Project status
Indian Ocean
Project collaborators
Heather Koldewey on a riverboat looking in the distance with binoculars in hand

Professor Heather Koldewey

Lead, Bertarelli Foundation's Marine Science Programme

Robin Freeman headshot

Dr. Robin Freeman

Head of Indicators and Assessments Unit

Malcolm Nicoll

Dr Malcolm Nicoll

Senior Research Fellow

Tom Letessier

Tom Letessier

Research Fellow

David Curnick, ZSL Research Fellow

David Curnick

Research Fellow

Jessica Savage

Jessica Savage

PhD Researcher

Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones

Marine Science Programme Manager


Coretta Granberry

Marine Science Programme Administrator

Emma Levy

Emma Levy

Marine Science Programme Coordinator

The Indian Ocean is the least scientifically known and understood, the least protected, the fastest warming, and the most exploited Ocean.

  • 43
    remote ocean research expeditions completed since 2017
  • 73
    researchers (including 30 students) from 22 institutions from 11 countries involved in the programme
  • 149
    peer-reviewed papers have been generated between 2017-2022 from the research in the region
  • The Indian Ocean basin provides an important ocean observatory where scientists can investigate complex marine ecosystems across a gradient of human influence from heavily populated coastal cities to remote, no-take Marine Protected Areas.

    The Bertarelli Foundation supports our Marine Science programme, which is managed by ZSL. We work with universities and NGOs across the Indian Ocean region, and research partners in Europe, North America and Australia, to increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and develop and transfer marine technology. The programme funds and is proactively recruiting early-career scientists and students from within the Indian Ocean region.

    Fish swimming on coral reef in Chagos Archipelago
    © Bertarelli Foundation

    ZSL Projects

    • Seabird Connectivity in the Western Indian Ocean

      This project assesses how breeding colonies of six ecologically contrasting seabird species are connected within the Western Indian Ocean by establishing the rate of gene flow between colonies. This will identify discrete ‘conservation or management units’. The team are also exploring what encourages the birds to move to other islands.

      - Lead investigators: Dr. Malcolm Nicoll, Zoological Society of London, Dr. Matthieu le Corre, Université de la Réunion
    • Seabird Connectivity in the Chagos Archipelago 

      This project focusses on red-footed boobies (Sula sula) and wedge-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna pacifica). It combines observations of seabird movement and ecology together with data obtained from echosounders of the birds’ fish prey, oceanography and terrestrial habitat maps to determine what drives the movement of these seabird species on land and at sea.

      - Lead investigator: Dr. Steve Votier, Heriot Watt University
    • Cetacean Refuges 

      We know very little of cetacean diversity, distribution, and abundance in the Central Indian Ocean. With a focus on the Chagos Archipelago, this project surveys cetaceans in this poorly-studied region by carrying out sightings and acoustic surveys and is closely linked with regional capacity building.

      - Lead investigator: Dr. Clare Embling, University of Plymouth
    • Chagos Brain Coral

      Recent decades have seen unprecedented levels of coral reef mortality at a global scale. The Chagos brain coral is critically endangered and considered the rarest coral in the world. We are therefore developing and implementing a species survival plan for this species. 

      - Lead investigator: Dr. Bryan Wilson, University of Oxford
    • Human Dimensions of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing

      Working with fishing communities in Sri Lanka and India, this project investigates what motivates people to fish illegally. The findings of the project will be used to understand what determines whether people comply or not with legislation, and what deterrents are likely to be most effective.

      - Lead Investigators: Dr. Ana Nuno, Nova University, Dr. Asha de Vos, Oceanswell

    Other Projects

    • Island Reef Connections

      This project investigates the connection between rats, seabirds and coral reefs. Research focuses on the Chagos Archipelago, Seychelles, and French Polynesia, incorporating into their study sites, islands with and without rats. The research will help inform tropical island conservation and restoration efforts.

      - Lead investigator: Prof. Nick Graham, Lancaster University
    • Sea Turtle Conservation

      This long-term research programme investigates sea turtle biology and behaviour, and how they can be used as indicators of where their habitats, such as seagrass meadows, might be located. The research also looks at how sea turtles navigate during ocean migrations and how the size and location of their foraging sites shape their fine-scale movements.

      - Lead Investigator: Prof. Graeme Hays, Deakin University
    • Multi-scale Oceanographic Modelling

      This project investigates how ocean currents influence the distribution and behaviour of threatened species such as manta rays. The development of oceanographic numerical models that simulate conditions throughout the Western Indian Ocean will help us understand which factors create biodiversity hotspots requiring protection.

      - Lead investigator: Dr. Phil Hosegood, University of Plymouth
    • Shark Genomic Seascapes

      This study is working to create a genomic seascape, or comprehensive DNA catalogue, of reef shark populations within the Indian Ocean. By matching genetic signatures of illegally fished sharks with those of catalogued populations, the location of areas that are being targeted by illegal fisheries can be identified. 

      - Lead Investigator: Prof. Barbara Block, Stanford University
    • Manta Ray Conservation

      Throughout their rangereef mantas (Mobula alfredi) face ever-increasing pressures from climate change, target and bycatch fisheries and other anthropogenic activities. In the Chagos Archipelago, this research is studying the movement and biology of this discrete and remote manta population. 

      - Lead Investigators: Joanna Harris, University of Plymouth/Manta Trust
    Locations of Marine Science Projects - Phase II

    What is the impact?

    Examples of the impact of our projects include: 

    • Our cutting-edge research has generated 149 peer-reviewed papers from 2017-2022. Our papers are open access and our open-access data help to inform improved management outcomes across the region.
    • Our focus on capacity building has trained 23 postgraduate students since 2017, with a current focus on students from the Indian Ocean region.
    • Our research has demonstrated the link between rat-free islands with intact native vegetation, healthy seabird populations and the resilience that confers on adjacent coral reefs through nutrient flow. This body of science has informed and motivated plans for re-wilding tropical islands, as a vital conservation action to restore biodiversity and build resilience for vulnerable ecosystems in a rapidly changing climate.

    Our 2022 Annual Impact Report is available to read here.

    Highlights of 2022 Infographic

    ZSL & the Bertarelli Foundation – The Marine Science Programme

    Since 2017, ZSL has worked with the Bertarelli Foundation to deliver the Marine Science programme. The programme is advancing our understanding of large marine protected areas (MPAs) so they can be better managed. The primary focus of this research is the Indian Ocean, with highly collaborative and interdisciplinary projects led by some of the world’s leading marine scientists pushing the boundaries of their fields.

    We are exploring approaches that improve communication of marine science to different audiences, increasing regional opportunities and access to marine science. This currently includes the Webby Award winning podcast series ‘Ocean Matters’, webinars, policy events and a regional training course for environmental journalists from the Indian Ocean region. 

    The programme is an official action of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

    Logo for UN Decade of Ocean Science in white

    Find out more

    Operations & Development

    The team at ZSL manages the Marine Science programme, coordinating 73 scientists across 22 institutions and 11 countries globally. We provide communications and operational support for the projects through our team of four in Conservation and Policy. ZSL also has scientists working on research projects across the Marine Science programme. 


    Map of Indian Ocean Region showing partner logos for Marine Science Programme

    ZSL Project information

    ZSL People Involved

    • Prof. Heather Koldewey - Programme Lead, Bertarelli Foundation's Marine Science Programme
    • Rachel Jones - Programme Manager, Bertarelli Foundation's Marine Science Programme
    • Emma Levy - Programme Coordinator, Bertarelli Foundation's Marine Science Programme
    • Coretta Granberry - Programme Administrator, Bertarelli Foundation's Marine Science Programme
    • Lasuni Chathurima (MPhil student)
    • Dr. Claire Collins - Human Dimensions of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing Project
    • Dr. David Curnick
    • Anthony Dancer
    • Rosie Dowell (PhD student)
    • Dr. Robin Freeman - Seabird Connectivity Project
    • Dr. Catherine Head
    • Damaris Landers (PhD student)
    • Dr. Tom Letessier - Cetacean Refuges Project
    • Dr. Malcolm Nicoll - Seabird Connectivity Project
    • Sharmin Rouf - Cetacean Refuges Project
    • Jessica Savage (PhD student)


    The Marine Science Programme is kindly supported by the Bertarelli Foundation. Additional funding has been provided by the Darwin Plus and Darwin Local funding from DEFRA and FCDO.