Scientific expeditions to Chagos
ZSL has long been active in the conservation of the Chagos Archipelago through the UK Overseas Territories Forum and the Chagos Conservation Trust. ZSL scientists have been part of scientific expeditions to the area to survey and study Chagos' biodiversity and find out how best to protect it.
In 2006, Rachel Jones, Deputy team leader of the aquarium, joined other UK coral and reef fish experts in a three-week expedition to the islands. The main aim of this survey was to assess and compare the occurrence of coral disease around Diego Garcia and the Northern atolls respectively using video transects, and to take tissue samples for further disease analysis at ZSL laboratories.
Two ZSL scientists then joined another expedition to Chagos from 13th February-7th March 2012. Heather Koldewey was lead scientist, accompanied by Catherine Head conducting her PhD research investigating reef crypotfauna, and Pascaline Cotte, Chagos Ambassador, was supporting this work as part of ongoing training. This scientific research, supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and numerous other institutions, prioritised the long-term monitoring of the pristine Chagos archipelago. The ultimate goal is to establish the best and most economical ways to monitor and manage the MPA.
Later in the 2012 autumn saw the first dedicated pelagic expedition focusing on monitoring the vast open ocean environment of which the MPA is predominantly comprised. Matt Gollock of ZSL’s Marine and Freshwater team, supported by Chagos outreach assistant Rudy Pothin, joined an international team of scientists to investigate, for the first time, life in the archipelago away from the the previous foci of the reefs and islands. Along with deployment of various oceanographic monitoring devices, an objective of the trip was to trial methods for monitoring the Chagos pelagic shark populations using tagging telemetry.
Once methods are perfected, these oceanic transmitters will be a first step in understanding the movements of pelagic predators, and tracking their use of the MPA to clarify the efficacy of its protection for these species. Coupled with use of BRUV (baited remote underwater video) technology, able to capture many facets of the archipelago’s biodiversity on film, the scientists gained an exciting new insight into the challenges (and solutions!) of keeping an eye on the big blue.
View some of the extraordinary BRUVs footage here
A further spring voyage to the islands of Chagos hosted the continued long term reef monitoring carried out by Charles Sheppard and team. Joining them, and freshly graduated from ZSL's Chagos Environment Training Course was Yannick Mandarin. Yannick, having completed a nine week course with ZSL aimed at young Chagossians in 2012, had the opportunity to work with researchers on board the Pacific Marlin monitoring bird populations on the islands of Chagos. As part of an ongoing training initiative, this was Yannick's first experience of hands on conservation work, and one he intends to take further.
This expedition differed from those previous in the addition of pelagic camera technology trials. It was on this expedition that ZSL staff member Gary Fletcher began the first field trials of a new generation of underwater camera traps. These monitoring stations, developed here at ZSL, are designed for long deployments with images and associated environmental data transferred back to scientists via satellite. The trial was a great success and the team are now building on the lessons learnt before further trials on subsequent expeditions. Find out more information about the monitoring stations:
This work will contribute significantly to the understanding and management the world’s largest fully no-take MPA, maintaining this extraordinarily rich area of marine and terrestrial biodiversity.
View some of the first SISSTAs footage here