British Indian Ocean Territory

British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)
Chagos Archipelago
(Click to enlarge.)

Our second research mission of 2015 takes the Global Reef Expedition 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. We will be conducting 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. All of these islands and reefs are part of the Chagos Marine Reserve, the largest no-take marine protected area on earth, which was established by the British government in 2010.  Representatives from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Nova Southeastern University, and the Chagos Conservation Trust will join our core science team on this mission.

BIOT Inset Map
Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons*
(Click-thru on map image to expand.)

The purpose of the research is to collect detailed information about the health and state of the reefs. The team of scientists will identify and record population information on coral, reef fishes, algae, and invertebrates. They will also identify any threats to the health of the coral reef ecosystem, and make note of any coral diseases they see, or damage done by the voracious coral predator, the crown-of-thorns starfish.

The deadly crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS).

Because of its remote location, BIOT is the perfect place to study global issues that threaten the long-term health 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 will monitor ocean chemistry, and evaluate any impacts ocean acidification may have on the corals of BIOT. They will also examine 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 will be looking at the variation of ocean temperature over the past few centuries by studying some of the oldest and largest corals on the reef.

BIOT coral reef
One of the many remote reefs of Chagos Archipelago.

Another component of the mission is to use satellite imagery and on-site groundtruthing 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 Global Coral Reef Atlas for anyone to see and use.

Once the team has completed the research, they will analyze the data and create a detailed scientific report. The 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.

Meet the team

* By TUBS [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons