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Worldwide Resistance to Suspect Marine Reserves Builds

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Indigenous peoples and environmental groups fighting northern California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) are part of an accelerating global movement against what activists say are thinly disguised attempts to fulfill the agenda of corporate globalization and the privatization of public trust resources.

In California, fishermen, environmentalists and Indian tribes are pitted against MLPA officials and corporate environmental NGO representatives who are imposing marine protected areas along the coast from the Oregon border to the U.S.–Mexico border.

The rights of indigenous people and fishing families are rarely considered in the creation of these no-fishing and -gathering zones, be they installed in the Chagros Islands by the United Kingdom, the Sea of Cortez by the Mexican government or along the California coast under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's MLPA.

Ironically, Leon Panetta, the current CIA Director, has been one of the strongest and outspoken supporters of California’s MLPA. Panetta, when he led the Join Oceans Commission, praised the MLPA for being "an inclusive, regional public process that involves sport and commercial fishermen, marine scientists, conservationists, divers, kayakers and educators" in an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News on August 30, 2008. However, far from being inclusive, the widely contested initiative excluded tribal scientists from the science advisory panels and failed to appoint any tribal representatives to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces until 2010.

Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribe member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, exposed the refusal to incorporate tribal science and said that institutional racism underlies the fake science of the MLPA process during a direct action protest by a coalition of 50-plus tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg, California, on July 21, 2010.

“The MLPA process completely disregards tribal gathering rights and only permits discussion of commercial and recreational harvest,” Myers said. “The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism. It doesn’t recognize tribes as political entities, or tribal biologists as legitimate scientists.”

The MLPA, overseen by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate operatives, does nothing to protect ocean waters from water pollution, oil drilling and spills, corporate aquaculture, wave energy development, habitat destruction, military testing and human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private corporation, funds the unpopular initiative. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation (Hewlitt-Packard) has contributed $8.2 million to fund MLPA hearings through the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, while the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Intel) has donated $7.4 million to the widely contested process. The Laguna Beach-based Marisla Foundation, founded by Getty Oil heiress Anne Getty Earhart, gave another $3 million. The Keith Campbell Foundation contributed $1.2 million to the MLPA through the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. Finally, the Annenberg Foundation contributed $200,000.

Around the world, similar marine initiatives are also under fire. The African Union recently backed Mauritius against the United Kingdom in the dispute over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Secret cables between the U.S. and British governments released to the Guardian by Wikileaks disclosed how the “marine protected area” supported by Greenpeace and other corporate environmental groups was installed to deny the native Chagossians the right of return and allow alleged CIA interrogation of terror suspects on the U.S. military base at Diego Garcia.

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In January the Assembly of the Union, meeting in Ethiopia, passed a resolution to "support fully the action of the government of the Republic of Mauritius at the United Nations General Assembly with a view to enabling Mauritius to exercise its sovereignty over the Archipelago." The union noted with "grave concern” that the United Kingdom had established a marine protected area around the Chagos Archipelago on November 1, 2010, “in a manner that was inconsistent with its international legal obligations, thereby further impeding the exercise by the Republic of Mauritius of its sovereignty over the Archipelago."

On December 20, Mauritius initiated proceedings against the United Kingdom over the legality of the proposed marine protected area, invoking the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and plans to challenge the move under other international law provisions.

“We do not regret the removal of the population, since removal was necessary for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) to fulfill its ‘strategic purpose,’ ” British Foreign Commonwealth Commissioner Colin Roberts wrote to his U.S. counterpart in May 2009. “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT.”

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued an embarrassing apology to members of Parliament in February 2008, admitting that two planes carrying prisoners of the U.S. war on terror had landed on the British-owned island of Diego Garcia in 2002 on their way to foreign territory as part of the "American extraordinary rendition program."

The marine reserve, the largest in the world, was pushed through by the U.K. government, the Obama administration and nine prominent environmental NGOs, ranging from the Pew Charitable Trust to Greenpeace, despite outrage by the Chagossians and human rights groups throughout the world.

"The fish have more rights than us," said Roch Evenor, secretary of the UK-based Chagos Support Association, who left the islands when he was four years old.

In Mexico, indigenous communities are struggling against fishing restrictions imposed by President Felipe Calderon's government. In 2007 the Cucapa Tribe of Baja California organized a Zapatista Peace Camp with Subcomandante Marcos and the Mayans that ran from February through May in support of their right to fish for corvina and other species in a federal marine reserve, the Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Gulf of California, in the Colorado River. Indigenous activists from throughout the U.S. and Latin America successfully defended tribal members against government harassment.

"The Cucapa are doing the same thing they have been doing for 9,000 years," Marcos said. "The Cucapa and other Indian people called for this camp in defense of nature so they can fish without detentions or being put in jail."

The marine reserve, rather than addressing the massive water diversions of water that led to fish declines in the Sea of Cortez and the reduction of the Colorado river at its mouth to a dry bed or trickle, penalizes the greatest defenders of the river and its ecosystem, the Cucapa. It is eerily similar to the corrupt MLPA process, which did not address the export of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water, water pollution, habitat degradation and other factors that have led to declines in Central Valley salmon and Bay-Delta Estuary fish in recent years.