An international group of scientists visiting the British Indian Ocean Territory Marine Protected Area in March and April on an expedition to explore and research the rich natural environment of the Chagos Archipelago.
Chagos 2014 Expedition Biographies
March 24th – April 15th 2014
Prof. Charles Sheppard:
Professor Charles Sheppard has been working for several decades on the marine ecology of tropical seas. He focuses on the corals, their abundance and identity, and changes that have occurred over the years in key environmental parameters. Because ocean warming and climate change are so important, he relates community changes to climate change, especially to warming pulses that damage reefs. He is editor of a very large marine environmental science journal, and has written and edited numerous books and papers on this subject including on the remarkable Chagos archipelago, but focusing as well on tropical areas from the Caribbean to Australia. Regarding Chagos, for 10 years was BIOT Commissioner’s scientific advisor, before giving up that position and becoming Chair of the Chagos Conservation Trust.
In 2014, Charles Sheppard will focus attention again on the status of the corals which build the Chagos Archipelago. Factors such as coral cover, juvenile coral density and mortality of older colonies will be investigated in order to assess the ‘health’ of the reefs. Arrays of underwater temperature data recorders will also be retrieved, data downloaded, and replaced. In addition he will assist in recording of factors such as poaching and of the health of previously poached marine species. We hope also to investigate further the huge seagrass beds that were recently discovered far from the islands, and also will re-examine the area where a crown-of-thorns outbreak on the Great Chagos Bank 2 years ago killed almost all corals on a portion of reef, to determine recovery potential in the archipelago. With colleagues, he has found that the natural resilience of Chagos reefs was relatively fast compared with areas that suffer stresses from most human induced kinds of exploitation, such as sewage, over-fishing and shoreline disturbances.
Anne Sheppard: Research Associate, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick.
Anne has been a coral reef ecologist on several research expeditions to the Chagos Archipelago since her first 9 month long trip in 1978, when she was the first woman ever to have dived there. Her main focus of research is coral taxonomy, monitoring reef health and the recovery of reefs after human impacts. Working with her husband Charles, they have dived together for research purposes (and pleasure!) on many reefs around the world. She has also taken many land and underwater photographs of the archipelago which have used to promote conservation both of Chagos and coral reefs in general. She is a trustee of the Chagos Conservation Trust and is also editor of CCT’s journal Chagos News.
On this expedition she will be continuing the monitoring of reef recovery in Chagos by measuring coral cover and will be starting a new project looking to see if the makeup of the coral community has changed even though the cover has returned to the levels it was pre the 1990s die offs due to warming.
Pete Carr: Avian biologist
Pete Carr has had a long association with the Chagos having led three ornithological expeditions to Diego Garcia and then lived and worked on Diego Garcia for four years between 2008-2012. During that time he visited every island of the Chagos and found some 25 new bird species for the Territory. He was instrumental in establishing which islands became Important Bird Areas, published the book Birds of the British Indian Ocean Territory and has had articles in journals on the birds of Chagos, including British Birds. Pete has recently completed a Masters by Research degree with Warwick University, the thesis being on Red-footed Booby and factors impacting their selection of islands in the Chagos for breeding and, the implications for future island management plans.
Originally a native of northern Sweden, I completed my higher education in the United States, Ireland and England. In 2013 I was awarded my PhD in Systems Biology from the University of Warwick, where I am currently lecturing as a visiting researcher. I am also developing the ‘Chagos Resource Portal’ (funded by the Chagos Conservation Trust), which will compile data from research conducted in Chagos over the past 40 years into an online relational database. The database will be spatially projected using GIS and serve as a platform for communication between researchers, the public, and decision-makers.
Whilst I do spend much time with my computer, as a former professional basketball player, I greatly enjoy the physical nature of fieldwork and have to date logged over 100 scientific dives. Prior to my PhD studies I worked as a freshwater ecologist in the United States as both as a consultant and also within a long-term monitoring program with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
A fundamental shift is taking place in community ecology from species to traits as the basic unit of measurement (traits being the morphological, physiological, behavioral, and phenological life history characteristics of species). This shift in focus allows for new exciting lines of enquiry into ecosystem functioning (McGill, 2006). On this expedition I aim to collect a series of photo-quadrats on reefs across the archipelago using the same methodology employed on 66 reefs across Southwest Madagascar (Widman, 2012). These photos will be used to determine coral species composition and then translated into coral trait composition. Applying an array of progressive trait-based analytical techniques (i.e. Widman, 2012; Pavoine et al, 2011; Mason, 2005), to the acquired dataset I aim to probe fundamental questions about Chagos coral communities such as: 1) How functionally interchangeable are species (i.e. system redundancy)? 2) What are the basic functional properties of the reef systems (i.e. functional redundancy, richness, evenness, and divergence)? 3) How does Chagos compare to more heavily impacted regions (i.e. Madagascar)? 4) What is the geographic distribution of functional diversity; are their functional diversity hotspots?
In addition, I will be contributing to the long-term monitoring efforts of holothurian (sea cucumber) populations across the Chagos Archipelago, closely following the data collection protocol of previous expeditions (i.e. Price et al., 2013).
Doug received his B.A. at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Doug began diving and doing transects on islands in the Caribbean, and described reefs at Cozumel, Mexico, Roatan, Honduras, Cayman Brac, and St. Lucia for the first time. He then started working on corals in Hawaii which eventually lead to his field guidebook to the corals of Hawaii. After that he worked with organizations in the Philippines for two years, surveying reefs and learning to identify coral species. Then he worked for Charlie Veron at the Australian Institute of Marine Science for six years on an electronic key to corals. Most recently, he worked as a coral reef monitoring ecologist in American Samoa, doing the benthic monitoring for nine years. Doug has surveyed coral species diversity on reefs across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Melita has worked on coral reef research and management in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and in Sudan’s Red Sea since the early 1980s. Her particular areas of interest and experience are in fisheries, reproductive biology of groupers particularly spawning aggregations, coral reef fish diversity, marine protected areas, community – based coastal management and conservation and alternative livelihoods. She is co-Director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO) based in Mombasa, Kenya. CORDIO East Africa is a research organisation focused on conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems in the Western Indian Ocean. CORDIO specialises in generating knowledge to find solutions that benefit both ecosystems and people. Melita’s Doctorate is from James Cook University, where she is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Dept of Marine Biology. She is a member of several international advisory bodies including three IUCN Species Specialist Groups (Groupers and Wrasses; Snappers Seabream and Grunts; Sharks); the Institute for Water Environment & Health, United Nations University and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Developing World Working Group.
Melita will be investigating diversity and population abundance of reef fishes in the lagoons at Chagos. The objectives of the surveys are:
i) to measure the diversity of reef fishes in Chagos lagoons using a standardised method used in the Western Indian Ocean based on a pre-defined list of 19 families;
ii) to measure abundance and biomass of a broad cross section of the fish community (using a WIO standardised method) to determine the densities and biomass of key trophic groups considered important in coral reef resilience;
iii) to estimate the abundance and biomass of groupers as taxa that are generally highly vulnerable to overfishing and consequently depleted and threatened in most coral reef regions. Chagos may represent some of the most pristine populations of coral reef groupers in the world.
I have recently quantified coral reef fish diversity and population abundance in Madagascar, Comoros, Mozambique and Tanzania, a core region representing the highest biodiversity in the WIO. The Chagos survey provides a unique opportunity to collect directly comparable data to my WIO dataset and should provide the missing baseline as Chagos reefs arguably represent the least damaged and least fished reefs in the Indian Ocean.
Dr. Heather Koldewey:
Heather started working for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in 1997, initially as a research scientist, then as curator of the ZSL London Zoo Aquarium and now as Head of Global Conservation Programmes. Heather specialises in marine and freshwater conservation and as co-founder of Project Seahorse www.projectseahorse.org has been involved in establishing 34 community-managed marine protected areas in the Philippines. She is also involved in marine and freshwater conservation projects in Mozambique, Cameroon and the Pitcairn Islands. She was a member of the February 2012 expedition to Chagos and is one of the lead researchers on the 3-year Darwin Initiative project to strengthen the Chagos Marine Protected Area by providing scientific knowledge for effective management. Heather is an Adjunct Professor at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Canada and a research associate at University College London and the University of Exeter. She is a Board member of the Chagos Conservation Trust and Shark Trust, as well as representing ZSL on a number of national and international conservation committees including the Chagos Environment Network and the British Indian Ocean Territory Science Advisory Group.
As expedition leader, Heather will work to ensure the smooth and safe implementation of all scientific activities in BIOT. She will be working with Melita Samoilys investigating diversity and population abundance of reef fishes in the lagoons of Chagos.
Dr John Turner:
John Turner is a Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology with expertise in temperate and tropical marine environments and the interaction between human impacts and the aquatic environment. He has over 25 years of experience in a wide range of projects involving Coastal Habitat Survey, Marine Protected Areas (MPA), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and Integrated Coastal Zone (ICZM) in a range of countries and contexts. He has undertaken large scale biological surveys for UNDP-GEF Projects on Sustainable use of Biodiversity of Socotra Archipelago, and Coastal Ecosystems of the Andaman Islands, and EIAs for major industrial developments (eg. LNG terminal, Oman; effluents, Mauritius). John's research advances techniques for integrating spatial biodiversity data in marine systems for the purpose of assessment of state, for establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and for long-term monitoring and investigating change. He is a field biologist, experienced in undertaking manipulative experiments, survey and monitoring on coasts and underwater. Current interests focus on the establishment of MPAs (Cayman Islands, Chagos, Tonga); shark and ray ecology and behaviour (Philippines, Belize); Reef resilience to human impacts and climate change (Cayman & Indian Ocean islands); and Coastal Zone Management and Sustainable Development (East African coast). John has visited the Chagos three times (2006, 2008and 2013) and is an Executive Member of the Chagos Conservation Trust. John currently leads three DEFRA Darwin Initiative projects: Darwin Initiative to strengthen World’s largest MPA, Chagos 2012-2015; Darwin Initiative to enhance an established marine protected area system, Cayman Islands 2010-2013, Darwin Initiative Assuring Engagement in Cayman’s Enhanced Marine Protected Area System 2013-2014.
Coral cover on Chagos reefs has been assessed for greater than 20 years, providing a valuable long term record of change over time in response to major environmental variables, such as warming events and bleaching induced mortality. Although photographs of many reef communities exist, what has been lacking is a video archive of the structure of communities which would allow documentation of change and the identification of features that may not previously have been recorded in counts because their significance was not evident at that time. A video archive enables new generations of scientists to revisit reefs visually, and the video can be reanalysed to identify changes and to address questions of resilience and response. 10 minute sequences of video were recorded over 5 m depth ranges (5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-25m depth) at seaward and lagoon sites on all atolls in 2006, and these are being repeated during the 2013 and 2014 Darwin Initiative expeditions. Initial analyses indicate that primary framework species that grew rapidly at shallow depths following the 1997 mortalities, are now being replaced by more diverse secondary framework species, which can be expected to increase in biomass in subsequent years unless affected by further impacts. There are already indications of new events occurring, such as mortality of lagoon corals below 15 m depth in Salomon lagoon; and loss of banching Acropora on lagoon reefs of Eagle Island and Danger Island due to Crown of Thorns starfish outbreaks.
Jon’s childhood playground was Sea World in Durban, South Africa, where his father is a marine biologist. His first job was assisting with dolphins, seals and penguins at uShaka Marine World and also participating in field trips to survey the coral reefs of Sodwana Bay. His working career has remained adventurous, as an outdoor activities training instructor in a game reserve in South Africa, white water safety kayaker on grade 5 rapids of the Zambezi River and as a Commissioned Officer in the Royal Marine Commandos. He served for 8 years including operations in Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and Iraq, also spending a year in the British Headquarters on Diego Garcia. There he apprehended poachers and commanded British Operation Patrols around the British Indian Ocean Territory including escorting the science expedition of 2006. Since 2008 he has qualified as a commercial scuba diver in order to focus on filming life beneath the surface. His award nominated films have supported several conservation campaigns and have featured in television documentaries. In Belize he has founded a branch of the marine conservation charity Blue Ventures that monitors and researches the remote Bacalar Chico area of the Belize Barrier Reef. He also works as a Security Team Leader protecting vessels transiting the High Risk Piracy Area in the Northern Indian Ocean.
Dr. Jon Bailey:
Dr. Jon Bailey will be joining us on his second expedition as on board doctor and head of medical logistics. Jon is an Academic Clinical Fellow in Emergency Medicine at Oxford University, John Radcliffe and Milton Keynes Hospitals in England, UK and has experience at the Diving Diseases Research Centre in Plymouth, UK. He is also a diving instructor for both PADI and BSAC.
Louis Elyse currently works for British Airways in the welcome lounge at Manchester airport and graduated from the Connect Chagos Environment Training Course in October 2013, going on to present his experience and great enthusiasm for learning at the Chagos Conservation Trust’s 20:20 Conference the following month. Louis’ parents come from Chagos originally and he gained his hard-won place as the March 2014 Chagos expedition’s Chagossian trainee after a competitive recruitment process, where he shone at interview.
Louis will be the first in his family to visit Chagos since his parents, but for Louis this opportunity means not only to see the homeland of his parents but also an opportunity to be part of an amazing scientific expedition and pass on his experiences to his children. It is a dream come true to get this chance. Louis will be gaining a taster of all the research going on during the expedition, with a particular focus on monitoring of coconut crabs and sea cucumber surveys and hopes to gain many news skills and knowledge with the accompanying researchers.
Dr. Courtney Couch:
Courtney is a postdoctoral fellow at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawai‘i at Manōa and recently moved to Hawai‘i after completing her Ph.D. in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, advised by Prof. Drew Harvell. Courtney’s research has aimed to understand how ecological processes and environmental change govern host-pathogen interactions and coral disease dynamics. The primary goals of her postdoctoral research are to develop coral health and disease monitoring programs for a number of Big Ocean sites (such as BIOT), address local environmental drivers of coral disease through targeted research in the Main Hawaiian Islands, and build capacity and facilitate communication between marine resource managers and scientists to improve reef resilience planning.
Outbreaks of coral disease, acting synergistically with other stressors, have drastically reshaped the structure and function of reef ecosystems, even in remote reefs. During the 2014 BIOT cruise, Courtney aims to augment the first coral disease assessment conducted in 2006 by describing the patterns in coral health and disease, identifying major conditions affecting coral health and identifying disease hot spots. During these surveys, she will be documenting coral disease as well as other biological interactions such as algal overgrowth, predation, sedimentation, etc. While BIOT has historically low levels of coral disease, developing standardized monitoring allows us to target and manage regions at risk facing future environmental change.
Dr. Ronan Roche:
I am interested in studying how natural systems respond to anthropogenic alteration, using a multi-disciplinary approach, focusing on coral reef ecosystems and their long-term resilience and diversity. I graduated in Biological Sciences from the University of Edinburgh in 2000. I carried out research in 2002 as part of my MSc in Tropical Coastal Management at the University of Newcastle in Trindad and Tobago. I then worked for several years in Coastal Zone Management and Fisheries topics at the Essex Estuaries Initiative in Colchester, England. I then was awarded an IGERT fellowship to study at the University of Rhode Island, where I completed the MMA (Master of Marine Affairs) program focusing on Marine Law and Policy in 2007. My PhD thesis was entitled “A multi-proxy reconstruction of mid-Holocene environmental conditions at a nearshore Great Barrier Reef site: King Reef, Northern Queensland.” This project was collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan University, The Natural History Museum, London, and James Cook University, Australia. I am currently working at the Center for Applied Marine Sciences at Bangor University, UK.
I will be carrying out two strands of research during 2014: 1) collecting reef structure data to complement video surveys, and 2) obtaining bite rate data from several parrotfish species.
Reef structure data on rugosity and slope provides information on the context of video coral reef surveys, allowing correct interpretation of the video footage obtained on the expedition. Acropora species are one of the most abundant branching species on many of the reefs around the Chagos archipelago, and provide a refuge for reef fish. Broadscale assessment of the proportion of dead Acropora corals can be used as an indication of reef health, providing a complementary visual assessment to video surveys. This variable can provide information on impacts such as storm damage, crown-of-thorns starfish feeding, and coral bleaching events.
The net calcium carbonate accretion/erosion state of reefs worldwide is an issue of increasing importance, as evidence shows that reefs in important locations are now in net erosional status. Parrotfish are corallivorous, and so form an important part of the calcium carbonate cycle on reefs, by consuming and excreting coral skeletal material. To calculate the volume of coral skeletal material removed, information on parrotfish abundance and bite rate frequency must be collected. An international team of scientists visiting the British Indian Ocean Territory Marine Protected Area in March and April of 2014 on a research expedition to further knowledge of the rich natural environment there.