Chagos MPA - can you divorce science and politics?

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By Dr Peter JS Jones, Dept of Geography, University College London (P.J.Jones [at]

An interesting Response by Charles Sheppard (2014, Marine Policy 47, 85–86) to the article by Peter Harris: Fortress: Safe haven or home? The Chagos MPA in political context (2014, Marine Policy 46, 19-21). Charles  Sheppard attempts to annul the marriage between science and politics which Peter Harris' paper has reported. This left me pondering some questions.

Given that Charles clearly and understandably  cares about the marine biodiversity around the Chagos archipelago (as do many, including myself and probably Peter Harris), is it feasible or realistic to divorce science from politics, i.e. can you care about something but be divorced from the politics involved in governing that thing?

Given that the Chagos Environmental Network has provided and communicated scientific advice and papers which link the 'pristine' status of the ecosystems within the MPA with the uninhabited nature of the islands since 1973 (3,000 - 5,000 military base personnel catching ~50 tonnes of fish per annum aside, recognising that there were only 2,000 Chagossians living on the archipelago islands), is it realistic to argue that the science is divorced from the politics concerning decisions about the MPA and the return of Chagossians to islands within it?

Is it realistic to say that the Chagos MPA is not due to 'Fortress Conservation' (in relation to De Santo et al. (2013) Fortress conservation at sea: a commentary on the Chagos MPA) when a wiki leak revealed the UK government's view (from the US State Department's perspective) that "establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents", who were previously referred to as "Man Fridays"? It would seem, as we argued in De Santo et al (2011) prior to the release of the wiki leak, that the question of the return of Chagossians was at least in a relationship with designation of the MPA, even if the two were not married.

Is the right of return of Chagossians (which few would take up, in reality, but they should have the right) necessarily wedded to a resumption of commercial fishing within the Chagos MPA?

In my view, the answer to these four rhetorical questions is clearly 'no', other views welcomed! The marriage between science and politics may be an uneasy one, but it is a difficult one to ignore and not a feasible one to deny, and a divorce does not seem to be a realistic prospect.