The team will be studying the ecology and distribution of the larger animals in the ecosystem – many of them top predators. These animals at the top of the food chain often drive the dynamics of populations blow 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
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 thick strands 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 2015 and 2016 with widespread mortality. The team will be closely studying their recovery and resilience over the next three years.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
Like any protected area the animals of BIOT are under threat from poachers. Understanding why people 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.
People involved at ZSL
ZSL has been actively working in BIOT for more than 10 years and our efforts there are collaborative across our departments. In the Marine and Freshwater Conservation Department Heather Koldewey manages ZSL's work in the BIOT marine reserve with Rachel Jones as Project Manager of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science. Matthew Gollock has been involved with pelagic fish studies over many years and co-ordination has come from Kirsty Richards.
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.
By combining our work on both the fishers and the species that are fished we hope to contribute to improved protection of the reserve.
Malcolm Nicoll, Robin Freeman, Peter Carr and Hannah Woods are all working on aspects of seabird biology and ecology across the region.
Partners and sponsors
The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science is kindly supported by the Bertarelli Foundation.
Previous work in BIOT has been funded by: PEW Charitable Trusts; Darwin Initiative - Overseas Territories Challenge Fund; PEW Environment Group; Defra; FCO; Waterloo Foundation; Blue Marine Foundation;; University College London; Rufford Small Grants Foundation.
Our partners include: Chagos Conservation Trust; Marine Resources Assessment Group; CEFAS; Marine Management Organisation; University of Bangor; University of Western Australia; University College London;, University of Oxford; University of Exeter; University of Montpellier; Stanford University; Scottish Association of Marine Science; Natural History Museum; Deakin University; Manta Trust; University of Swansea; University of Lancaster; Australian Institute of Marine Science.