The Chagos Archipelago – Footprint of Empire, or World Heritage?

On 1 April 2010, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT),1 to be enacted by ordinance of the Director of the FCO Overseas Territories Department, acting as BIOT Commissioner in exercise of the Government’s colonial “prerogative powers” (i.e., without parliamentary approval, pursuant to the 1865 Colonial Laws Validity Act).2


The new marine reserve3 is to cover the entire 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the territorial waters of the Chagos Archipelago,4 approximately 544,000 km2 (more than double the size of the United Kingdom). The only geographical exception will be the inner sector around the main island of the archipelago, the coral atoll of Diego Garcia with its lagoon and three-mile territorial sea (approximately 470 km2).5 The island happens to be the site of one of the largest and most secretive US bases overseas – proudly labelled “footprint of freedom” by its current occupants – constructed and upgraded at a cost of over US$3 billion,6 and home port to a sizable fleet of long-range bombers, nuclear submarines and naval supply vessels;7 in the science-fiction movie Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen (M. Bay and S. Spielberg, Paramount Pictures 2009), Diego Garcia even figures as secret operations and training facility for assorted robots and American heroes who save the Earth from extraterrestrial invaders. Within the new BIOT MPA, the US base now becomes a legally-exempt military enclave effectively surrounded by a 200-mile “green zone”.8

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  • The Chagos Archipelago - Footprint of Empire, or World Heritage? – Paul Sand, "Reprinted from Environmental Policy & Law, 40/5, 2010, p.232-242, with permission from IOS Press."


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Social Policy
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