BIOT Birthday

by ZSL on

Jamie McDevitt-Irwin, fish biologist and PhD student from Stanford University, a project partner in the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, joins the May 2018 Reef expedition to BIOT. @jamiemcirwin, @MicheliLab

As a first year PhD student, I’m lucky to be on the current research expedition to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), it’s my first trip to the BIOT and also my first time on a research cruise of any type. In addition, I get to celebrate my birthday in the BIOT.

As it’s my first cruise experience, I was quite worried I would be seasick the entire time, but anti-motion medicine is working like a charm for me. The gentle lulling of the boat is actually quite nice at night whilst you are sleeping; except for the odd occasion when a large swell leaves you worrying you might be flipped out of bed or watch your fan and belongings crash off the table in the middle of the night.

To carry out research, small inflatable boats are lowered off the expedition vessel to go diving at research sites. Even though the reefs are in poor health as they have been heavily impacted by the bleaching events of 2015 and 16, the diving has been incredible. I have seen sharks on every dive (including blacktip, whitetip, silvertip and nurse sharks), some mantas, eagle rays and turtles.

nurse shark in BIOT
Nurse shark on the reef in BIOT

My goal on this expedition, along with my advisor Fiorenza Micheli, is to evaluate how changes in shark abundance may cause changes in the food chain and influence reef recovery after stress events, like the recent bleaching event of 2016.

We are looking at changes in abundance, composition and behavior of benthic feeding fishes (BFFs: corallivores or coral feeders, and herbivores) and how this influences coral recruitment and recovery. We are monitoring coral recruitment, survival and growth and how the benthic community develops across sites that vary in BFFs and sharks.

Jamie and dive buddy quadrat survey
Jamie and dive buddy using benthic quadrat to survey coral growth and recruitment

We are installing coral recruitment tiles, some caged and some uncaged, with the caged tiles not allowing BFFs to get near the tile (e.g. to feed on algae or corals) and monitor benthic community development over three years at sites varying in BFF and shark abundance.

In addition, we are taking samples of fishes (parrotfish and snappers) and algae to look at any shifts in their diet or productivity. Stay tuned to hear more about how this work develops.

For more updates from this and future expeditions, follow us on Twitter @BIOTscience.

This work was kindly funded by the Bertarelli Foundation as part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science.

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