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BIOT MPA Survey Expedition 2015 Blog Jump to project background

  • 15 02 25 A letter from Nadine after the expedition

    15 02 25 A letter from Nadine after the expedition 

    This expedition has been an amazing, personal lifetime experience at various levels. Firstly I was thrown into history. I went back thinking about the way of life of the Chagossian families and how happy they must have been on their motherland. My mother was born in Diego Garcia and I have relatives from other parts of the islands. I have had the privilege to visit various atolls and see the ruins and remains around Peros Banhos and Salomon.

     

    An emotional moment rekindled. The exotic beautify of all the islands is worth contemplating. I admired the fauna and flora of wildlife: birds, crabs, coconut trees and shore plants. My thanks to the Trekker Team – Jon and Elizabeth for the patience you showed in letting me explore around whilst you were working hard! 

    Also I have accompanied the Catlin Seaview Survey Expedition Team in some aspects of their mission. Paul and Pete took me on my first ever snorkelling dive. Thanks for that unique opportunity that allowed me to witness the magic of corals in the Chagos waters. I wish them all the best for their success in their future work. It was an initiation into the world of corals like acropora, galaxea  and other species.

    Furthermore I was speechless to see sea creatures like sharks, dolphins, rays and turtles whilst travelling on the inflatable boat with the crew. It is a special feeling that evoked all my senses to see with the naked eye.

    Finally I have encountered great people. It is amazing to see how people who are passionate about their work, go to the wonders of the world – like Chagos – so the planet can have a glimpse and better understanding of it.

    (photo courtesy & © Catlin Seaview Survey)

     

    I’m taking with me loads of wonderful pictures to share around this unforgettable experience. I look forward to see more Chagossians to be part of this dream.

    Thank you to the organisers, CCT, BIOTA, ZSL the BIOT crew and everybody who in one way or another shared their knowledge and gave a bit of their time.

    I am very proud to have taken part in this expedition.

    BIG THANK YOU!

     

    Nadine.

  • 15 02 23 Egmont Atoll - Day 13

     

    After working around Nelsons Island we had hoped to travel and dive down the central and east side of the vast Great Chagos Bank Atoll. At over 100 miles across there is plenty of unexplored reef to choose from. But the weather had other ideas...Day 12 was a uniform frustration of high winds and choppy swells that thwarted our aspirations of discovery. As the afternoon drew on and hopes of the wind dieing down enough for us to get in the water faded we decided to motor on to Egmont Atoll. Much smaller and better scrutinised by previous science expeditions, it offered less in terms of exploratory discovery but did present a land mass that offered shelter from the unsettled weather. 

    We arrived in the late evening of Day 12 and were well placed for an early start to the diving day on Day 13...

    ...although the weather was still unsettled when the sun came up we were tucked in the lee of Egmont's Ile Sud Est and as a result had calm waters to work with for the dives. 

    Dropping in to the water we were treated to a prolific display of fish life. Unicorn fish, snapper, fusiliers...even a large manta cruising effortlessly by (unfortunately a little too far off for a decent photograph).

    Whilst out we diverted the end of our final dive on the trip in order to see the shallow team at work. With all the island work and research we'd pursued during the expedition I had yet to get in the water to see them in action with their impressive seaview survey cameras! An impressive sight to see them powering smoothly out of the deep blue distance and cruise by effortlessly and on surveying a remarkably large area in a single dive. 

    So as the expedition draws to a close I'm looking forward to the outputs from this great technology - there will be panoramas available on Street View in Google Earth and Maps. I can't wait to see the reefs and islands of Chagos in this format! We will post further updates to this blog when those products are available for the public...until then...

  • 15 02 22 East Great Chagos Bank 2 miles east of Nelson Island - Day 11

    15 02 22 East Great Chagos Bank 2 miles east of Nelson Island - Day 11

    Today was catch up after yesterday’s unsettled weather. We’re still hanging off the south side of Nelson Island in the lee that it provides. Today is a much better day with the sun breaking through and the wind dropping slightly and shifting to the west. So the Trekker team are straight off in the dinghy to get onshore and get the street view camera out and operating.

    On the approach we’re greeted by a host of sea birds curious to see what this unusual intrusion is on their territory. The channel to the beach of this lagoon is open but a little exposed so an interesting ride surfing cresting waves to the inner reef before a quick unload of the boat in the shore break. Well worth the effort though. This island is a special spot. The north beach runs east west – a long white curve between rock shelves that sit at each side to round the island off to the south shore which is a similar sandy beach.

    In between these shores a lush covering of shrubs and trees that can handle the sandy soil and hot tropical conditions turn the island a rich green. A stiff breeze keeps things cool as I walk around the island in the hot sunlight. Red footed booby hover around me as I walk the north western shore and several different species of crab scuttle around my feet. I’m skirting the island in an anti-clockwise direction and the low vegetation to my left is peppered with the black and white plumage of red footed booby on the nest. To my right the ocean stretches unbroken to the horizon. This is a very remote island. A tiny speck in the ocean a little over a mile long and never wider than a few hundred meters.

    Less frequent amongst the booby nests are the larger forms of frigate birds – the red inflated throats of the breeding males bright against the greenery. Their juveniles are far more scraggly and unkempt to the eye.

    After doing a loop of the beach it is time to cut through the island and get some imagery of the interior. In the centre of the island between the beaches there is a small stretch of forest. This is the domain of the noddy terns. They seem to be the only ones that can find ready nesting amongst the precarious fronds of the palm trees here. As we walk beneath the canopy they flit down from their roosts and nests and circle our heads looking curiously down as they wonder at our intrusion.

    Amongst the heliotrope bushes on the southern beach there are many heliotrope moths servicing the plants flowers whilst their caterpillars feed on the shrubs leaves. Today this is the leeward side of the island so the insects can safely flutter between the blooms without being buffeted offshore. Spiders and their webs gather a harvest of these moths as they fly by. On the ends of the island the vegetation falls away to low shrubs and grass. Small colonies of brown booby make best use of these flat areas for their preferred ground nesting habits.

    Finally done with the days survey round the island we return to the boat, load up and head back out through the channel. It is now low tide and the channel is more pronounced between exposed bits of reef. Closeted by this three large nurse shark are evident in the turquoise hued shallows of the shallow. We dodge them as we motor out through the low waves and return to the research vessel.

    Now done with the only island in sight we join the diving teams for the afternoon. Dropping in to the waters to the east of Nelson after lunch we immediately encounter a huge richness and diversity of life. Shoals of several different species cloud around us as we drift toward deeper water. Abundant corals crowd the seabed. The reef reaches up to 10 meters beneath the surface and it is an eden of coral at this depth. As we drop deeper there is a swift change below 15 meters. Although the fish life remains prolific the corals suddenly are dead. Algae and sponge covered skeletons stretching away into the distance. One live coral that we swim by is freshly dead with two crown of thorns starfish at the transition between white freshly bleached skeleton and brown live coral tissue.

    Through the dive we see numerous other starfish. Perhaps an outbreak of this species is the cause of this mass coral mortality. As with elsewhere in the Chagos though the pace of recovery from a deadly event like this is already evident. On each coral table that was dead for several months a proliferation of new coral recruits – fresh sprouts of live tissue seeded from spawning events – were evident. Healthy unstressed reefs can regenerate from isolated impacts like this.

    As we progress through our survey back toward the shallows we again transition away from the dead skeletons to a rich garden of corals stretching away in the shallows. Huge grouper gather in groups and a grey reef shark circles us as we head for the surface.

     

    A day of reminders how special this place is on the small slips of atoll islands and beneath the waves.

  • 15 02 21 Nelson Island - Day 10

    15 02 21 Nelson Island

    This morning we woke up to rain driving against the porthole. Not a good sign. The wind gusting to 30 knots and large swells rolling the boat as we motored down toward Victory Bank. On arrival we found that the conditions were too rough to dive so moved on to Nelson Island where we found some calmer waters in the southern lee of the island. Around the same time, now mid-morning, the winds eased but the rain kept falling. Making the most of this we hopped in the water for some dives.

    The shallow survey team cruised the southern coastline of the island from east to west while we went in with the deep team about midway along the island in 15 meters of water.

    The bottom was sandy with patches of branching Acropora. What last year had been rich beds of live coral were now stands of skeleton overgrown with algae and sponges. We later found that the shallow survey team had encountered numerous crown of thorns starfish in their long transects – perhaps a culprit for the large stands of dead coral?

    The dive did not continue like this though. As we went deeper we found a reef mound off to the west that rose from the sandy flats with a multitude of other coral species that were still thriving. The fish life here was more prolific and varied and there were a number of large Giant Clams with their variable body colouring.

    Shoals of Yellowfin Goatfish and Goldspot Emperor hovered over the reef with Humpback Snapper milling about. There were large stands of Heliopora coral with their broad branches pointing toward the surface in wavy lines.

    The sun was shining when we returned to the surface  and we thought we would have the opportunity to get the Trekker ashore on Nelson Island for a terrestrial survey but this aspiration was shortlived. As we were about to launch the wind shifted direction to the west and with gusts up to 30 knots and a choppy swell with white caps following on we decided against further work on the water.

     

    So, here we are for the night in the lee of Nelson…hoping that the weather is better for more work tomorrow! 

  • 15 02 20 Speakers Bank - Day 9

    15 02 20 Speakers Bank Blog

    On from Blenheim Reef northward there is just open ocean until the Maldives. We rolled along the waves overnight and on sunrise were presented with what appeared to be more open ocean. But an atoll lies several meters below the surface here revealing no visual references on the surface. Nothing to let you know where you are. Speakers Bank as this place is known only reaches to within 10 meters of the surface at its shallowest so the waves do not break to delineate its perimeter. 

    It was an overcast day so we couldn’t make out the bottom in the shallows so we were diving pretty much off the charts we had studied earlier on the bridge of the research vessel. What interesting dives they were though – healthy coral reef interspersed with rich beds of seagrass (thesalinodendrum ciliatum). The emerald green soft swaying of the grass contrasting with the hard immobility of the stony corals.

    Currents were strong across the bank. Without the seabed reaching all the way to the surface the ocean currents run unbroken up and over the atoll. As a result there was a lot of life that can be associated with currents. Our first dive we encountered a lot of whip corals at a depth of around 20 meters.

    There were numerous branching corals that were rich with small life. Numerous species of crab – spider crab, hermit crab, porcelain crab – all nestled in amongst the branches. Plenty of small fish too, Chromis and Damsels all huddled in the protective arms.

    Interestingly there were few large grouper – although we did see an enormous Morey eel. One of the highlights was being surrounded by a huge shoal of Yellowback and Neon fusiliers at the start of the second dive. A heaving mass of colour. Really beautiful to watch.

    On the smaller side we also came across a beautiful set of chromodoris nudibranchs.

     

    This was an unusual and rarely dived spot that offered up some really worthwhile sights. Another successful day! 

  • 15 02 19 Blenheim Reef Day 8

    15 02 19 Blenheim Reef Day 8

    Today was the first day in the expedition where we visited an atoll without any land mass. Blenheim Reef is a completely submerged atoll to the east of the Salomon Atoll. As a result Elizabeth and myself decided to enter the water and see how things were looking in the marine environment in Chagos and how the Catlin Seaview Survey team got their work done.

    On our dives we cruised the reefs to continue Elizabeth’s work. As usual the reefs were rich in fish and coral life.

    Unusual on the first dive was a large bed of macroalgae below 25 meters stretching into the depths. This sort of plant life really gets to flourish in the waters of the Chagos archipelago as the prolific fish life tends to eat it before it establishes itself in such large tracts. A point that was illustrated later in the dive by a huge shoal of surgeonfish devouring the turf algae at a shallower depth.

    Saw several heads of Chagos Brain coral. In amongst the reefs we saw several heads of Chagos Brain Coral – Ctenella Chagosensis. This coral is endemic to the archipelago and has a beautiful pattern of grooves decorating it’s surface.

    A number of encounters reminded me of just how rich the marine life is here in Chagos. A beautiful porcelain crab on a carpet anemone with a couple of Chagos Anemonefish in attendance. An octopus that disappeared back into the reef when I approached. A large nurse shark that almost swam into us and shot off before I had the chance to get my camera out.

    A great reintroduction to the underwater realm out here. There will be more opportunity as we head out over to Speaker’s Bank tomorrow and then South to the eastern Great Chagos Bank which is very little explored. A new place to be discovered!

     

     

  • 15 02 18 Ile Fouquet Boddam & Poule Day 7

    15 02 18 Ile Fouquet Boddam & Poule 

    Previously in this blog I mentioned finding a remnant of the wreck of the Black Rose on Moresby Island. This is around 20 Nautical Miles from where we will go Trekking today. Yet here on Ile Fouquet we uncovered some of the mystery of that wreck on Moresby. The main body of the wreck of the Black Rose is here in Salomon Atoll. But one of the cuppolas of this 60 foot catamaran has been torn from the hull and has floated across 20 miles of open ocean to come to rest on Moresby Island in the neighbouring Peros Banhos atoll. So today’s walk began just on the edge of this broken boat on the shores of Ile Fouquet…

    This is a classical coconut plantation island. Coconut palm monoculture from shore to shore. Although it is interesting to see that without maintenance over the last 40 years some spindly hardwoods have established themselves amongst the overwhelming coconuts. Some truly monstrous coconut crabs inhabit the centre of this island as we do transects through it’s middle. Red eyed crabs frequently could frequently be seen in the shadows of rocks around the beautiful shoreline of this lovely island. Despite the presence of rats and prevalence of coconut palms it was interesting to see small pockets of nesting Red Footed Booby in some of the trees around the edges of this island. I wander how many more would establish themselves here if the rats and coconut palms were removed and managed.

    After our trip around and through this island we motored down the southern side of the lagoon with the Trekker mounted on the boat – it will be interesting to see how these panoramas turn out. What a wonderful day – sunshine and just a light breeze. On to Ile Boddam for lunch.

    Here we enjoyed the tranquillity in the lee of the wind. Sheltered by the overhanging palms on the eastern side of the island we waded in the shallows along with six juvenile blacktip sharks. I say juvenile but they were still over a meter long…

    Our final island capture was Ile Poule which is a mere slip of an island on the south side of Salomon Atoll. Literally took 5 mins to walk around. Quite fun really!

    After that it was out over the reef (which we could motor over the top in our dinghy at high tide at 3pm) to enjoy a quick snorkel before rejoining the research vessel.

     

    Nadine really enjoyed the day…particularly watching the sharks and fish life from the shore on ile Boddam.

  • 15 02 17 Ile du Sel, Jacobin, Boddam, de la Pas - Day 6

    15 02 17 Ile du Sel, Jacobin, Boddam, de la Pas

    In August last year the rat eradication effort on Ile Vache Marine in Peros Banhos had some left over bait and decided to use it to good effect by trialling eradication in the Salomons with Ile du Sel and Ile Jacobin. So we perused these two islets with the Trekker this morning. Both islands are small and can be walked around in the space of 10 minutes. They are beautiful though with white coral sand beaches and fringing palm trees. It would certainly be worthwhile to know that the rats had gone and the islands may once again see seabirds coming here to nest – time will tell. We didn’t see sign of rats on either of them.

    What I did witness on du Sel though was a Morey Eel catching a crab in the shallows at my feet as I was walking. The eels in the rock pools here will pursue the crabs out of the water and over the rocks and in this instance a crab that I had disturbed strayed into a pool with a lurking eel. It was no contest. The eel tied itself in knots to gain purchase on the crab and it was torn to pieces and swallowed in the space of 30 seconds.

    The eel would have far more of a job making a meal of the coconut crabs we saw on Ile Jacobin. Some really big individuals make this small island their home. We saw them as we did a Trekker transect through the centre of the island. Remarkable that such a small strip of land can support such large crabs.

    Next we visited Ile Boddam with our Connect Chagos graduate Nadine so that she could see the old plantation buildings and church there. The waters of the lagoon side of Ile Boddam are perhaps the most sheltered of the Chagos Archipelago and the coral gardens there are quite spectacular. Beautiful to view as we motored slowly in towards the island. After a brief visit we took a break for lunch before heading over to Ile de la Pas at the entrance to the lagoon of the Salomon Atoll.

    The white sand beaches running down into the water lend this island a picturesque appeal as the beaches turn to turquoise where they run into the water. The island itself proved to have quite a diversity of vegetation as we did a transect through it’s middle. Palm groves, hardwood stands, grassy patches and stands of fern alternated as we traversed from the lagoon shore to the Oceanside.

     

    After all of these island visits we finished the day late. Back on board the research vessel the Shallow Catlin Seaview Survey team reported seeing the amazing coral growths within this lagoon. As the waters inside the atoll are so sheltered the corals grow into some huge complex formations. Quite different from the smaller more weathered corals that grow on the Oceanside. 

  • 15 02 16 Ile Grand Coccilage – Day 5

    15 02 16 Ile Grand Coccilage – Day 5

    Started the day with a bumpy ride in our small dinghy down to Ile Grande Coccilage. We were motoring due south from our anchorage just to the east of Ile Petit Coccilage. The weather was coming from the west so it was a rolly ride along the swell. On arrival we discovered that the mid rising tide had covered the impenetrable reef surrounding the island to the point that our small boat could ride straight over the top. Easy access and no swim in required. Holding the boat off the beach we headed ashore and got started with the days trekking.

    Ile Grand Coccilage is a long narrow island and I started on the lagoon side edge, the western shore. This seems to comprise a shallow rising bedrock of fossilized coral over which a long line of hardwood trees have fallen from the receding shoreline of the island. So rather than a beach the walk along this edge of the island consisted of wading through water next to protruding tree branches that were liberally decorated with the whites, reds and blues of nesting red-footed boobies.

    Around my legs I disturbed several turtle that were munching on turf algae thriving on the floor-like surface of bedrock. Amongst the nests in the trees there were several splashes of brilliant red, my first close up view of Frigatebirds on the nest. The males large throat sac coloured an intense scarlet and their backs feathered in deep black with an iridescent blue sheen. Well worth a pause to admire their plumage and colouring.

    There were a number of smaller colonies of nesting Noddy amongst the larger birds. These pretty, delicate birds contrasting with the raucous behaviour of their larger neighbours.

    Around the southern end of the island and onto the eastern shore the vegetation changed from the overhanging trees to a straight scaevola tangle alongside bedrock exposed all the way up to the plants themselves. This bedrock ran in a north south line that forms the eastern shore of the island. In places it split into low parallel ridges with water pooling between the two, left there by the receding tide. In these pools Morey Eels lurked waiting for unsuspecting crabs to stray too close on the surrounding rock and in deeper parts, juvenile Blacktip and Lemon sharks cruised the pools looking for action.

    On return to our dinghy I discovered the skeleton of a booby picked clean by crabs and bleached white by the sun, a reminder perhaps that these islands although idyllic looking are still very remote and harsh to live on. A point driven home by our return journey to the research vessel.

     

    As we motored our small dinghy towards the vessel she disappeared behind a veil of grey and soon the curtain of rain overtook us bringing with it a howling wind and bone jarring chop of waves. Navigating by the direction of the waves and wind alone we motored to within two hundred meters of the vessel before she materialized slowly from the clouds of spray and rain. The wind held into the afternoon with frequent downpours so to stay safe we called off the afternoons work. Hoping for better weather tomorrow!

  • 15 02 15 Moresby, Parasol and Petit Bois Mangue - Day 4

    15 02 15 Moresby, Parasol and Petit Bois Mangue

    Early start off the boat headed for Moresby. Wanted to get around the island as close to low tide as possible as the northern edge is a steep rocky beach; at high tide the waves break straight into the mangrove tree branches. That’s why we’ve selected this island so that we can get the red-footed booby colonies in the mangroves on Trekker. Red-footed boobies love nesting in mangrove trees and there is only one stand in Peros Banhos – and it is here on Moresby Island. Even at low tide the walk around the perimeter is challenging. I have to wade at least a third of the back edge of the island to get around tree branches, all the time trying to ensure I don’t go so deep as to swamp the trekker gear. The mangroves are there and as expected – full of nesting red-footed booby. Whilst walking the final stretch on the western edge of the island I come across the minimal remains of a yacht wreck – the Black Rose of Port Vila – have to look that one up and see if there is a story behind it!

    After walking the perimeter of the island we decide to cut through the middle and 10 meters in from the edge encounter an abandoned lean to. Evidence of a previous illegal fishing camp. Fortunately regular island patrols are carried out and active camps like this are rarely found now. A little further on in the centre of the island I almost step on something white underfoot. Closer inspection reveal it to be the skull of a turtle with the bones of its shell and rib cage spread neatly around. Evidently a nesting turtle lost its way and became stranded here in amongst the birds nest ferns and died.

    On to Ile Parasol next, a short walk around this island and very different to Moresby. Only a stand of tall palms on the western side. The rest of the island is mainly grassland, infested with invasive dodder vine, with a ring of heliotrope and scaevola bushes. The bushes again preferred habitat for red-footed booby. And there were plenty in residence. By the time we get back to the boat the wind has picked right up and it’s a bit of a battering fighting out through the waves to the boat for the transit to the next island on our list – Petit Bois Mangue.

    Petit Bois Mangue has some beautiful huge old hardwoods growing on it. We anchor on the north eastern side. Away from the now howling south westerly wind it is calm and peaceful as we swim over the spurs and grooves in to shore. It is still mid-tide and there is plenty of water clearance for us to swim straight to the gravelly beach. There we unpack the Trekker and set off exploring this beautiful island.

    Beautiful from the smallest inhabitants – like the small Strawberry Hermit Crabs, to the winged with all the nesting lesser Noddy Terns, to huge with the immense Pisonia trees providing habitat for the little noddy to nest. And this they do in sizeable colonies. This brought us to the end of a long day tramping the Trekker around these beautiful seabird islands.

     

    On our return to the research vessel we find that the other teams have had a successful day too. With the Shallow Catlin Survey Team covering three sites around Moresby and Ile de la Pas and the deep team deploying the ROV for the first time to examine coral in the mesophotic zone beyond conventional scuba diving depth. An all-round successful day despite strong winds and regular downpours!

     

  • 15 02 14 Ile Vache Marine & du Coin - Day 3

    15 02 14 Ile Vache Marine & du Coin - Day 3

    Today’s adventure took us first to Ile Vache Marine, a tiny islet in the south of Peros Banhos. A beautiful snorkel took us to shore, as we dropped in water of deep blue backed a beautiful reef alive with colourful fish. After Danger and Sea Cow Islands the arrival here was a pleasure, a gentle landing on the sand. The trudge around the sandy perimeter of the island revealed bucket loads of turtle tracks. This is certainly a turtle nesting haven.

    On the way round the island we also came across the remains of the pilot rat eradication project. There were rat baiting stations everywhere and…no sign of rats. A good omen although it will still be a year and a half before the island can be confirmed as rat free. Baiting stations were not the only touch of man on this island though - as with all of the islands out here the high water line was littered with trash from far off civilization. Plastic bottles, foam flip flops, shoes and light bulbs scattered across the top of the beaches - maybe it is time we stopped using the oceans as a trash pit.

    We also saw from the coastline the patch of sky where the pilot vegetation restoration program has been going. The north half of this island has an old coconut plantation stand. The pilot plot is an area where these palms have been felled and natural hardwoods have been seeded. In this area the fast growing coconuts have already sprouted – they will need management to top them so that the much slower growing hardwoods can compete.

    After doing our transects with the Trekker we swim back out to the boat for our ride back to the research vessel. It is a bumpy ride back as the wind has picked up in our faces with the waves pounding the bow.

    As a start to the afternoon we take Nadine ashore to visit the cemetery on Ile du Coin which is a short dinghy ride from the research vessel. It is an emotional moment for her but nevertheless a satisfying experience.

    Shortly after this introduction we moved further down the island to start a trekker transect. This will marry up with a seaview survey transect that the Catlin Team did in the water lagoonside of the island. They had a beautiful view of the stunning coral gardens there and also saw a huge manta ray toward the end of their run. It’ll be great in a few months time to see this all up on Google Earth.

    One of the pleasures of walking the shores of these atoll islands is to watch the many blacktip reef shark juveniles cruising along in the shallows. On one of the Oceanside beaches a crab with startlingly red eyes churned the sand on the shore with his claws. Mostly the going was very rock though making for slow going around the biggest island we have trekked so far! Nadine joined us for this walk and absolutely loved it.

     

    Great day but tired!

  • 15 02 13 Great Chagos Bank Sea Cow Island and Middle Brother - Day 2

    15 02 13 Great Chagos Bank Sea Cow Island and Middle Brother

    The day started at 8am prompt with a launch onto the water for the short transit across to Sea Cow Island. This is one of the more beautiful islands of the archipelago but is really difficult to get onto as it is surrounded by unbroken reef over which waves break right onto a very steep beach. We anchored our dinghy well behind the breaking waves and jumped in for the swim ashore.

    As predicted the arrival on shore was battering, the broken foamy waves grinding us up the coarse sand while we tried to push and haul our waterproof camera boxes up the beach. Perhaps it is this rough landing that has maintained this island as one of the most pristine examples of natural terrestrial vegetation in the Chagos Archipelago. The island vegetation here has never been cleared and planted with coconuts so there are still wide open grassy areas and stands of towering hard wood trees. The grassy areas are suitable for ground nesting birds whilst the hardwoods are home to large numbers of seabirds that find security in the strong branches unlike the swaying fronds of palm trees.

    After spending several hours walking around the island and doing some transects through its centre we reversed our swim through the pounding waves (certainly got the heart racing) and headed back to the research vessel for the transit to Middle Brother Island further to the North along the western edge of the Great Chagos Bank.

    Middle Brother presented our first opportunity to get Nadine ashore for a visit onto the outer islands of the Chagos. A channel through the reef around this island allows for a sheltered landing directly onto the beach. Unfortunately for Nadine it belted it down with rain. Fortunately in the tropics this doesn’t make life all that uncomfortable just dampens the warmth a little. On the walk around this island with the Trekker camera I disturbed a number of crabs on the rocks – as they scuttled for the protection of water Morey Eels shot out from beneath ledges in the rock pools and tried to grab them. Away from one danger straight to another. Risky living for crabs around these islands.

    Also evident around Middle Brother is just how much the shoreline has receded in places – whole stands of coconuts felled in the shallows after the sand had been washed from around their root systems leading them to collapse into the advancing water.  

    The shallow Catlin Team got in two transects during the day as well – with such technical gear getting everything functioning correctly at the start of an expedition is a challenge but their long hours paid off as they were successful in operating the gear off both of the islands stops. The Catlin deep team also had successful dives. They are collecting coral samples that will be sent back to museums in Australia for identification. Nadine has been putting her training on the Connect Chagos program to good use as she has been assisting the scientists catalogue the corals after each dive.

    Another good day on expedition with a few adventurous stories and sore muscles to let us know we’re well into it now…

     

     

  • 15 02 12 BIOT MPA Survey Expedition Blog Day 1 - Danger Island

     

    Danger Island

    After transiting through Diego Garcia and boarding our research vessel we found the sun rising over Danger Island on this morning in February 2015. The voyage overnight had been a little bumpy and the sea was a little unsettled with weather coming from the North West. Fortunately for us anchored in the lee of the island on the southeast there was a little respite from the advancing swell. After the immense administrative task of getting all of our gear out to this remote part of the world over the preceding months and weeks and the laboured task of unpacking it all the day before we now had to get it all working and into the environment. This wasn’t without its teething problems.

    Cameras and electronics needed setting up and testing, underwater gear needed assembling and boats needed to be serviced and put in the water. A wee bit of a circus that finally got its act into play around mid-morning. The Catlin team headed off to do their seaview surveys and Elizabeth and I headed ashore to Danger Island to do the first of our Trekker Street View surveys.

    After a boat launch that resembled a swift battering in a wrestling ring with us bouncing around next to the larger patrol boat while trying to load the bulky trekker boxes we motored smoothly towards the east side of Danger. There we anchored about two thirds of the way up the island in a convenient sandy circular break in the reef which could be seen from the turquoise colour of the water contrasting with the surrounding darker colour of the water over corals.

    Dropping over the side we swam the boxes to shore and dragged them up the beach before assembling the trekker street view camera – a routine which I’m sure we’ll get used to in the coming couple of weeks.

    I then started my route around the shore of the island humping the camera on my back. This was a hot and sweaty job. Hard work in the soft sand under the baking tropical sun. It was however rewarded with beautiful views of this wild strip of land. Numerous red-footed booby roosting and nesting in the scaevola and heliotrope bushes whilst common noddy and fairy tern fluttered about. Brown booby occasionally agitated from the ground where they prefer to settle themselves provided they have a bit of a beach drop off and clear water to launch themselves back into flight. They are not very accomplished on the ground in stark contrast to their agility in the air. Several contemplated landing on top of my protruding camera at the start of the walk!

    On the far side of the island there were numerous ghost crab mounds dug up in the steeply sloping beach. Whilst walking passed one of these I saw another species of crab – a sally lightfoot crab – scuttling awkwardly with a large load dragging between its legs and held in place by its claws. On closer inspection it could be seen that it was cannibalising another crab. Something I had not observed before. I passed several turtle tracks and nests before coming across another interesting sight.

    A stand of shrubs growing at the beach edge had almost completely been stripped of foliage by what was evidently the work of either an insect or caterpillar. I was at first intrigued by this because a closer inspection of the leaves revealed no culprit – although there were numerous small black droppings clouding the sand beneath the almost leafless trees. My closer inspection did reveal a small jumping spider though – with something between his jaws. This turned out to be a tiny caterpillar. Much to small a caterpillar to do this sort of damage though. But then beneath the leaf that the spider was on I saw the real culprit for the lack of greenery.

    A large caterpillar stretched beneath one of the few complete leaves to shade itself from the hot midday sun. I wish I had such respite but had to instead continue. Trudging through the shore sand, breathing hard and sweating away. It took an hour and a half to circle the 5.7km circumference of the island.

    We then took on a couple of transect across the island to capture the vegetation there and search for any invasive plant species. This was even hotter work as the plant growth in the interior is jungle like. Thick, lush and almost impenetrable in places. The first transect largely fit this profile and it took plenty of thrashing to make it through to the other side. We then walked north and this time around were more fortunate in selecting a route across the island that consisted mostly of large well established pisonia trees. These afford lofty habitat for seabirds to roost in the canopy but beneath this the forest floor is relatively clear and much easier to move through. Of course this only lasted until the thick scaevola which usually lines the beach on these islands. As usual this was a real challenge to push through. These are really wild, wild strips of land.

    Back on the beach we repacked and took an exceptionally refreshing plunge into the ocean to swim our way back to our anchored dinghy. With a short while left before we needed to be back on board the boat we dropped back over the side with mask and fins for a hasty snorkel and were rewarded by the richness of marine life in this largest no-take marine reserve in the world. An eagle ray, huge shoals of humpback snapper, a shoal of large pencilled surgeonfish and a series of large individual snapper passing through. All in the space of 5 mins over mounds of coral around our sandy anchor patch.

     A quick motor back to the waiting research vessel and an end to a very tiring but productive first day. Now for a much needed rest before doing more tomorrow!

BIOT MPA Survey Expedition 2015

An expedition comprising a Catlin Seaview Survey Shallow Team, a Catlin Seaview Survey Deep Team and a Google Trekker Street View team to conduct surveys on the reefs and islands of the atolls of the BIOT MPA.