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Information from BIOT’s Environmental Adviser On Designated Anchorages

By doina — last modified Mar 06, 2007 11:12 AM

Published: 2007-03-06 11:12:50
Countries: BIOT (Chagos)

There has been some comment from yachts, directly or via the BIOT Administration, on the yacht mooring locations and the new rules that come into force on 1 April 2007.

I will be visiting the Territory in early March on my annual visit for the BIOT Administration, as their Environmental Adviser. Given the concerns of some members of the yachting community, I have also been asked by the BIOT Administration to check the mooring location corners of the permitted areas, using a GPS on all the corners. (The BIOT Patrol Vessel, MV Pacific Marlin, had previously checked the co-ordinates on my behalf.) As a yacht owner, I understand the need for sheltered sites in water of suitable depth and substrate.

The conversions between lat-deg-sec or lat-decimal is simple in a GIS and I will supply co-ordinates in all possible combinations. The BIOT Administration will then issue these in revised plans.

I shall be producing revised maps to indicate the boundaries for Strictly Protected Areas and other important designated areas as well as anchorages.

I have also received many comments on the policy decision regarding the new permit regulations and fee increase for visiting yachts. This is something I am unable to comment on. All queries on those matters should be addressed to the BIOT Administration in London e-mail: [email protected]

As BIOT’s Environmental Adviser, I can however comment from a conservation point of view. The damage to the seabed, especially in Diamant in Peros Banhos and Boddam in Salomon, is getting quite substantial in some localised places. Several coral colonies of over 400 years old have been completely killed, for example, by the practice of wrapping thick rope or chain around them to serve as moorings. Unfortunately, a few visiting yachts’ emails appear to suggest that they think this is an eco-friendly and suitable thing to do. The decision to constrain the area affected is simply to reduce the size of the "sacrificial areas" to sites small enough to be absorbable by the benthic habitat. Some commented that sandy patches have been excluded. This will influence part of the revision of sites. (In fact, some sandy patches were once good coral, now pounded to sand by anchoring!)

I understand that there is a wide range of attitudes amongst visiting yacht owners. I have received reports (from visiting yachts and other scientists), that suggest that there is considerable abuse of the environment by a very small number of visiting yacht owners. I realise this is commonly by accident or ignorance of consequences, not by design.

Episodes such as the recent mass mortality from warming have increased the vulnerability of the benthic habitat to many other forms of impacts which, on their own, might have had little effect in the past. Pathogens from sewage from yachts in rarely visited sites, for example, are sufficient in some areas of the world to kill and keep suppressed all branching coral. This would be disastrous in Chagos, were it to happen, and some research started last year is monitoring this. As well as the coral pathogen story, in Salomon, the two or three dozen boats sometimes anchored (which do not generally travel out several miles to empty their holding tanks) is more than enough to cause alteration to what is naturally a very low nutrient environment.

In the case of Chagos, the intention is to retain it as the Indian Ocean’s best kept "reference" site for a very wide range of increasingly important research into the mitigation of the effects of climate change and other impacts. This is why the new maps will also include areas designated "Strict Nature Reserves", into which no yacht will be permitted to go. I will be visiting in March and will welcome comments from those there at that time, and can equally receive comments at my email below.

Dr Charles Sheppard, BIOT Environmental Adviser

Warwick University

[email protected]