettlement claims. …

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