Coral Reef condition in the Chagos Archipelago: Monitoring for BIOT’s management needs, and reef change and resilience research
John Turner (School of Ocean Sciences Bangor University) and Rachel Jones, (Zoological Society of London)
Britain aims to create a ‘Blue belt’ of the world’s largest marine protected areas around our Overseas Territories, improving scientific understanding of the marine environment to ensure evidence based, sustainable and long term management strategies. The uninhabited islands and surrounding coral reefs of the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory provide an important bench mark for understanding the functioning of coral reefs and observing the effects of climate change and response of coral reefs in the absence of direct human impacts. Building on previous research funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Fund and DEFRA’s Darwin Initiative, current and future research is being supported by the Bertarelli Foundation Programme in Marine Science. The next 4 years will see the most intensive research initiative ever undertaken in the Chagos Archipelago involving more than 50 scientists from 14 institutions across the world in order to inform Government on how to monitor and enforce the Marine Protected Area. Even these remote reefs have been impacted by coral diseases and ocean warming induced bleaching between 2014 and 2016, causing significant coral mortality and consequent erosion. This research will assess the changing structure of the living coral canopy as a three dimensional habitat by measuring biomass, diversity, coral cover, reef calcification and growth, and regeneration. Coral reef structure in turn influences other reef flora and fauna and there are connections between deep water, open water, shallow lagoon and island ecosystems which will be investigated by a suite of projects within the Programme. The vulnerability of different reefs within the Archipelago will be assessed by understanding how exposure and sensitivity to impact is moderated by a reef’s adaptive capacity. The aim of management is to reduce stressors and decrease sensitivity to maximise ecosystem persistence in the face of global climate change.