Yesterday I went to a conference in London billed as an opportunity to discuss the future of the Chagos Islands. Sadly, I don’t think we really got a chance to do that properly because the drama and tragedy of the island’s human history took over. I don’t deny it is a truly terrible story of the Chagos islanders’ forced eviction and it’s understandable that this stirs up emotion and rhetoric. But the human dimension eclipsed something we mustn’t forget – that today the underwater world of Chagos really matters.
And that’s why I wanted to post this video by filmaker Jon Slayer (did you watch his Lionfish film yet?). Chagos is an extraordinary cluster of Indian Ocean coral atolls and reefs that last year were designated by the UK government as the world’s largest marine protected area.
Jon had the amazing opportunity to visit the Chagos islands a few years ago and was the first filmaker to open a window onto this remarkable world. So, this truly is unique footage and should be watched by anyone considering the Chagos situation.
We can’t undo the horrific treatment of the Chagos islanders but we can try and protect the extraordinary marine ecosystem that’s still there. And I for one think it would be a dammed shame if we can’t work out a way of keeping it.
Quite possibly the worst thing we could do is have the Mauritius government take control, build resorts and fish the heck out of the islands. Many of the Chagosians are strongly against the islands being handed over to Mauritius – a point that was made vocally at yesterday’s conference but which some reporters for some reason failed to pick up on.
In my humble opinion, the Chagos is clearly a tricky situation and there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to solving the conservation and human issues. But at the London conference yesterday the debate seemed unnecessarily polarised between people and the environment. And buried beneath the drama of the human story, drowned out by the wail of Chagosian kids in the lecture hall and the emotive lectern-rapping of well-versed lawyers was the tear-jerking beauty of the marine habitats and species in the remote and virtually untouched Chagos Islands.