Explore the real Science behind Team WILD’s aquatic mission to survey coral reef health: Chagos case study.
Why do Root and Flora, our Team WILD science superheroes, need help surveying coral reefs in the Chagos Archipelago? Why do scientists survey coral reefs and how do they do it?
Coral reef conservation – Chagos case study
The Chagos Marine Reserve is the world’s largest marine reserve, home to some of the healthiest reef ecosystems and cleanest waters in the world. The spectacularly vibrant coral reefs of Chagos are home to an astounding variety of marine life.
Chagos is one of the few marine ecosystems where human activities haven’t yet had a big impact, making it important for global scientific research that aims to help our understanding of climate change, tropical marine ecosystems and the impacts of commercial fisheries.
Where is Chagos?
Chagos is an archipelago of 55 tiny islands in the central Indian Ocean and spans thousands of miles of remote tropical ocean. The Chagos Islands and the waters that surround them are a UK Overseas Territory, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
Why is Chagos important?
The Chagos Archipelago is an exceptionally diverse ecosystem, supporting an exceptional diversity of species and a vast number of different habitats. Chagos has been desgnated as the world’s largest no-take Marine Protected Area (which means that no commercial fishing is allowed), providing a safe haven for the region’s rich marine life.
Marine Protected Areas, such as the Chagos Marine Reserve, provide species with vital protection from human exploitation and help to restore marine ecosystems and the species they support. In Chagos, this includes many threatened species such as green turtles, hawksbill turtles and a range of shark species, along with globally important populations of seabirds.
Coral conservation in Chagos
The coral reefs in Chagos are some of the healthiest and most resilient reef systems in the world. Chagos is one of the few marine reserves where humans haven’t yet had a very big impact on the environment, and because the coral reefs there are in such good condition they are an important benchmark for coral conservation.
The waters around Chagos support over 220 coral species and account for almost half of the recorded species of the entire Indian Ocean, ranging from shallow water brain corals, such as the endemic brain coral, to staghorn corals and a variety of other species that flourish in the deepwater habitats.
Scientists working in Chagos can study the complex, diverse and relatively pristine reef ecosystems and compare the effects that major threats to coral reefs, such as climate change and the impacts of commercial fisheries, are having on the reefs in Chagos compared with the effects that the same threats are having on less healthy or less well protected reefs in other parts of the world.
How and why do scientists survey corals reefs?
There are many different ways for scientists to survey coral reefs and the different types of species that are found there. There are also many different reasons why scientists need to survey coral reefs, from simply collecting data on the different kinds of species that live on the reef, to monitoring the health or recovery of the reef and the effects that climate change, fishing and other factors are having on the whole coral reef ecosystem.
Scientists have many different ways of carrying out these surveys, but most coral reef surveys involve undertaking transects (surveys along a straight line) at various depths across the reef in order to gather detailed information from different habitats. Divers will swim along transects in a given direction and will survey the reef at different points, marking each point using a GPS so that the transect can be repeated to gather data over time.