The last stop on the Global Reef Expedition was to conduct coral reef surveys and high-resolution mapping on reefs in the Chagos Archipelago, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Chagos is home to some of the most remote coral reefs on Earth – 95% of which have yet to be explored. These pristine reefs are protected in the Chagos Marine Reserve, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. But even here, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, we saw signs of coral reefs in crisis. When we visited the reefs for a two-month expedition in 2015, we witnessed the first signs a massive global bleaching event that would come to devastate reefs worldwide.
Later in 2015, the Foundation returned to the Indian Ocean to combat an outbreak of deadly crown-of-thorns starfish in the Maldives. We formed a unique partnership with resorts on multiple islands in the Maldives to remove these voracious coral predators from the reefs. We also assessed the damage done by the starfish and trained local divers on how to handle these venomous creatures and deal with future outbreaks safely.
Prior to the Global Reef Expedition, we worked in the Seychelles to conduct baseline research on coral reef health following the dramatic impact of the 1997/1998 El Nino event. Unusually high ocean temperatures resulted in the loss of 60-90% of live coral cover in the Seychelles Islands. In 2005, scientists surveyed more than 800 square kilometers of coral reefs and shallow-water marine habitats, creating detailed habitat maps and assessing the health of benthic and fish communities. Eleven benthic habitat maps were created from this research project to aid the Seychelles government in marine conservation efforts and management plans, which are available in the Atlas of the Amirantes.