Chagos 2015 - Introduction and Meet The Team

Tom Letessier

This pelagic expedition to the British Indian Ocean Territory in the Chagos Archipelago is funded by the Bertarelli Foundation and is only the second of its kind. Building upon previous experience by scientists from UWA and ZSL in November 2012, our aim is to explore and understand the animals that live in the big blue and deep-sea of the Chagos Marine Reserve, which comprises 90% of the territory. Simply put, we are trying to determine whether populations of migratory species such as tunas and oceanic sharks benefit from being inside the world’s largest no-take marine reserve.

Whale Shark

A whole trickle of biological and oceanographic questions arises from this aim– for example, how do migratory species use the various habitats like atolls, banks, and seamounts inside the reserve? How does the distribution of prey animal interact and vary across these features? How is primary production sustained throughout the archipelago, and how is it transferred through to -and affect - higher trophic levels in the mid-water and on the sea-bed? How does the distribution and movement of pelagic bird populations and manta rays related to processes in the mid-water?

This blog will highlight some of the activities conducted as part of our expedition, and how these can help us answer such questions.As we sail to explore new parts of the marine realm, I hope we can give some insight into what life on board an expedition vessel is, and what our results mean for the future and conservation of our oceans.

Tom B Letessier, Expedition Leader

Chagos 2015 - Meet The Team

Alan Turchick

Alan TurchickAlan Turchik is a Mechanical Engineer with the National Geographic Society's Remote Imaging Group. He has spent the past 3 years designing custom camera equipment for photographers and cinematographers, and has supported these individuals on dozens of expeditions. His passion for creating solutions to complex problems has taken him all over the world, from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Circle. 
Alan got his start in designing solutions to field problems at the University of California, San Diego. While there, he worked for National Geographic's Engineers for Exploration program and spent a year designing a device to take large scale panoramas while suspended from a balloon high in the air. 

After obtaining his B.S. In Mechanical Engineering, Alan joined the Remote Imaging Group. He was instrumental in the design of several of Remote Imaging's cutting edge photographic and video devices. Such devices include high quality camera traps, which are remote cameras used to capture candid photos of elusive wildlife, and a deep ocean buoyancy compensator, used to precisely control an underwater camera's depth up to 1500 meters below the surface of the ocean. He has captured over 100 hours of deep ocean footage using Remote Imaging's Deep Ocean Dropcam.

Currently, Alan splits his time between National Geographic's HQ in Washington, DC, and various field assignments around the world.

Andrew Brierley

Andrew BrierleyAndrew Brierley is a marine ecologist based at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. His research focuses on interactions of pelagic animals – principally zooplankton and fish – with their dynamic three-dimensional environment (which species are found where, at what depth, and when), and on predator-prey interactions in the pelagic realm (who eats who). Andrew and his group use scientific echosounders to detect animals in the water column. They are seeking to understand ways in which natural and climate-related environmental variability affect zooplankton and fish, and impacts that changes in the zooplankton and fish have on higher trophic levels (predators) and fisheries.

Andrew read for a Degree in Marine Biology and Biochemistry at the University College of North Wales, Bangor (Wales, 1988). He was a Postgraduate Research Assistant at The University of Liverpool’s Port Erin Marine Lab (Isle of Man), and graduated with a PhD in population genetics and taxonomy of squid in 1992. After a year as a volunteer on various aquatic projects in Bolivia, Fiji and Australia, Andrew was recruited as a krill ecologist by the British Antarctic Survey. He participated in research at sea over six summer seasons, principally around South Georgia, studying krill-predator (penguins, seals, whales) interactions, and gathering krill stock assessment data that contributed to krill fisheries management. In his final Antarctic field season Andrew led the first under-ice deployments of the Autosub AUV, gathering the first large-scale data on the distribution of krill under sea ice. During his seven years at BAS Andrew also participated in projects on jellyfish in the Namibian Benguela and on underwater biogeography in the Galapagos.

Andrew moved to St Andrews in 2001 and established the Pelagic Ecology Research Group. In the past 14 years he and his PhD students have been involved in field research in the tropical and polar Atlantic from the coastal margins to the mid Atlantic ridge, in Palau and in the Indian Ocean – most recently around Chagos, Present work includes analysis of global patterns of Deep Scattering Layer distributions, schooling behaviour of fish and krill, and impacts of jellyfish blooms on human activities such as fish-farming and power generation (jellyfish can block cooling-water intakes at coastal nuclear power plants). Andrew teaches students across all years in the School of Biology at St Andrews, including on marine field courses in Indonesia and on the Great Barrier Reef. 

Andrew is a nominated UK delegate of the ICES Fisheries Acoustics Science and Technology (FAST) working group, and an invited expert member of the European Marine Board’s working group on Deep-Sea Research for Societal Challenges and Policy Needs.

Chris Thomspon

Chris ThompsonChris Thompson is a marine biologist based in Perth, Western Australia who currently works analysing footage from mid-water baited camera deployments from a range of expeditions. This involves reviewing the footage to provide fish identifications, counts and measurements. However this is his first expedition deploying these cameras in the field. He completed his Bachelors majoring in Marine Biology and Zoology at the University of Western Australia in 2012. This included a six month exchange with the University of Vermont. He then completed an Honours project investigating the behaviour of a number of shark species in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) using footage from baited remote underwater stereo video systems (stereo-BRUVS) collected on an expedition in 2012. Throughout these studies Chris has been involved in a number of other projects around Western Australia including tagging juvenile sharks in Exmouth; monitoring coral, butterflyfish, rock lobster and intertidal invertebrate populations at Rottnest Island and monitoring intertidal mollusc communities in Princess Royal Harbour, Albany. 


Daniel Fernando

Daniel FernandoDaniel Fernando is a PhD Student at Linnaeus University, Sweden, studying the biology and ecology of mobulid rays in the Indian Ocean. His research and conservation work has been highlighted internationally in documentaries broadcast on ITV and Al Jazeera, while data collected by him has contributed to the successful listing of the genus Manta under CITES Appendix II in 2013 and the genus Mobula under CMS Appendix I & II in 2014.

Daniel is also developing the first global mobulid identification guide to encourage further research on these species and aid in the implementation of international legislations to protect them. His larger goal is to determine the best way forward to decrease elasmobranch bycatch in fisheries while his role as associate director of the Manta Trust has led him to develop and supervise elasmobranch fisheries projects in countries such as India, Gaza, Guinea and Malaysian Borneo. 

His current work in Chagos, tagging and collecting tissue samples of reef manta rays, aims to widen knowledge on this poorly studied population and help identify if their home ranges are putting them at threat from gillnet fisheries operating within the Indian Ocean. 


Jenny Bertrand

Jenny Rabouine Bertrand Chagossian decent from Crawley UK. 

Jenny undertook a Connect Chagos Course during summer 2014 run by ZSL and funded by CCT, DEFRA etc. The aim was to learn about the conservation of Chagos Island and to connect the Chagossian Community to nature.

She learned about preservation and restoration of wildlife and their habitat, including going to Seven Sisters on the fringing shore to collect different species for identification and then releasing them to their natural habitat.

"The course has also help me to realise that small changes in our daily life like driving less, recycling more, switching off light when not in use can make a big impact on the improvement of the environment and bringing down the carbon footprint," Jenny said.

"Then there was an opportunity to go on the Chagos Oceanic Expedition so I applied for it.

"After going through interviews here I am on board the Pacific Marlin for a one chance to be on Chagos, my dad and husband's Native Island.  Apart from being away from my family there no other place I would rather be right now.  I am enjoying this whole experience and I am on board with a great team."


Kate Adams

Dr. Kate Adams is a physical oceanographer interested in understanding the role and importance of physical processes such as ocean currents and mixing on ocean life and biogeochemistry.

Currently, Kate is a postdoctoral research assistant at Plymouth University in southwest England working on submesoscale dynamics in the Southern Ocean. Her PhD research was completed in 2014 from Oregon State University and focused on near-bottom oxygen dynamics and coastal circulation in the productive coastal upwelling regime off central Oregon, USA. Kate completed an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley in 2009 and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2005.

In between her undergraduate and graduate education, Kate served as a US Peace Corps volunteer in the archipelago of Vanuatu as a K-8 literacy trainer. 

Kimberley Hallam

Kimberley is our expedition doctor. She grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and then moved to Scotland to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh from which she graduated in 2009. She has spent most of her working life in Northern Scotland and has a background of anaesthetics and emergency medicine.

She is due to move south to start a job in pre-hospital medicine in Bangor in February.

Kimberly is an avid surfer and loves being in and around the ocean. This is her second marine conservation expedition this year, the first being a diving conservation trip to the island of Utila in Honduras. She is looking forward to being at sea and learning more about the marine environment from the on-board scientists.

Kip Evans

For more than two decades Kip has been exploring the ocean and guiding conservation efforts through his documentary photography projects. He has participated in or led over fifty expeditions throughout the world including recent explorations in Alaska, Cuba, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Chagos.

Working on a number of National Geographic Society projects including the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, he served as the chief photographer for noted oceanographer and marine biologist, Dr. Sylvia Earle.

In 2008, Kip joined Mission Blue as the Director of Photography and Expeditions, documenting “hope spots,” critical areas around the world’s ocean that need protection.

As a diver and submersible pilot, Kip holds a number of certifications and recent spent 17 days living underwater at the Aquarius Habitat as part of Mission 31.

Kip graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara where he studied Marine Biology and  environmental studies.

Marjorie Fernandez

MarjorieMarjorie has always been fascinated by the natural world, especially life under the sea. With this in mind she progressed through university, graduating from the Federal University of Grande Dourados in 2008 with a Bachelor degree in biological sciences. She started her career in the North West of Brazil, where she studied the reproductive biology of 7 species of elasmobranchs and, was part of a short expedition named PROTUBA to investigate shark attacks in Recife, Brazil. This work made her realize that sharks are her passion and that she wanted to dedicate her life to the conservation of sharks.

For her M.Sc. at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) she researched associations of algae and molluscs in the South West of Brazil, focusing on community structure patterns. Currently Marjorie is working towards her PhD at the University of Western Australia.

She is looking at fish biodiversity and behaviour using a recent non-destructive and non-invasive research method with mid-water baited remote underwater systems (BRUVs) enabling monitoring of mid-water life within marine reserves. 

Matt Gollock

Matt Gollock

Matthew Gollock is the Marine and Freshwater Programme Manager at the Zoological Society of London. He has over 15 years of professional experience working in the field of fish biology, both academically and as part of conservation organisations.

He has utilised a range of tags, most recently SPOT satellite tags on Tiger sharks in Kenya, as well as having accrued a great deal of surgical experience with species such as cod and salmon.

He also has extensive field experience involving catching, handling and recording data from a wide variety of fish species. Matthew lead the first tagging expedition to Chagos in November 2012, and organised the tagging element of the 2015 expedition where he will be satellite tagging pelagic sharks.

David Curnick

David Curnick has a recreational fishing background, over 12 years’ experience working with in the fields of fish biology and ecology, and has been researching Chagos megafauna for the last 5 years. He was part of the February 2014 Vava II research expedition focusing on shark biology and behaviour and also the Darwin Funded 2014 reef expedition.  

He has experience tagging several species including reef shark (grey, blacktip) oceanic (silvertip, silky), mantas and billfishes.

He is currently reading for a PhD on the role Chagos plays in the conservation of pelagic predators such as sharks and tunas analysing both tagging and fisheries data.

During the 2015 expedition, David will be satellite tagging pelagic sharks to understand how they utilise the reserve in both space and time. He will also be regularly tweeting from the expedition - see @d_curnick. 

Robbie Schallert 

Robbie Schallert has been studying large pelagic species for over 13 years, specializing but not limited to lamnids, scombrids, billfish, and mantas. His current focus is on the evolution of endothermy in fish and its relation to niche expansion as well as remote monitoring of pelagics within marine protected areas. 

He works as a researcher for Stanford University and as the Director of Field Operations for the TAG-A-Giant Foundation.

This will be his fourth expedition to Chagos where he'll be deploying a newly engineered pop-up satellite tag on sharks, as well as continued collaboration with the larger consortium.

Nigel Hussey 

Nigel Hussey has over 10 years of field experience dealing with large elasmobranch including both sharks and rays and several teleost species including Arctic cod and Greenland halibut.

As a research associate at the University of Windsor and working for the Global Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), he has undertaken and led multiple tagging expeditions in environments ranging from the Arctic to the Red Sea, Bahamas, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa.

His current research focus is on telemetry tracking of fish behaviour and movements (using both acoustic and satellite approaches) and the application of chemical tracer techniques for conservation and management planning.

This will be his first expedition to Chagos and working as part of the broader team, he aims to surgically implant acoustic tags and take multiple tissue samples to understand the long-term and large-scale movements and trophic role of pelagic sharks species in Chagos.

Peter Carr

Peter CarrPete has a long association with the Chagos Archipelago and in particular the areas bird life. Over the past decade he has been involved with finding over 25 species of birds never recorded in BIOT before. He is the author of The Birds of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and, Important Bird Areas in BIOT.

He recently completed a Masters by research with Warwick University that looked at factors influencing breeding island selection by Red-footed Booby.

A committed conservationist focussing on terrestrial ecological restoration in BIOT, in August 2014 after three years of planning and fund-raising he led an expedition that eradicated rats from three islands.

Pete’s research on this expedition is on seabirds at sea and how they associate with different marine habitats within the Chagos Marine Protected Area, a project first started on the November 2012 pelagic expedition.

Phil Hosegood

Phil HosegoodPhil Hosegood is a physical oceanographer at Plymouth University where he has been a lecturer for seven years and is now Programme Director of the new BSc Oceanography and Coastal Processes.  

Previously he was a post-doctoral research associate at the Applied Physics Laboratory within the University of Washington, Seattle. He completed his PhD at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research where he was awarded his PhD cum laude in recognition of his outstanding contribution to our understanding of turbulent mixing processes occurring over continental slopes.

His current research interests focus on small-scale oceanographic processes and span a broad range of topics including shelf sea dynamics, shelf-edge exchange processes and the role of submesoscale fronts in shaping the surface mixed layer throughout the oceans.

More recently, he has applied his work on physical oceanic processes to the impact they have on the biological system, in particular in influencing the foraging behaviour of top predators at oceanic features such as fronts.

Phil is an active participant in ocean-going cruises and has undertaken field work throughout the Atlantic, Southern, and Indian Oceans, in addition to a number of UK-based shelf sea cruises.

He has been, and currently is, Principal Scientist of a number of Natural Environment Research Council projects and is leading a cruise to the Southern Ocean shortly after his return from the Chagos.

Roland Proud

Roland Proud grew up in a small town in Warwickshire, England.  His early academic career revolved around the natural sciences and mathematics, graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2008 with a Masters degree in Physics and Astrophysics.

During the next two years, Roland completed a SAS programming training course and became a certified consultant, working at various banks and Governmental institutions across the UK.  In 2011, Roland returned to his scientific roots and elected to take a Masters course in Ecosystem-based Management of Marine Systems at the University of St Andrews. Feeling he was finally on the right track, in 2012, Roland began a PhD in Marine Science, working collaboratively with the University of St Andrews, the University of Tasmania and the Australian Antarctic Division.

His research involves using active acoustic data collected by ship-based echosounders to analyse oceanic biological layers - known as Sound Scattering Layers (SSLs).  

Roland spent his first year out in Tasmania, based at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies before departing for a 9-week Antarctic winter sea-ice expedition on-board the RV Polarstern. During his time on the ship, he collected acoustic data vital to his research and gained valuable fieldwork experience. Presently, Roland is based in St Andrews, Scotland and has just entered his final year of research.

Tom Letessier

Tom LetessierTom B Letessier is the current Chagos Consortium Science Coordinator, working for the Zoological Society of London and the University of Western Australia. His main interest as a marine conservationist lies in the preservation of open water pelagic ecosystem.

He is particularly keen to study and promote ways in which to conserve large marine predators like tunas and shark. With a background as a plankton ecologist, he has always had a deep appreciation for the processes that sustains and drives pelagic systems.

Recently he has been working primarily with the development and implementation of mid-water baited cameras, which explicitly targets large pelagic predators like tunas and sharks. These animals are particularly challenging to study, since they typically migrate both on yearly and ontogenetic time scales. Moreover, they are widely recognised to be of conservation concerns, since they are targeted by an international fleet and have typical high-seas and transnational movement and distribution patterns. Many populations have experienced declines of up to 90% of their pre-fisheries abundance, and there is serious concerns regarding their viability.

Based in London, he is currently working for the University of Western Australia, and the Zoological Society of London conducting research and acting as coordinator of the Chagos Science Consortium.


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