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.

Select a blog

Careers at ZSL

Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.

Nature at the heart of global decision making

At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions. 

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!


We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.


From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.


A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.

Artefact of the month

Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.

Wild About

Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Asia Conservation Programme

ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.