Chagos-The most pristine marine environment on earth?

Diego Garcia, in the Chagos archipelago, is back in the international news with the release of a new book in the United States entitled Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military base on Diego Garcia, by David Vine. It is what the publishers call a “groundbreaking work that dares to expose the other Guantánamo”. The book was officially launched in Seychelles and Mauritius in June this year. The author will donate all the book royalties to the Chagossians.

Seychellois, especially those of a certain generation, have a good knowledge of the Chagos. The coconut plantation on Diego Garcia was managed from Seychelles. My father’s company on Mahe provided fuel and supplies once upon a time to the Chagos and also exported the copra from there. The Chagossians who returned to Seychelles integrated into our society, with their Association still very active.Many other people around the world, through the international media, know about the Chagossians and their fight to return to “Diego “

What is less well known is that many scientists believe that the Chagos – a UK Overseas Territory – is probably the most pristine tropical marine environment on Earth. The archipelago has the world’s largest coral atoll, its healthiest reefs and its cleanest seas, they say

A booklet was launched in March this year called The Chagos Archipelago: Its Nature and the Future, to start a discussion on a programme “to create one of the world’s greatest conservation areas”. The archipelago is described as comparable with the Galapagos Islands or the Great Barrier Reef in environmental and scientific importance.

The publication flags up the Chagos as the United Kingdom’s greatest area of marine biodiversity by far. The area is a crucial refuge, staging post and breeding ground for marine life, it says. The Chagos also provides a scientific benchmark for an environment without degradation; this is important for helping to deal with problems such as pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity. It calls for people to support these ideas and encourage the British Government to make the conservation area a reality. This is a great start, in my opinion, as it sets aside a very important area of the planet and defers benefits to future generation – hopefully generations of Chagossians whose fate is currently a political hot potato.

Drawing on best practice from other sites, the aims of the conservation area would be: to protect nature, including fish stocks (benefiting countries such as Seychelles in the region); to benefit science, and support action against damaging climate change; and to be compatible with security and be financially sustainable. In my view, one of the major aims should be to provide livelyhood opportunities and environmental services for Chagossians upon their return.

Pollution, overfishing and climate change are affecting the oceans worldwide, but the creation of a conservation area around the Chagos will help preserve this pristine marine environment and secure rich natural heritage that many people say the Chagossians are actually the stewards of.

Tsunami predictions are plain wrong

“I just wanted to let you know to stay away from the beaches all around in the month of July. There is a prediction that there will be another tsunami or earthquake hitting on 22 July 2009. It is also when there will be a sun eclipse,”

This is a typical “Tsunami Warning” email message that has been filling my inbox over the last month. The message goes on to say that an earthquake is predicted to hit Japan on July 22nd, which would trigger a Tsunami traveling as far as Seychelles Mauritius and the East African coast.

The prediction is based on one fact: a solar eclipse will take place on July 22nd 2009 directly to the south west of Japan. This eclipse according to the prediction circulating on the World Wide Web means that the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon pulling together will 1. Lift the earth’s tectonic plates in that region of Asia; 2. Cause the tide to rise more than usual and 3. Cause an underground molten magma tide to dip and raise the plates following the water tide.

On July 22nd 2009, according to this prediction, a 6+ Magnitude Quake will take place at 3:00PM Local Japanese time. This will be followed by two level 5+ Earthquakes and a Tsunami between 5:00PM and 7:00PM. The Tsunami will start out in the Pacific Ocean and hit all the islands to the south west of Japan , Indonesia and New Zealand and also the Western Indian Ocean to Seychelles Mauritius and East Africa.

The prediction, outlined by a computer games developer called Britton La Roche in the US, is based on the following theory. A solar eclipse means that the moon is blocking the sun. The moon has enough gravitational pull to cause the tides and other natural phenomena on earth. The sun has enough gravitational pull to keep the earth in orbit. The theory is that during a solar eclipse, the moon has the Sun’s added pull on the Earth’s tectonic plates. When the Sun and Moon are together on one side of the planet, they can supposedly pull together and lift up the tectonic plate, just beneath the eclipse. This causes the plate to shift upward, and then an earthquake is generated when the lifted plate gets the little extra push (lift) it needed to move over its neighboring plate.

But this has been pooh poohed by the scientific community. The first to react was the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS). Dr. Kerry Sieh of EOS affirms on the EOS website that to date, scientists have not found any significant correlation between solar eclipses and earthquakes. Since 1900, for example, of 82 earthquakes greater than magnitude 8 worldwide, only two occurred close to the time of a solar eclipse. However, these were not only partial eclipses but also far from the locations of the earthquakes. Dr Sieh is visiting from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the US. His principal research interest is earthquake geology. He, students and colleagues are studying the megathrust that produced the devastating giant Sumatran earthquakes and Indian Ocean Tsunamis of 2004 and 2005.

“Earthquakes are not caused by gravitational pull”, says Dr. Kate Hutton, a seismologist also at Caltech, reported by Earthquakes are caused by the accumulation of strain in the Earth’s crust, she adds. The U.S. Geological Survey has also stated: “Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.”

Professor Ian Main of the University of Edinburgh, UK writing in the journal Nature about earthquakes says that in the USA, the emphasis has long been shifted to a better understanding of the earthquake process, and on an improved calculation of the seismic hazard. In Japan, particularly in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995, there is a growing realization that successful earthquake prediction might not be realistic. In China, thirty false alarms have brought power lines and business operations to a standstill in the past three years, leading to recent government plans to clamp down on unofficial predictions, he says.

Dr. Chris Rowan a geologist specializing in paleomagnetism, also at the University of Edinburgh writes in his blog that “Any geologist would be celebrating a genuine, proven, method of earthquake prediction: but we’re clearly not there yet. Right now, the best we can get is a hazy view of tectonic storm clouds building on the horizon, and we lack even the equivalent of a barometer, let alone advanced tools like weather satellites, to give us a more specific forecast. It would be irresponsible to claim otherwise.”

Poor old Britton La Roche has been dropped in it because he was simply theorizing so that he or others could think about building a Game Simulator. In fact on his blog he says “This is a theory and I have no background in earth science or seismology. In short, I have no valid qualification to back this prediction.” But the media and the internet community have reacted as if this was a scientific fact and have managed to stir panic throughout Asia and the Indian Ocean region