In September 2010, the Bertarelli Foundation entered into a partnership with the British government to sponsor the safeguard of the world’s largest marine reserve in the Chagos Islands, a British territory in the Indian Ocean. Today, the Foundation is taking part to a major scientific expedition facilitated by the UK Foreign Office and several other institutions. 12 scientists and supporting team have embarked for the first scientific expedition since the no-take marine area has been established in 2010.
Research plans prioritise long-term monitoring programmes and the establishment of the most –resource efficient methods to monitor and manage the Marine Protected Area. The Bertarelli Foundation is represented in Chagos by David Tickler, professional diving instructor and appointed dive technician of the trip. David is sharing with us his first impressions after a few days in the marine reserve. A true live report!
“I am writing from our anchorage in Saloman Atoll at the northern end of the Chagos Archipelago.
So far everything is going very well and the trip is certainly exceeding our expectations - the reefs here are simply astounding in terms of the variety and quality of their coral cover the diving has been great. Today we dived on a coral garden at around 5-10m which was crowned by table corals that, individually, would be exceptional on any other dive site in the world, and yet here are clustered together so thickly, and grow to such a size, that you forget to look at the fish. Amazing!
It has been a very busy trip so far with a huge amount of work completed already, over some very long days.
The BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video) team of Jessica Meeuwig and Tom Letessier from the University of Western Australia have been doing live drops of their cameras in the lagoon for the last two days - they have now figured out how to stop the sharks biting the bait bags off the rigs in one hit and have started to get great footage, and distribution data, for the larger predatory fish.
Heather Koldewey and Catherine Head of the Zoological Society of London, have been busily collecting 'Cryptic Invertebrates' - the tiny but important crabs, shrimps, snails and other life that live amongst the coral polyps, and whose abundance, or otherwise, is being used to assess the health of the reefs.
Nick Graham from James Cook University in Australia, ably assisted by our highly aquatic Diving Medical Officer, Bob Long, has been surveying the reef fish populations, and has been astounded by the quantity and variety of species he's been seeing here.
Leading the expedition, Charles and Anne Sheppard have been continuing their long running study of the corals -surveying both coral cover and health, and retrieving and resetting the temperature recorders that have built such a long data series for this area.
It is proving a pleasure to work with such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic group, a pleasure that is enhanced by the environment here both above and below the water's surface. The reefs here are indescribably beautiful, and only images will do them justice, but suffice to say that most of us have never seen anything like this…
Tomorrow we will relocate to Nelson Island to survey the seabird colonies and to dive on the coral gardens there - I'm told that if you swim out over the drop-off there are plenty of sharks to be seen.
This is a most amazing and special place and the Bertarelli Foundation can feel very proud to be its protector!”