As a marine ecologist, being able to survey the reefs of the Chagos Archipelago, considered the last frontier of coral reefs, was a very exciting prospect. After many hours flying, and even more on the ship transiting to our first destination, we finally arrived in the British Indian Ocean Territory Marine Protected Area where the Chagos reefs are found. From our first dive, I knew this would be a trip to remember. Prior to this, I had participated on many of the GRE expeditions, but this one felt different. I was awestruck by the beautiful reefs with large, healthy assemblages of corals and incredible fish communities. We came across unique reefs with monospecific stands of corals unlike seen in other parts of the world. The benthic communities appeared to be thriving with a balance of coral, CCA, other algae that supported the flourishing invertebrate and fish populations.
However, later in our trip, things started to change right before our eyes. We later discovered we were the first to observe what would be one of the most catastrophic global bleaching events on record. The water was exceptionally warm, causing the beautiful coral we had been observing to show signs of stress.