Governments like to talk about marine sustainability. It’s a process we all support, in particular the idea of setting clear objectives and principles that outline our approach to oceans governance. But what happens when we apply these principles to the actual processes, 'on the ground'?
Recently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office declared, a no-take marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago, in the heart of the Indian Ocean (called the British Indian Ocean Territory). This move received support and condemnation. Support has come from primarily the conservation sector that has endorsed the principle of establishing a no take zone in the unspoilt and pristine Chagos region. Condemnation has arisen due to the fact that the FCO decision has principally ignored the human rights issue at the centre of the debate – that a native population was forcibly removed from Chagos, and to this day, wishes to return, but is repeatedly blocked by the UK government, partially due to geopolitical interests that revolve around a US airbase that is present on the main island, Diego Garcia.
In my opinion (one voice among many) the declaration represents several problems: prescriptive neo-green colonialism, a lack of recognition of the human element of marine conservation, ignoring the principles of sustainability that links social and ecological systems, and a fundamental issue of human rights - principles that the UK has supported and endorsed in many fora.
In 2009, the UK released Our Seas A Shared Resource: a series of 'high level objectives' for UK seas. The objectives 'steer Administrations and the public in (joint) achievement of sustainable development in the marine area. In relation to Chagos and other territories, the principles 'underpin the UK approach to negotiation and implementation of European and international marine policy'.
While the declaration satisfies the ecological side of the objectives, it fundamentally ignores several key objectives, agreed by all administrations, concerning social outcomes. They include:
Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society
• The use of the marine environment is benefiting society as a whole, contributing to resilient and cohesive communities that can adapt to coastal erosion and flood risk, as well as contributing to physical and mental wellbeing.
• There is equitable access for those who want to use and enjoy the coast, seas and their wide range of resources and assets and recognition that for some island and peripheral communities the sea plays a significant role in their community.
Promoting good governance
• All those who have a stake in the marine environment have an input into associated decision-making.
The supporting consultation identified that a significant proportion of responses challenged the notion of a no take MPA without discussing the human rights issue at its heart. The final declaration by the FCO however, makes no mention of this issue. The social part has simply been ignored. This has serious ramifications the high level principles....are they just a paper exercise?
On a final note...the Declaration of the Chagos MPA comes at a time when governments are rushing to meet international targets to create linked marine reserves by 2012. One would hate to think this was a cynical exercise in dramatically increasing the size of the 'UK' marine reserve estate, particularly when establishing MPA's around the UK coast is such as difficult and complex exercise. Whatever the case may be, all the High Level Marine Principles should be central to decision making and governance...that is, after all, why they were developed.