Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science

The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science is a highly collaborative programme bringing together experts from across the world to research and improve our understanding of how best to protect the ocean. The programme has identified projects which will take place between 2017 and 2021 to investigate a wide range of information from ecology, role and behaviour or target species to the impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the BIOT marine reserve.

The 9 science projects are grouped under three main themes:

Sentinel species

The team will be studying the ecology and distribution of large highly mobile animal species in the ecosystem – many of them top predators. These animals at the top of the food chain often drive the dynamics of populations below them and understanding where they are and what they are doing can unlock incredible insights into the whole ecosystem. It also helps to figure out where and when they might be most vulnerable to poaching which can help with better targeted enforcement efforts. Our sentinel species groups are:

  • Pelagic predators - open ocean sharks, rays and tuna
  • Reef sharks
  • Turtles
  • Seabirds

Coral reefs

There are at least 310 species of coral on the reefs of the Chagos Archipelago, including the Chagos brain coral (Ctenella chagius), a species endemic to these waters. Corals not only created the tiny atoll islands of the archipelago but dense populations of branching species continue to protect them from waves and storm damage. Corals on these reefs have been hit hard by bleaching from rising sea temperatures during the El Nino events of 2014 and 2017 with widespread mortality down to 15m. These reefs have been impacted like this before with similar widespread damage after the 1998 bleaching. Despite this knock-back, juvenile corals are already starting to grow on the old skeleton left behind by the dead adult colonies. The team will be closely studying their recovery and resilience over the next three years and trying to describe what the future may hold for these reefs.

comparison of reef health at Ile Anglais reef. Salomon Atoll. BIOT
Ile Anglais, Salomon Atoll reef in 2006 and in 2017 [1]
[1] Sheppard C, Sheppard A, Mogg A, Bayley D, Dempsey A, Roche R, Turner J, Purkis S. (2017) Coral Bleaching and mortality in the Chagos Archipelago. Atoll Research Bulletin. 613: 1-28. 

Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing

Like any protected area the animals of BIOT are under threat from poachers, the sheer abundance of target species like tuna and shark make the territory very attractive to those who seek to benefit from breaking the rules. Understanding what drives fishers to break the rules, where they come from and how they work is key to figuring out how to better protect the biodiversity of the marine reserve. We will be conducting socio-economic studies across the region to inform management and ensure the reserve is well protected. 

By combining our work on both the fishers and the species that are fished we hope to contribute to improved protection of the reserve.


Over the course of the programme teams will be in the field several times each year and we will be bringing information live from each trip. 

Upcoming 2018 expeditions

January - February Seabird survey and tagging expedition
February - March

Array servicing and pelagic tagging expedition

March - April

Reef surveys (coral) expedition


Reef surveys (fish) expedition

June - July Turtle survey and tagging expedition
June - July Seabird survey and tagging expedition

Follow the programme on twitter at @BIOTscience and keep in touch with all the science going on in BIOT using #BIOTscience

Project Information

Contact BPMS:

People Involved

In the Institute of Zoology there are several researchers working on aspects of BIOT science:

David Curnick is investigating the role of large marine protected areas as a conservation strategy for pelagic tunas and sharks.

David Jacoby is studying the behaviour and ecology of reef sharks, a group of species under particular pressure from poaching activities.

Tom Letessier is working to understand how Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing impacts the marine reserve and how fishers that break the rules there perceive the risks and benefits of doing so.

Malcolm NicollRobin FreemanPeter Carr and Hannah Woods are all working on aspects of seabird biology and ecology across the region.


Kindly supported by the Bertarelli Foundation

Partners & Supporters:

Australian Institute of Marine Science

Bangor University

Deakin University

Lancaster University

Manta Trust

Scottish Association of Marine Science

Stanford University

Swansea University

University of Exeter

University of Oxford

University of Western Australia