[IIOE2-EP32] Oceanographic drivers of ecosystem variability in the Chagos Archipelago: Conservation strategies for biodiversity hotspots and safe havens in a changing climate

Lead Investigator :

  1. Prof.Phil Hosegood ,University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA,UK

Other Key participants (s):

  1. Prof.Martin Attrill,University of Plymouth, UK
  2. Prof. Kerry Howell, University of Plymouth, UK

Period of Project: 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2021 (additional funding expected through to 2023)

Brief description of the Project:

This interdisciplinary project will use the near-pristine Chagos Archipelago in British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a very large (640,000 km2) marine protected area (MPA) in the central Indian Ocean, as a planetary-scale laboratory to learn how a thriving marine ecosystem develops in its natural state. Our work will focus on the oceanographic regime and mesophotic reef communities throughout BIOT to i) identify and understand the role played by dynamic physical oceanographic processes in driving biomass aggregation, especially sharks and manta, at seamounts and other topographic features and, ii) evaluate the connectivity between shallow water coral reefs subjected to bleaching and the deeper mesophotic reefs that reside in cooler water. The first phase of the project will focus observations at 2-3 discrete sites within BIOT to survey the mesophotic reefs and resolve the influence on biomass aggregation and reef zonation of dynamical processes that we know from previous research to be dominated by internal waves. Long-term moored observations will further highlight how these dynamical processes evolve in response to basin-scale forcing. The project has been funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation with match funding from the Bertarelli Foundation and involves oceanographers, marine biologists and hydrographic surveyors from the University of Plymouth, UK, and the Manta Trust. The work sits within the wider programme of research, conservation and communication delivered within BIOT through the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science (BPMS) that has been funding research in BIOT since 2008 and aims to assess the efficacy of the BIOT MPA in sustaining the broader Indian Ocean ecosystem..

Region of study:

British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Archipelago) in the central Indian Ocean Specific locations within the archipelago are to be determined following discussions with BPMS colleagues but the first (of 4 planned) cruise is scheduled for November 2019.