Large MPAs are essential

Dear MPA News:
In “Views of Global MPA Coverage and the 10% Target: Interview with Mark Spalding and Kristina Gjerde” (MPA News, November/December 2010), Dr. Spalding acknowledges that while “mega-MPAs are really important,” focusing on them threatens to throw “off course” localized efforts to protect our oceans.

Imagine the world today without Yellowstone National Park or the many significant protected areas that followed in its path. Surely the establishment of Yellowstone was a good thing, and its designation did not impede the creation of public and community parks. Similarly, our oceans, like our lands, are vast fragile places teeming with life that require a toolbox of protective approaches.

The food security of millions relies upon coastal resources. Small inshore MPAs are in fact critical for improving local, sustainable use of the ocean. But as important as they are for coastal populations, community-centered MPAs cannot be the only way to ensure healthy oceans. It is widely recognized that permanently protected, very large, no-take marine reserves also are an essential tool for preserving unique biological and geological features, sustaining biodiversity, and maintaining flourishing natural populations of marine life for future research.

Unlike small MPAs, large no-take marine reserves provide safe havens for a wide range of migratory species, many of which are critical for the nutrition of coastal peoples. Because ecosystems in large no-take ocean reserves are generally healthier, they are also more resistant to pollution, climate change, and other threats. These threats are adversely affecting the well-being of the world’s oceans, and ultimately endangering the livelihoods, food security, and economic development of millions of people. Very large reserves can help reduce these risks.

Furthermore, using numbers from the interview, if we need to protect 32 million km2 of ocean in order to reach the 10% goal set forth by the Convention on Biological Diversity for protecting our oceans, and if the median MPA is 1.6 km2, we would need to designate and manage 20 million such areas to reach that threshold. Given the plodding pace at which MPAs are being created worldwide (something we are all striving to remedy), the creation of every MPA and marine reserve should be cause for celebration.

Finally, it is difficult to square the importance of creating large MPAs with the comparison to a “stamp collecting” exercise. Earlier this year, more than 260 marine scientists from 39 countries called for the establishment of a worldwide system of very large, highly protected marine reserves as “an essential and long overdue contribution to improving stewardship of the global oceanic environment.” (

Whether seeking designation of local inshore MPAs or big offshore MPAs, or trying to solve the riddle of sustainable fisheries management, scientists and concerned citizens everywhere need to support each other’s contributions to sustain healthy oceans. We support and encourage the work and designation of MPAs in different areas, large or small, and are certain that the readers of MPA News agree that “we need both.”

Jay Nelson
Director – Global Ocean Legacy, Pew Environment Group, Juneau, Alaska, US. E-mail:

WikiLeaked cable on Chagos MPA reveals “fortress” conservation mindset

Dear MPA News:
In response to your coverage of the Chagos MPA in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), we would like to highlight recent intelligence that has come to light in the wake of the cables released by the WikiLeaks website. On 1 December 2010, the Guardian newspaper published confidential cables ( that highlighted several “diplomatic” conversations regarding this closure, including aspects discussed in an article we recently published in the journal Marine Policy entitled “Fortress conservation at sea: a commentary on the Chagos MPA” (available at

Contrary to the UK government’s public statements, these cables show clearly that the MPA’s designation was deliberately pushed through while the native Chagossian case for a right to return to the islands was (and still is) pending judgment in the European Court of Human Rights. In fact the designation was described as “the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendents from resettling in the BIOT.”

The Chagos MPA is not only a “fortress” park in the model of so many terrestrial parks before it that have excluded people, but quite literally a military one as well, as this correspondence clearly states that the UK and US view the entire BIOT as “reserved for military uses” – thus lending a new meaning to the term “fortress” conservation. While we recognize the tremendous ecological value of this near-pristine area and support its conservation, shutting people out of decision-making on protected area designations and aligning marine conservation initiatives with officials who refer to local people as “Man Fridays” is clearly not a constructive way to build support for MPAs globally and meet international conservation targets. This arguably represents a cautionary tale for marine conservationists, in that they should beware of becoming aligned with exclusionary MPAs that have ulterior motives. While the imperative of conserving such pristine marine areas is an urgent one, it is debatable whether this imperative should over-ride equity and human rights concerns. Maybe this is a debate we now need to have?

Elizabeth De Santo
Assistant Professor, Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. E-mail:

Peter Jones
Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University College London, UK. E-mail:

Chagossian groups have never denied need for conservation

Dear MPA News:
I have read your item on the MPA around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean and I have also read Allen Vincatassin’s letter (MPA News 12:3, “Letter: Many Chagossian refugees support the new MPA”).

I am a founding member of the UK Chagos Support Association (, which was set up to support all Chagossians in their struggle for justice after a long exile from their homeland. Several very important points need to be made:

  1. I have yet to talk to any Chagossians who are against preserving their homeland, which they were achieving before a massive US military base was planted on Diego Garcia. What they wish is to be re-settled and to help with conservation and preservation. No sane person wants to destroy their own environment. The leaders of the larger Chagossian groups in Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK have never denied the need for conservation; they object to the fact that they have been ignored and marginalized.
  2. Although the UK Government proclaimed its sole aim in establishing an MPA was entirely altruistic, we now know – thanks to WikiLeaks – that it was proposed primarily as a means of keeping the Islanders in exile.
  3. The human animal needs preservation, too, especially when its rights have been denied for decades.
  4. Conservation and settlement can go hand in hand as has been shown by many schemes around the world. A massive military base – and all of the people, construction, planes, and boats involved – can be accommodated in Chagos but not the rightful inhabitants? That is neither logical nor fair.

Celia Whittaker
UK Chagos Support Association, UK. E-mail: