The need for strong science in the resettlement feasibility study.

The Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) welcomes the forthcoming study into the Feasibility of Resettlement of the Chagos islands.

In the interest and pursuit of scientific and historic research and conservation for the common good, we have published a note expressing the need for strong science to be a central element to the work of the resettlement feasibility study.

Note on the need for strong science in the resettlement feasibility study.

The Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) welcomes the forthcoming study into the Feasibility of Resettlement of the Chagos islands. CCT and other scientists work independently to achieve research and management objectives for the Chagos Archipelago.

Together with our partners in the Chagos Environment Network (CEN), which include several of the country's leading and largest natural science NGOs and science Societies, CCT worked with others to encourage the Government to establish the MPA. This achievement was celebrated by the scientific community and by many members of the public worldwide.

Members of CCT work on both inhabited and uninhabited marine protected areas all over the World. The fact that Chagos' reefs are the largest, nearly intact reef system in the world is due largely to the lack of exploitation during the last 45 years.

CCT wishes to maintain this priceless asset. Its interest and support for the Chagos MPA is rooted in the pursuit of scientific and historic research and conservation for the common good.

1. How many people now wish to live in Chagos is a key issue that does not appear to have been estimated for a couple of decades when the number was estimated to be about 15. The answer must depend on: 'Return to what?' Numbers wanting to live in a village with all facilities and infrastructure will differ from the kind of conditions that existed originally. CCT urges that this is addressed fully from the outset. The source of materials and food for those numbers must be addressed, and costed properly.

2. Public benefit is undoubtedly best served if any settlement is subject to clear environmental regulations; the government's Precautionary Principle and environmental assessments need to be followed if degradation is to be avoided.

3. The cost of compliance with environmental protection that the government requires for sustainability must be calculated. It is CCT's strong recommendation that, in any scenario considered, the requirements and costs to mitigate impacts should be determined first, rather than a budget being established and regulations adopted to remain within the budget.

4. Sustainable marine exploitation. Work done around the world shows that there are possibly no coral reef systems where reefs are exploited sustainably at a high level of production. What is usually claimed to be 'sustained' is exploitation at depleted or severely depleted condition. Chagos islands have a tiny land area that sits in very nutrient poor waters - although rich in life there is unlikely to be sufficient net productivity for large-scale or lucrative land- or marine-based commercial activities. Attempts to do too much would be damaging for the natural environment, and for the survival and stability of a returning population.
(Note that the military base on Diego Garcia should not be a guide. It imports all its food, material goods, and energy, relies on almost no local resources, and has no agricultural activities. Fishing accounts for just 40kg of biomass per day. Engineering there to combat the effects of sea level rise and erosion costs $10 million per year. It 'sustains' these costs because it is part of a military budget.)

5. Science and erroneous science. CCT takes a position that any resettlement study should be done with scientific information being central to the question, to maintaining the area's unique condition to everyone's benefit. CCT notes this obvious point because several recent papers by opponents of the MPA or those taking a stance on resettlement have published quite incorrect statements e.g. on issues of sea level rise in Chagos, shoreline erosion rates, claims of massive pollution in Diego Garcia, claims that Chagos is not ecologically very valuable anyway, and indeed claims impugning numerous errors and intentions. Details are available on request. Scientists who have studied the area (not necessarily those belonging to CCT) are happy to advise.
It is necessary to recognize the very environmentally challenging nature of life on small, remote and low-lying islands such as these and to use accurate scientific knowledge to avoid consequential impoverishment of environment as a result of poor or expedient decisions. This may not be impossible; CCT can continue to supply scientific information on the area, coupled with historical information on pitfalls from the past.
CCT recognises there is opposition to the MPA, from industrial tuna interests and Mauritius, but stresses that the MPA was not designed to prohibit Chagossians living there: the MPA began more than 40 years after the Chagossian communities had left the Islands. Resettlement remains a matter for the Government. Scientists working there including members of CCT have raised considerable funds for outreach, and given substantial time, to informing and involving Chagossians. CCT has well established plans to expand this to Chagossians in Mauritius, and to include Mauritian scientists in research, when the Mauritian Government permits it.

CCT looks forward to contributing to the feasibility study.