Chagos: get it right about the reefs


Diego Garcia (Chagos Archipelago) British Indian Ocean Territory. Credit: Flickr/Drew Avery.

Guest post by Sean Carey

A recent BBC Radio 4 broadcast, a programme on coral reefs, included misleading information about the Chagos Archipelago, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The gist is that the amazing health of the reefs in the Chagos region can be attributed to the absence of human habitation.

The subliminal message is that repatriating the Chagossian Islanders, who were evicted from their homeland by the British authorities to make way for the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia, will endanger the reefs.

Is this genuine marine science or sheer politics masquerading as marine biology?

Because the right of return of the islanders is now before the European Court of Human Rights, many supporters felt that this naive environmentalism could not left unchallenged.

A letter was drafted and several amendments were made to it before a copy was finalised and sent to BBC complaints.

Anthropologists Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Sean Carey signed the letter, along with many others including several luminaries including broadcaster, Ben Fogle; bestselling historical novelist, Philippa Gregory; environmental campaigner and botanist, David Bellamy; and former leader of the UK Liberal Party, Lord Steel.

Sean Carey then sent the letter on to the Mauritius Times so that it would gain the attention of a wider public.

“Although I wrote the introductory paragraphs, my name shouldn’t have been put at the top as I am just one part of a ‘galaxy,’ but too late now.”

Note from the blogger: Sean, you are too modest by far.

Sean Carey obtained his Ph.D. in social/cultural anthropology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is currently research fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (Cronem) at Roehampton University. He writes for the Guardian, Mauritius Times, New African and New Statesman.

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