NSMC publishes case study examining the Chagos Archipelago

The Chagos Archipelago, which forms the British Indian Ocean Territory, has a very special marine environment. It is remarkably rich in biodiversity and has world status ecologically. Because of where it is – in the middle of the Indian Ocean –and its history the Chagos Archipelago has enjoyed relatively little anthropogenic disturbance. The whole marine area was declared a marine protected area (MPA) in April 2010, making it the biggest MPA in the world. The present Coalition Government has since confirmed the UK’s commitment to protecting the highly valued marine habitats and species in and around the Chagos Archipelago. The North Sea Marine Cluster commissioned this report and the underpinning research to help inform consideration of how that goal can best be achieved.

Just about every MPA can give rise to complications and disagreement. It would be an understatement to say that Chagos is no exception. There is, for example, considerable controversy over the compulsory relocation of the former islanders by the UK Government in the 1960s. In debate, this issue frequently becomes entangled with the pros and cons of declaring the marine protected area itself. Our report takes as the starting point the decision to declare the marine protected area and takes no position on the merits or otherwise of the decision. It is not that we are insensitive to associated issues. It is that we believe that the report can add most value by focussing on the practicalities of MPA implementation.

Similarly, we are aware of sensitivities over cost and whether protecting an environmental MPA costs more or less than fisheries management. We do not see this as a helpful or meaningful comparison. It is not our chosen prism. Instead, It is more productive to relate costs to the stated goals and ambitions for the MPA. In reality, this will probably be an iterative process. The MPA objectives and the delivery mechanisms need to take into account the resources that can be made available, but equally adequate resources will need to be found to secure the stated goals. We believe that it is important to be clear from the outset about objectives and what success will look like, and to be realistic about costs. We would not expect this to be a comfortable process, but we caution against fudging. Tempting as it may be in the short term, the end result is invariably disappointment and criticism.

With the foregoing in mind, the report’s conclusion that declaration of the MPA will carry additional cost consequences is unlikely to be welcome. The Bertarelli Foundation’s donation of £3.5 million over the next five years and the efforts of the Blue Marine Foundation to facilitate this are to be applauded. It is likely that similar and further innovative thinking will be required to ensure that in ten year’s time the Chagos MPA will be heralded world-wide as an example of a well managed and highly effective MPA. The report offers some suggestions and ideas.

Success will depend not just on the money spent – from whatever source. It will depend critically on how effectively and efficiently the money is used and how well the resources are deployed. It is the central theme of this report. Declaring a MPA is just the start. The really difficult part is making it happen in the way intended. Fortunately, there is plenty of expertise that can be tapped into across all sectors. It has already been demonstrated that there is room for a collaborative approach. The report is offered in this spirit.

Marine Protected Areas Report PDF