British Indian Ocean Territory
For our final Global Reef Expedition Mission, we traveled to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a small island chain in the middle of the Indian Ocean. BIOT is home to some of the most remote, and pristine, coral reefs on Earth – 95% of which have yet to be explored.
In March and April of 2015, we conducted coral reef surveys and high-resolution mapping on many reefs surrounding the small islands of the Chagos Archipelago, including those around Victory Bank, Salomon Islands, Eagles Islands, Blenheim Reef, Danger Island, and Speakers Bank. In 2010, the British government developed the Chagos Marine Reserve, encompassing all these islands and reefs, making it the largest no-take marine protected area on Earth at the time it was established.
The purpose of this research mission was to collect detailed information about the reef communities found in this remote location. The team of scientists identified and recorded population information on coral, reef fishes, algae, and invertebrates. They also identified any threats to the coral reef ecosystem, making note of any coral diseases they saw, or damage done by the voracious coral predator, the crown-of-thorns starfish.
Because of its remote location, BIOT is the perfect place to study global issues that threaten the long-term survival of coral reefs. A major component of our research is to determine the resilience of coral reef communities to climate change and ocean acidification. Scientists on the Global Reef Expedition monitored ocean chemistry and looked for impacts ocean acidification may have had on the corals of BIOT. They also examined the diversity and efficiency of symbiotic algae that live within corals to determine if some species of coral, or their symbiotic communities, are better able to cope with rising ocean temperatures. Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute looked at the variation of ocean temperature over the past few centuries by studying some of the oldest and largest corals on the reef.
Another component of the mission was to use satellite imagery and on-site ground-truthing to create extremely high-resolution habitat and bathymetric maps of our study sites. Combined with photos and video footage, these maps will be some of the most detailed coral reef maps available and will be added to our online World Reef Map for anyone to see and use.
A preliminarily report of our research activities can be found in our BIOT Field Report. We are currently working on analyzing the data and completing a detailed scientific report. This report will be available to government agencies, conservation organizations, and anyone interested in the health of coral reefs in the British Indian Ocean. This information can directly help with ongoing management and conservation of BIOT’s coral reefs.
Representatives from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Nova Southeastern University, and the Chagos Conservation Trust joined our core science team on this mission, along with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, AGRRA, University fo the Philippines, National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Taiwan, the University of Miami, NOAA, the Univerisity of Hawaii, and James Cook University.