Located in the Chagos Islands, Diego Garcia is one of the most pristine areas of the world. When the British allowed the United States to use the base in the early 1980s, the authorization came with clear environmental controls to prevent the deterioration of the natural surroundings. Four years ago, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) were declared the world’s largest marine reserve. However, its greatest danger appears to be the United States Navy. For decades, in direct violation of governing standards, the U.S. Navy has dumped hundreds of tons of human waste into the lagoon. In the meantime, while 5000 U.S. service personnel are dumping waste into the waters and coral reefs, Chagossians are being kept from returning to their home because of the delicate environmental conditions of the area.
The U.S. dumping has resulted in elevated levels of nutrients with nitrogen and phosphate readings up to four times higher than normal. The coral – may be damaging the coral.
The dismal record of the U.S. was revealed in a recent statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. U.S. vessels have been uniformly dumping their date into the lagoon since the early 1980s. The practice violates express British policy and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.
Putting aside the double standard applied to the original natives who have been kept away from their homes to “protect the area,” it should not take a formal agreement to get the U.S. Navy to observe a basic protection of a pristine area. Every captain who ordered the release of the wastes into the lagoon knew that he or she was destroying the area. What is particularly maddening is that the Navy arranges for waste removal in other areas and such capabilities are available. It simply chose to pollute this area because it could get away with it. The Navy often insists that it has trained its commanders to adhere to environmental values but this is an obvious and straightforward test of those values and we failed miserably.
The Navy record at Diego Garcia is a disgrace and only adds to the view of the country as hypocritical on legal and environmental standards.