Chasing corals

by ZSL on

April Burt from the University of Oxford joins the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science coral reef expedition to British Indian Ocean Territory in April 2018.

‘Reef Team One’ arrived in Diego Garcia earlier this week to commence the first component of our long term surveys. The organizing, preparation and setting up of a complex marine expedition, involving 14 researchers from around the world is no easy task. After months of preparation the team arrived and boarded the Grampian Frontier, the expedition vessel. With last minute delays in equipment arrival, missing gear and temperamental dive compressors, the team had some long days and late nights to get everything ready for our departure, but under the expert leadership of Professor John Turner and the logistical skills of Dan Bayley, Ronan Roche and Andy Mogg we were able to commence the diving as planned.

Tenders on reef for dives in BIOT
Dive surveys commence with teams above and below the water

As a reward for all the hard-work that has gone into getting the expedition underway the team were greeted at the first survey site by a manta ray and on the second days dive, along with Black-Tip, White-Tip and Grey Reef sharks. One of the expedition objectives is to monitor the health of the reefs, to assess their recovery from the 2015–16 global mass bleaching event which caused major mortality in hard corals here and across the world. Whilst two years is not long enough to expect any major recovery, the team were delighted to see areas which survived the bleaching and signs that coral recovery is under-way. This morning whilst we were diving at one of our long-term monitoring sites, we encountered a large expanse of healthy coral, supporting a diverse and vibrant reef community. Huge areas of Pachyseris plating corals were last seen by John Turner in 2015 and it was with some trepidation that he started to dive hoping to find them again, however as you can see from the photos not all is lost and these ancient colonies continue to thrive, despite the continuous and growing pressures they face as sea temperatures rise.

Recovering corals and plate coral for blog in BIOT
Corals show recovery following mass bleaching in 2015-2016 (L) Large colonies of Pachyseris (R)

The vessel is now underway to the next site, and the team are enjoying working with the crew of the British patrol vessel, Grampian Frontier - manned by a great team of mostly Scottish mariners, so with the help of Willy, John, Lucas and all, we are sure to have a successful mission.

The team will be travelling to and diving at 31 individual reef sites over a period of 3.5 weeks. You can follow updates from the team via twitter @BIOTscience and using #BIOTscience

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

The team for the first phase of reef-based research in 2018, comprises 14 researchers from the universities of Bangor, Stanford, Oxford, UCL/ZSL/NHM, SAMS and Warwick and have a number of expedition objectives:

  1. Extending existing long-term coral reef datasets and integrating sea surface temperature trends into coral reef resilience. Lead by Professor Charles Sheppard, with assistance from Anne Sheppard.
  2. A video archive for long term monitoring of coral reef benthic communities lead by Professor John Turner (expedition leader) with assistance from Dr Ronan Roche.
  3. Three-dimensional determination of reef structural complexity. Lead by Dan Bayley with assistance from Dr Andrew Mogg.
  4. Measuring future resilience via juvenile coral abundance. Lead by Professor Charles Sheppard, with assistance from Anne Sheppard.
  5. Reef biodiversity assessment lead by Dr Catherine Head & Professor Robert Dunbar, with assistance from Dr Hans Dejong, Dr David Mucciarone and April Burt.
  6. Quantifying and reducing vulnerability of the Chagos Archipelago Marine Reserve to climate change lead by Dr Gareth Williams.

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