Chagos Conservation Trust

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NOV 2012 EXPEDITION Blog Jump to project background

  • Nov 2012 Expedition Report

    Video frame of a curious green turtle from underwater video system c ZSL&University of Western AustraliaScientists tend to rely on catch data from commercial fishing to estimate fish stocks, so how can we monitor species numbers in reserves when the fishing fleets are gone?
    The answer might lie in the non-destructive techniques trialled on the first open water research expedition to the Chagos. 
    Professor Jessica Meeuwig led the expedition. Her report on the team's research outcomes describes successful high tech acoustic surveys, humane shark tagging and the first ever long-line deployment of SISSTAs (Stereo Imagery System for Shark and Tuna Analysis). All this despite losing a third of the research time due to Cyclone Claudia.
    Download the November 2012 Expedition Report.

    Photo: Video frame of a curious green turtle from underwater video system (c) ZSL/University of Western Australia

  • Desert Island marine scientists

    Skip to Creole

    Matt GollockClaudia was a name I had always quite liked. Until now. Claudia is the name of the cyclone that has been in our life for almost a week, and has made work increasingly hard – we have not been able launch the boat we use for tagging for the last three days, and almost all the planned science has had to be stopped due to high winds, squalls and relentless swell that makes the deck akin to a paddling pool. As you can imagine this is incredibly frustrating, and mixed with increasing cabin fever and the wave of seasickness that comes with constantly being thrown in every compass direction, morale was not at its highest. This, unfortunately, is the reality of field science in the middle of the Indian Ocean, when it’s good, it’s amazing but when the weather turns, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. We all knew what we had signed up to, but it didn’t make the fact we couldn’t deploy a lot of our gear any easier to swallow. It also made me think of all the people who had looked at me in disgust when I told them I was coming here for work, their idea obviously being us with pina coladas in hand on deserted beaches. You know who you are.

    Luckily, we were moored near a group of islands that had enough shelter to allow one of the small boats to make an excursion onto land for an hour. After an ‘interesting’ journey in, we all skipped ashore, thankful for the fact that the ground beneath our feet was stable, even for a brief moment. The island was one of those that had not been previously used as a coconut plantation and as such is rat-free, and had thousands of birds nesting on it – this was real ‘deserted island’ stuff. Juvenile red-footed boobies looked at us with curiosity rather than fear, and frigate birds – best described as prehistoric – circled above us in a rather unsettling manner. Possibly one of the most bizarre things we saw was moray eels rising out of the water onto land in order to catch crabs.
    Hawksbill turtle in ChagosAs we continued our stroll round the island we stumbled across a hawksbill turtle that had been washed onto the some of the exposed coral flats, and become lodged in a crevice. It was still alive and seemed in good shape apart a look of embarrassment from being rather unceremoniously stuck at an angle turtles were clearly not built for. Now while turtles probably fall into the category of ‘cute’ as far as marine species are concerned, hawksbills have a mean beak that would easily take a couple of fingers off, and even though we were doing our best to help it, I reckon it would have taken a pop at us if we’d given it the chance. So we very gently braced it as we chipped away at the rocks that held it in place, and after about 5 minutes of tactical erosion, we managed to lift the turtle free. 10 meters of precarious handling and we had it in the water, and it swam off with us looking on, feeling a sense of achievement. A real ‘Animal Hospital’ moment.
    So even though we weren’t able to carry out our work, this rag-tag band of conservationists were still vigilant, ready to leap into action when there were helpless animals to be saved. Now where did I leave my cape…

    Matt Gollock

    Creole: Claudia ti en non monn toultan kontan. Ziskan prezan. Claudia i non en siklonn kin dan nou lavi pou apepre en semen, e in fer travay tre difisil – nou pan kapab larg bato ki nou servi pou mark reken pou deryen twa zour, e preski tou bann sians in bezwen arête akoz gro divan, laroul ase gro ki tourn deryer lo bato parey en pti basen delo. Pare you kapab mazinen sa it re fristre, ansanm avek dan kabin ek laroul maldemer kin vin avek gany avoye dan tou direksyon konpa par move lanmer, moral pa ti lo son pli bon. Sa, enfortinetman, i realite dan travay sians dan milye losean endyen, ler i bon, it tre formidab me ler letan i sanze, napa nanryen ou kapab fer.  Nou tou nou ti konnen pou ekspekte nenport kwa, me sa pa ti ranplas realite ki nou pa ti kapab larg nou bann lekipman. I ti fer mon osi mazin tou sa bann dimoun ki ti get mon avek zalouzi ler mon ti dir zot mon tip e vin isi pou travay, zot lide, nou avek pina coladas dan nou lanmen lo en lans. Ou konnen lekel ou.

    Avek lasans, nou ti pre en group zil ki ti annan ase landwa kasyet pou les enn bann pti bato pou fer ekskirsyon ater pou en erdtan. Apre en tre traze tre enteresan, nou sot ater, an remersiman ki later anba nou lipye i stab, menm si zis pou en pti letan. Sa zil i enn ki pan gany servi koman en plantasyon koko e osi napa lera, e ti annan de milye zwazo ki ti lo nik – sa ti vreman en zil dezerte. Bann zenn red-footed boobies ki get nou avek kiryozite san lafreyer, ek fregat – ki gany dekrir koman prehistoric – i fer letour parlao nou. Posibleman en keksoz pli bizar niun trouve i ler kong moray i sorti dan delo pou atrap krab.
    Koman nou kontiny nou letour lo zil nou dekouver en torti lanmer kin gany trennen ate ravel laroul e tonm ant ban koray, e pri dan en trou. I ti ankor vivan e ankor dan bon leta apar ki i ti get anbarase par i ti dan en pozisyon ki torti pan gany fer pou ete.  La ki tort ii tonm dan kategori ko zot zoli koman bann lavi marin i konsern, sa torti i  annan en labek ki pou fasil koup ledwa, en menm so nou pe fer nou mye pou ed li, mon mazinen k ii ti pou esey mord nou s ii ti gany sans. Alors nou tre zantirman met pare antretan ki nou kas bann pti bout ros ki tip e fer li pri, e apre 5 minit erozyon, nou reisir pou tir li. 10 met pou manez li nou finalman met lid an delo, kot i ti naze pou retourn dan lanmer avek nou pe regarde, e santi tre fyer. Sa ti en moman pou lopital zannimo.
    Alors menm si nou pa ti kapab er nou travay, s group conservasyon tit re vizilant, pare pou pran aksyon kot ti annan zanimo ki bezwen led pou gany sove. Alors kote ki monn kit mon lavwal…
    Matt Gollock

  • Rudy on board

    Rudy PothinEnglish: A scientific expedition in the Chagos archipelago is something that I never thought I would be part of, but here I am sitting out on the deck of the Pacific Marlin writing this blog and being part of this amazing pelagic expedition. To me this is truly an opportunity of a lifetime and surely one that I will never forget. It has been filled with amazing memorable moments and goes beyond the description of words as to what it means to come to Chagos on a personal and career basis. All those years of waiting to hopefully see this place for real was well worth the wait for it did not disappoint, in fact it has actually inspired me.
    The scientists that I have had the privilege to work alongside since the beginning of this expedition are the most determined and amazing individuals I have ever met. Each driven to do their research work and not give up when the weather gets bad, but we all wake up the next day even more focused on the days work. Also Jasper, Pete’s dog has been truly amazing and always finding his way to a well deserve cuddle from us.
    Not forgetting the amazing crew of the Marlin, their help is one that is truly valuable to doing research work out here. Always ready to help and always preparing amazing food that it worth mentioning for they go above and beyond expectations.
    Being here in the Chagos I have seen that there is an amazing opportunity for conservation work, be it from the middle of the deep blue sea, the amazing corals reefs with all the splendours and variety of fish or the islands, which although from afar look very similar, one cannot not help to notice how each holds their own individuality that makes each unique in their own right.
    If someone asked me what was the best part of this expedition, I would honestly say it was the whole start to finish. With pieces that have completely captivated my interest, such as seeing the species of sharks from the SISSTAs camera, the marine world is something that has left me in awe. The birds and being able to get really close to them, which was a new experience to me, has inspired my interest to know more about them, and the wonderful crabs of different shapes and sizes I think were just as curious about me as I was of them. The vast abundance of animals and plants that are just waiting to surprise you is never ending and that is part of what makes this place so amazing to me, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

    Creole: En lekspedisyon siantifik dan larsipe Chagos i en keksoz ki mon pan zanmen kwar ki mon pou form par, me la mon la pe asize lo bato e pe ekrir so blog e parti sa lekspedisyon pelazik. Pou mwan sa i vreman en loportinite e enn ki mon pa pou oubliye akoz in plen avek bann diferan memwar ek moman. I menm enposib pou dekrir ki i vedir pou mwan la dan Chagos. Tou sa bann lannen espere pou vwar sa landwa an realite pan dezapwent mwan, in aktyelman enspir mwan.
    Sa bann siantis ki monn gany privilez pou travay avek lo sa lekspedisyon i en group tre determinen e tre amikal koman bann endividyel. Saken travay pou zot resers e pa arate menm ler letan i vin move, me zot leve landemen ek plis determinasyon. Osi Jasper, lisyen Pete in tre gou pou annan li abor.
    San oubliy bann travayer lo Marlin, zot led i enn tre enportan pou fer resers isi dan Chagos. Toultan pare pou ede e osi prepar bann bon manze ki tre goute ki all plis ki nou lekspektasyon.
    Isis dan Chagos monn vwar ki i annan loportinite pou travay conservasyon, i kapab dan milye losean, bann resif koray avek tou son bann varyete pwason ou menm bann zil ki lwen zot get tre parey me ou remark zot diferans tre inik ler ou apros zot.
    Si en dimoun i demann mwan ki pli bon parti sa lekspedisyon, mon pou dir ki i ti komansman ziska finisyon. Avek bann bout kin gany mon lentere, parey vwar ban lespes reken lo kamera SISSTAs, sa lemonn marin in en kin sirpran mwan. Bann zwazo e kapab vin tre pre avek zot san zot anvole e osi bann krab diferent lespes groser ek kouler. Sa gran labondans bann zannimo ek plant ki sirprann ou toultan i fer ki sa i en landwa tre parfe pou plizyer rezon.

  • Peering into the deep blue

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    Lloyd GrovesWe are well over half way into our expedition now and despite the weather’s best efforts to restrict our sampling and dampen our spirits, we have successfully deployed over 95 Stereo Imaging System for Shark and Tuna Analysis (SISSTAs) at depths of 10, 30 and 50m. This has resulted in over 285 hours of footage for myself, Dave Tickler and our team in Perth to analyse.
    Our voyage began with a return to Sandes Seamount. Having processed the baited remote underwater video footage from the February 2012 expedition that captures imagery of fish associated with the seabed, I was excited to see what the SISSTAs would reveal about the midwater fish community. They certainly didn’t disappoint with our preliminary review of the footage providing highlights such as 20 strong schools of rainbow runners, silver tip sharks circling the camera rigs, grey reef sharks moving off feature to investigate, a couple of silky sharks cruising through, and two billfish searching for prey.
    In a bid to outsmart the weather we moved towards the North of the MPA which turned up some pleasant surprises. We started seeing larger schools of mackerel scad, more silky sharks and a rather robust tiger shark.  We were also rewarded with a school of 10 dorado, a manta ray and surprisingly, a false killer whale on its way to the surface.
    At present we are working on one of the Northern atolls discovering more surprises by the day with bait balls under our cameras, sailfish hunting and a shark sucker showing great interest in our rig and maybe a little disappointment in not being able to find anywhere to attach itself. The biggest shock of the day, quite literally for Jas our medical officer as she screamed SHARK!, was a rather angry looking shortfin mako circling for over a minute.
    So with the bad weather giving us the opportunity to catch up on videos that brings us just about up to date…for now at least as we are getting ready to deploy our next round of SISSTAs and begin the whole process again!
    Lloyd Groves

    Get dan sa fonder ble
    Nou ariv plis ki lanmyatye dan nou lekspedisyon e menm tou bann zefor sorti ek letan pou dekouraz nou e restrikt nou pran bann sanp , nou sikseman larg plis ki 95 SISSTAs dan fonder 10, 30 e 50m. Sa inn donn rezilta dan plis ki 285 erdtan foutaz pou mwan, Dave Tickler ek nou tim an Perth pou analize.
    Nou voyaz in komans par retourn kot Sandes Seamount (montany anba lanmer). Apre ki noun pas lo sa bann video anba lanmer sorti kot sa ekspedisyon an Fevriye 2012 ki ti kaptir bann zimaz pwason ki asosiye avek fon lanmer, mon ti eksite pou vwar ki SISSTAs pou montre lo kominote pwason dan milye delo. Zot in sertennman pa dezapwentan koman premye gete nou gany bann foutaz koman 20 pwason an group , bann reken  silver tip pe fer letour kamera, ek bann lezot reken ki vini pou envestige, e seten zis pe naze an pasan, ek 2 espadron ki pe rod manze.
    Dan en lesey pou bat sa letan nou ti bouz an direksyon Nor sa proteksyon marin ki montre detwa sirpriz. Noun komans vwar pli larz group makro, plis reken silky e en gro reken tigre. Noun osi gany rekonpanse par en group 10 Dorad, en Lare Manta e menm en balenn ki pe all lo sirfas.
    A se moman nou pe travay kot enn bann atol dan nor an dekouver plis sirpriz par zour avek en group bann pti pwason anserkle nou kamera, dyab lavwal ki pe fer lasas, sise osi i sa pwason ki atas son lonkor avek reken ek plizyer ankor ki pe montre lentere avek nou kamera en petet dezapwente akoz i pan vwaren landwa pou li atas avek. Pli gro sok lazournen, literaman pou nou dokter Jas ler i kriy reken!, i ti reken mako ki ti get byen ankoler ki ti pe fer letour nou kamera pou en minit
    Alors avek move letan ki pe donn nou oportinite pou regard nou bann video ki anmenn nou ziska prezan… pou aprezan nou pe met pare pou larg nou prosen SISSTAs e rekomans tou sa presedir ankor!
    Lloyd Groves

  • A physician at sea

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    Jasjot SinghotaBefore setting out to sea, I found myself preparing for a flood but hoping for little less than a drizzle. My cabin (I have learnt not to refer to it as my room) is packed with vital medical supplies but happily the team are creating very little work for me; vulnerable toes are covered, hands are sporting the latest in protective wear and the team are layered in sun cream with water bottles close at hand at all times. Other than a few cuts and grazes, sea sickness and a touch of upset stomachs, I have had very little in terms of medicine to do, which is great as it has allowed me to get involved and learn more about why this area is so unique whilst helping out where I can.
    Peter has been teaching me about sea birds and I have also learnt how to coil, splice and back splice ropes! My most vivid learning experience however has been preparing bait. This was something my recently pedicured toes were not expecting and an experience I am unlikely to forget. Borrowing the winemakers old fashioned technique of using your feet to mash grapes, I’ve been using my feet to squash 30 kilograms of thawing pilchards. Then dispensing the resultant product amongst bait dispensers first thing in the morning is certainly one way of waking oneself up.
    We are fortunate to have an amazing crew on board; they are very hard working and helpful and the galley crew can be heard singing and rapping as they create a range of culinary delights around the clock. I must also mention Jasper, Peter’s dog, who tolerates hours of petting and cuddling from all on board.
    We are just halfway through now and I hope the remainder of the expedition continues as it has started and we end with a full complement of healthy scientists who have fulfilled their valuable goals in this amazing location.
    Jasjot Singhota

    For me, having a doctor on board the Marlin did come in very useful - there was me thinking since I originally come from the Seychelles and having been on boats on many occasions before, that this would be smooth sailing. As we set sail I woke up very seasick and spent a whole day in bed. But thanks to Jas, our medic, I recovered fully by the next day and have since then been enjoying, and making the most of, being part of this amazing expedition. Helping and taking part in different work, including the love we all share for the delicate preparation of pilchards in the mornings.

    En dokterlo lanmer
    Avan nou komanse monnn vwar mon lekor pe prepar pou en linondasyon me pe esper pa plis ki en pti lapli. Mon kabin ( monnn apran pou aret apel li mon lasanm) i plen avek bann latizann medikal tres enportan me erezman sa tim pe donn mwan en pti giny travay; tou bann ledwa lipye pe gany kouver, lanmen pe gany met dan ban diferan legan ek tim antye i kouver avek lakrenm soley e boutey delo i toultan pre. Apar detwa koupe ek grife, malad de mer ek malad vant monn napa enta pou fer an term medisin pou fer, ki bon akoz i donn mwan sans pou pran par e apran plis lo akoz sa landwa i tre inik pandan ki mon ede kot mon kapab.
    Peter in montre mwan enpe lo bann zwazo lanmer e monn osi apran kimanyer pou anmar lakord detwa fason ! Mon eksperyans pli vivid i kimanyer pou prepar labwet. Sa i en keksoz mon resaman pedikir ledwa lipye pa ti pe ekspekte e i en esperyans ki mon pa pou obliye. Kraz 30 kilogranm bann pti pwason ki apel pilchards e dispers li dan bann tib ki nou met sa labwet pou dispers dousman dan lanmer ler nou large, pou fer sa premye granmaten i sertennman en fason pou leve bomaten
    Nou osi fortinen pou annan en bon group lekip lo bato; zot vreman travay dir e pare pou ede osi bann ki travay dan lakwizin nou tann zot pe sante e rap anmentan ki zot prepar nou bann diferan manze pou lazournen. Mon osi pou mansyonn Jasper, Lisyen Peter, ki toler gany karese e maye avek nou tou lo bato.
    Noun ariv lanmwatye e espere ki larestan sa lekspedisyon i kontinyen parey in komanse e nou finir avek bann siantis kin reisir fer zot travay dan en lokasyon parey.
    Jasjot Singhota
    Pou mwan annan en dokter abor Marlin i ti tre enportan, mon ti mazinen ki akoz mon sorti Sesel e monn al lo bato plizyer fwa ki mon pou ok. Premye zour ki nou komanse mon ti leve avek mal de mer e pas lazournen lo lili. Me mersi pou Jas nou dokter kin ed mwan rekouver totalman ki dezyenm zour monn kapab komans fer tou e pran par dan bann diferan travay dan sa lekspedisyon, ki enkli sa lanmour ki nou tou nou annan pou sa preparasyon delika pou labwet granmaten.

  • Chasing Sharks

    Matt GollockSkip to Creole

    As I’ve grown older, 3.45 AM is a time I distantly remember coming home at, as a younger man, after cutting a dash across some salubrious dance floor in a garishly-patterned shirt. The idea of getting up at this time was completely alien to me until this week, and the idea of doing so with an excited spring in my step, even more so. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not at my sparkling best at this time in the morning – my fellow shark tagger, Brazilian Gabe Vianna and I manage a grunt to one another that transcends all languages and says ‘my god, it’s early’. But we are here, in the Chagos MPA, looking for sharks to attach satellite tags to, and this is pretty much my dream project, so frankly, I don’t care what time I have to be up at.
    The aim of this project is to monitor the movement of oceanic shark species such as blue, oceanic white-tips and silky sharks to understand how they behave in relation to the protection that is now afforded to the marine life of Chagos. Once the tags are attached they will collect location, depth and water temperature data before releasing from the shark three months later and sending the information, via satellite, to my laptop in London. Amazing stuff. This information will help us to determine the level of protection that large marine protected areas are providing to these species, and species like them that are under pressure from human activities, particularly fisheries – all of the species we have chosen to study were caught as by-catch in the tuna fisheries that used to exist in Chagos waters.
    Once we have set our scientific fishing gear, myself, Gabe and the rest of our crew – Pete and Dave act as shark wranglers, and Dayal is our driver – get into a small speedboat and monitor the 20 hooks we’ve set. Making sure the fish is not stressed more than necessary is our number one priority and so we want to be ready to leap into action should we find a shark so we can release it, tagged, as quickly as we can.
    We have spent a few days refining our technique, but it was all worth it when we caught our first shark. It was on the first hook of the longline that we had set and we could see it clearly. Gabe, our experienced shark tagger, quickly got us organised with roles to play to ensure both ourselves and the shark were going to be safe. We started to reel it in. As it got nearer to the surface we could see the distinctive stripes of a tiger shark – this was going to be a baptism of fire for the team as they have the potential to be quite aggressive, but I think most of us would be with a hook in our mouth and four slightly nervous-looking scientists staring down at us. Dave pulled the line in bringing the fish to the surface, and Gabe quickly put a rope round the tail so Pete could hold the fish in place. I slipped a canvas stretcher under the shark so we could stop it from thrashing, and Gabe took measurements – it was a 2m juvenile male – and a small tissue sample from the fin for genetic analysis. Unfortunately, tiger sharks were not a priority species for us so we made the difficult decision to let it go untagged, even though the data we could have collected from it would have been enormously informative, especially having caught it far offshore, something we thought was unusual for juveniles of this species that’s normally associated with coastal habitats. The shark swam off looking a bit miffed, but in good shape, thanks to the fantastic work of the team.
    So we are continuing to fish, and are even more excited now we have had a taste of handling these amazing creatures. More as it happens…
    Matt ‘Hemmingway’ Gollock

    Pe rod reken
    La ki mon pli gran, 3.45 AM i en ler ki mon vagman rapel mon pe retourn lakaz, koman en zenn garson, apre ki monn montre mon talan danse dan mon semiz diferan patern. Sa lide pou lev sa ler in totalman drol pou mwan ziska sa semenn, e lide pou fer li avek en gou ti osi totalman drol. Pa pran mwan mal, mon pa entyerman mon menm a sa ler gran maten- mon koleg brezilyen Gabe Vianna ek mwan i zis kapab fer bann son avek kanmarad e dir ‘mon dye i granmaten’. Me nou la, dan rezerv marine Chagos, pe rod reken pou atas ban marker satelit lo zot, e sa i vreman mon rev proze, alors onnetman, mon pa veye ki ler mon bezwen leve.
    Rezon sa proze i pou moniter mouvman bann lespes reken dan gran fon losean parey bann reken ble, oseanik pwen blan ek reken silki pou pli konpran ki manyer zot ete an relasyon avek sa proteksyon ki annan dan Chagos pou bann lavi marin. Ler sa marker i gany atase zot pou kolekte lokasyon, fonder ek tanperatir delo avan ki zot detase avek sa reken dan twa mwan pli tar e avoy sa bann lenformasyon par satelit, lo mon konpiter an Lon. Sa lenformasyon pou ed nou determin sa kali proteksyon ki sa gran proteksyon marin pe donn sa bann lespes marin, e lespes parey zot ki anba presyon par bann aktivite dimoun, partikilyerman lapes– tou sa bann lespes ki noun swazir pou apran pli lola i bann ki gany atrape e afekte par bann lapes ton ki ti egziste dan lanmer Chagos.
    Ler noun aranz nou bann lekipman lapes siantifik, mon avek Gabe e larestan nou bann dimoun- Pete ek Dave i akt koman bann atraper reken, ek Dayal i nou drayver – nou antre dan en pti speedboat e moniter sa 20 lanmson ki noun large. Pou fersir sa reken pa strese plis ki i devret i nou priorite nimero enn alors nou nou met nou pare pou deswit pran aksyon si nou vwar en reken pou nou kapab larg li, marke, pli vit posib.
    Noun pas detwa zour pou aranz nou bann teknik, e i ti volapenn ler nou ti atrap nou premye reken. I ti lo premye lanmson lo en gran lanir ki noun mete pou nou vwar pli byen. Gabe, ki pli eksperyanse pou mark reken, i toudswit organiz nou avek diferan rol pou fersir ki nou menm avek sa reken i ok. Nou komans redi li obor bato. Ler i vin pli pre avek sirfas nou kapab vwar son kouler bann bar pli nwar lo son lekor ki en reken tigre – sa ti pou parey en batenm dife pou nou tim koman sa bann reken i annan potansyal pou vin tre agresiv, me mon kwar ki nenport antre nou si nou ti annan en lanmeson dan nou labous ek 4 siantis ki get nerve pe get ou. Dave i redir lanir pou anmenn li lo sirfas, e Gabe i vitman met en lakord otour son lake pou Pete kapab tenir sa reken an plas. Mon met en canvas platform anba sa reken pou nou kapab anpes plis fer dimal son lekor, e Gabe i pran son meziraz – i ti en 2m longer reken adolesan mal – e en pti sanp son lapo lo son lezel po analiz ban zenetik. Malerezman, reken tigre i pa en lespes an priyorite pou nou alors nou pran sa desizyon pou les li ale san mark li, menm si sa bann lenformasyon ki nou ti pou kapab kolekte avek li ti pou kapab tre enformativ, espesyalman akoz noun atrap li lwen avek zil, i en keksoz ki nou ti kwar i drol pou banns a lespes ki ankor pti ki normalman asosye avek labita kostal. Sa reken apre naze ler noun larg li, a bon form, mersi pou sa fantastic tim.
    Alors nou pe kontinyen pou lapes, e menm pli eksite la ki noun gany gou koman pou fer avek sa bann kreatir tre manifik.
    Matt ‘Hemmingway’ Gollock

  • Week 1 successfully completed!

    Well, we’ve now been at sea for a week on the Pacific Marlin and it has been a productive and busy time. On a daily basis, we have at least 5 research activities occurring using three vessels, no mean feat to coordinate. As we’ve now settled into our research groove at sea, I can describe a typical (good weather) day for us.
    Starting at 4 am, well before dawn, the shark taggers are hard at work chumming, and by 5 am, deploying their longlines, then commencing checks at first light to see if they’ve captured any of our priority species for tagging. Critical here is that the lines are checked regularly so that animals are not spending extended periods on the line to ensure that they remain in good condition. By 7 am, as the taggers check their line, the acoustic team of Martin and Phil deploys in one of the Marlin’s Fast Rescue Craft (FRC2) and the video team starts deploying a longline of 10 camera systems (SISSTAs). By 7:30 am the SISSTAs are in and the acoustics team has started running transects around them so that we can correlate what is “seen” by both approaches (see Phil’s blog for more details). By 8 am, as the Marlin trails our longline of cameras, Lewis is dropping his oceanographic equipment to build profiles of salinity, temperature and productivity down to 200m. By 9:30 am, the taggers are back in FRC1 having been constantly monitoring their longline since 6:30 am. Morning tea means delicious cupcakes and cookies from the Marlin’s chefs that fortify us to haul in the 2 km longline with 150 kg of cameras dispersed along it that we deployed, starting at 10:30 am. It is a testimony to the skill of our captain, Neil Sandes, that he is able to beautifully reverse the Marlin down the longline for the team to recover the 10 longlined SISSTAs from the sea. And by team, I mean team. On the back deck, Marlin crew members work side-by-side with the scientists to safely recover each camera system. Managing this much line is an art and I can tell you that our expedition doctor, Jasjot, and Chagossian communications coordinator Rudy, are also now rope coilers and splicers par excellence. By 11 am, the acousticians are back and we break for lunch. We then repeat most of this in the afternoon. And throughout this entire day, like clockwork, our ornithologist Pete has been doing 30 minutes on – 30 minutes off seabird transects from 6 am to 7 pm.
    In terms of locations, we started our week at Sandes Seamount NW of Diego Garcia where we spent the first day as a “shake down” to make sure all the kit was working well. Following 2.5 days of sampling, we transited to the southwest corner of the Chagos but overnight we found ourselves in the middle of a large storm from the north, complemented by increasing swells from the south. As it was still raging late morning and looked to be so for days, we transited to the northeast of Chagos. Following three days of work in this area, which included deploying our first series of camera systems linked via a longline stretching 1 km, we then moved on to some of the Northern atolls, where we continue to work.
    Our research activities are highly weather dependent (neither the acousticians nor the taggers can work in rough seas). Indeed, we’ve had squalls, wind gusts up to 30 knots, prevailing winds at 15-20 and even a bit of horizontal rain. These highly changeable conditions have made organising each day’s activities a bit challenging in regards to efficient and safe use of the Marlin’s time. Which brings us back to the Marlin crew – all week they have been helpfully available as we shift and rearrange activities, and ably assisting us to these ends.
    We are trialling brand new methods in a very remote region of the world about which we little is known, including basic bathymetry. To this end, we are truly doing exploratory research on this expedition and couldn’t do it without our fantastic crew.
    Jessica Meeuwig, Expedition Leader

  • Counting fish with sound

    Skip to Creole

    Philippe Boersch-SupanThe ocean in the Chagos is exceptionally clear and on calm and sunny days when we are in the shallows, it is easy to see the seabed below the Pacific Marlin. The clear water is crucial for the camera work on this expedition, but even in perfect conditions light fades quickly into a dim blue glow as one goes deeper.
    Just off the atolls and islands the ocean floor rapidly drops to depths of 1000 metres and more making the MPA a vast blue expanse. Luckily, sound travels much further through water than light, and it too can be used to discover marine life. Martin and I are using scientific echo sounders for just this purpose. An echo sounder is a combined underwater loudspeaker and microphone that transmits short pulses of sound – “pings” – into the water and detects returning echoes. A computer then calculates the range of any detected echo and displays the result as an acoustic picture of the water column.
    Echoes are created by any object that has a density different from that of seawater. Rocks for example are much denser than seawater and so the seabed gives a strong echo. Gas-bubbles also strongly reflect sound and exactly this makes it possible for us to detect fish.

    Many fish have a gas-filled swim bladder which they use to control their buoyancy. The swim bladder creates a strong echo which tends to increase with the size of a fish. By counting echoes we can estimate the number of fish in the water and also get a rough idea of their size.
    The sound speed in seawater is about 1500 meters per second, meaning our pings run from the surface to the seabed and back in less than two seconds, giving a nearly instant snapshot of the number of fish between the surface and the deep seabed. We deploy our sounders from one of the Marlin’s work boats and operate them while driving along on the surface. This way we can survey several nautical miles every day covering much more ground than we could with the cameras alone.
    Acoustics are not quite perfect, however, and one limitation is their bias towards swim bladdered fish. Marine animals without swim bladders also create echoes, but they tend to be much weaker. This is particularly limiting as sharks, one of the main target groups on our trip, do not have a swim bladder. The biggest limitation is probably that species identification from echoes alone is very difficult. By using two frequencies of sound we get a rough idea of animal class and size, for example we can distinguish between tuna and their prey but telling a small tuna from a large mackerel can be impossible without additional information.
    By combining echo sounders with the camera work taking place, we hope to combine their strengths and explore this vast mid-water ecosystem in a comprehensive yet non-invasive way.


    Kont pwason an servi son
    Losean dan Chagos i eksepsyonelman kler e lo en lazournen soleye e kalm ler nou pa dan fon, i tre fasil pou vwar fon lanmer anba Pacific Marlin. Sa delo kler it tre krisyal pou bann travay kameralo sa lekspedisyon, me menm The clear water is crucial for the camera work on this expedition, me menm dan bann bon kondisyon lalimyer i disparet vitman dan sa manmer ble pli fon nou ale.
    Zis obor sa atol ek bann zil fon lanmer i vitman desann dan en fonder 1000m ki fer sa park maren en gran ble. Erezman son i al pli lwen dan delo ki lalimyer, e i osi kapab gany servi pou dekouver bann lavi marin. Martin ek mwan pe servi bann lekipman siantifik ki servi bann son leko pou sa rezon. En leko son i en konbinezon servi bann spiker anba lanmer ek en mikrofon ki transmet bann batman son kourt- ‘pings’- dan delo e detekte ban leko ki retournen. En konpiter i apre gany servi pou kalkil sa bann diferan leko ki gany detekte e montre bann rezilta koman en portre akoustik dan delo
    Leko i gany kre par nenport lobze ki annan dansite plis ki delosale. Par ekzanp roz i pli ansanm ki delo alors fon lanmer i donn en pli for leko. Bann pti boul gas i osi reflekte son e sa i fer li posib pou nou detekte pwason.
    Enta pwason anndan zot i annan bann gas ki zot servi pou zot kapab naze. Sa i kre en leko for ki vin pli for tan pwason i pli gro. Par kont bann leko nou kapab estim lakantite pwason dan delo e gany en lide ki groser zot ete.
    Sa son i al en vites 1500 met par segond, ki vedir nou pings i sorti lo sirfas pou fon lanmer e retournen dan mwens ki 2 segond, ki donn pres ki en portre lo lakantitepwason ant sirfas avek fon lanmer. Nou larg nou bann son sorti lo en bato sorti lo Marlin e servi nou lekipman pandan kit nou pe bouze lo sirfas. Sa fason nou kapab sirvey plizyer de mil toulezour ki plis ki si nou ti pe servi zis bann kamera.
    Akoustik i pa totalman parfe, me i annan so limitasyon avek bann blad pwason. Bann zannimo maren san en blad naze i osi kre leko, me zot pli feb. Sa i partikilyerman limite koman reken, en sa lespes ki nou pe target dan sa lekspedisyon ki zot napa sa blad. Sa pli gran limitasyon i probableman sa idantifikasyon bann lespes par leko tousel i tre difisil. Par servi 2 frekans son nou gany en lide sa kalite zannimo ek groser, par ekzanp nou kapab disteng ant ton ek bann pwason ki zot manze me pou dir ant en pti ton ek en gro makro i kapab enposib san lenformasyon adisyonel.
    Par azout leko son avek kamera, nou espere pou kapab eksplor sa dan lekosistenm milye-delo dan en fason pou gany lenformasyon me san en metod envasiv.

  • Plumbing the deep blue

    Lewis FasolaEnglish: Whilst aboard the Pacific Marlin I have been deploying a CTD, which measures the Conductivity, Temperature, and Salinity, as well as other ocean characteristics.  The Crew on the vessel referred to the CTD as ‘The Rocket” due to its narrow rocket-like shape. The CTD has a number of sensors, each used to measure a different oceanographic characteristic, such as temperature or salinity. These sensors take a continuous stream of readings whilst being lowered from the surface to the seabed whilst also measuring depth. This essentially gives us a profile of the water column.
    I have connected a 400m long rope to the CTD and attached it to a winch at the back of the Pacific Marlin to make the deploying process less tiring.  I lower it at a rate of 0.5m per second so that it takes a detailed reading of the water column. On the way back up, when the winch comes into action, it comes back pretty fast!
    These profiles, taken over seamounts and banks in relativley shallow water, and off the seamount in over 800 metres of water, give a good indication of the water column structure which can help answer the question as to why the Chagos Archipelago is such a thriving hot-spot for marine organisms. It will also give me a spatial variation in oceanographic parameters from north to south and east to west.
    Watch this space for information on our results
    Lewis Fasolo
    Since Lewis started his research, I have been with him on the back of the deck, ready with GPS, paper and pen to take the location reading of where he is launching and also the depth of the water along with the time it goes in and out of the water. All this information is vital to keep track of the whole process, but I would say the hardest part  is when it is time to retrieve the CTD. When it has been dropped to over 300m, pulling it back up is no easy task. It is exhausting work, especially with the weather on top. As Lewis keeps saying he needs to be in shape when he gets back home, so he is using all this as a form of exercise.
    Rudy Pothin

    Creole: Letan ki mon abor Pacific Marlin mon pe larg CTD, ki mezir kondiktivite, tanperatir, salinite e osi lezot paramet oseanografik. Bann travayer lo bato i apel li en ‘Roket’ akoz so laform i etwat parey en roket. Sa CTD i annan plizyer sensor, sakenn i pou diferan paramet oseanografi. Sa bann sensor i pran en kontinyasyon mezir pandan ki i pe gany large sorti lo sirfas pou fon lanmer. Sa i esansyelman donn en profil dan delo
    Monn konekte en lakord 400m longer avek sa CTD ki gany atase ek en palank deryer Pacific Marlin pou fer li pli fasil ler i gany large e mwen fatigan. to make. Mon larg li apepre 0.5m par second pou li  pran en mezir an detay dan delo. Ler ou redi li anler se la ki sa palank i vin an aksyon, me sa i ensignifikan.
    Sa bann profil; par lao le de montany anba lanmer (kot pli sek) e osi pa lo sa bann montany i donn en bon endikasyon sa bann striktir dan delo ki kapab ede pou reponn bann kestyon a koman larsipel Chagos i en landwa ki pe fer tre byen  an relasyon bann organism marin. I pou osi donn mwan en variasyon  dan bann paramet oseanografi sorti Nor pou Sid ek Les pou Was.
    Lewis Fasolo
    Depi Lewis in komans son resers , monn avek li pare avek GPS, papye ek kreyon pou pran bann diferan lenformasyon parey lokasyon kote i pe larg sa roket e osi fonder ek ler ki i gany large and ranmase. Tou sa i bann lenformasyon vital pou kit en rikord tou sa bann prosedir, me pou mwan keksoz pli difisil i ler ou bwen ranmas sa CTD. Ler in gany large 300m fonder pou redi li abor bao ankor i pa en keksoz fasil. I aktiyelman en louvraz tre fatigan, akote letan move. Me parey Lewis i dir i bezwen dan en letan an bonnsante ler i retournen, alors i pe servi sa koman en legzersis.
    Rudy Pothin

  • Checking out the big blue

    Dr Tom LessiterOur on-going monitoring efforts of the mid-water realm of the Chagos MPA have been partly centred on the development and implementation of mid-water cameras, a Stereo Imagery System for Shark and Tuna Analysis (SISSTA). The SISSTAs have been developed in close collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and present a novel technique for the non-destructive study of temporal and spatial patterns in the distribution of mid-water fauna. Simply put, the SISSTAs constitute of two fixed cameras pointing at a bait canister, and are deployed on moorings for three hours at a time, at a fixed depth.

    The SISSTAs currently deployed in Chagos represent the culmination of a year of concerted efforts to establish this technique as a Indo-Pacific mid-water monitoring tool. The journey started on Dirk Hartog Island in Western Australia, where the camera rigs were initially trialled. The kit was then modified based upon our experience, and subsequently deployed in the Timor Sea, in collaboration with the Australian Institute for Marine Science, and in Le Grand Lagon Nord in New Caledonia, in collaboration with the Institut de recherche pour le developpement.
    SISSTA camera trapDuring the expedition so far, we have conducted 30 deployments, and have already collected some exciting footage of animals from the mid-water realm (but more on this later from Lloyd Groves, our chief video analyst!). We have been deploying the SISSTAs on the 100m contour line on features known to cause aggregations of pelagic species. The resulting footage will be analysed back in the lab, generating data on species distribution, relative abundance, and size. Click here to see our footage from trials over the Sandes Seamount earlier this year. Here in Chagos, the information will be used to corroborate seabird observations by our resident ornithologists, Pete Carr, and acoustic measurements made by our onsite acousticians, Martin Cox and Philipp Boersch-Supan.
    Watch this space for information on our results!
    Tom Bech Letessier, Expedition scientist

  • New bird records for Chagos!

    Pete CarrMuch is still to be learnt about the world’s truly pelagic seabirds, particularly away from their breeding locations; this certainly is true in the central Indian Ocean and in the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA).  Any bird records that arise from the expedition will be of interest because so little is known about seabirds at sea in the MPA but, when combined with underwater information and activities, will truly start to provide the type of information required to best manage this unique area.
    The first days of the expedition have concentrated on monitoring a seamount only a few hours steam from Diego Garcia but within the MPA, an area that has never been surveyed for birds.  Aside from the bird data being gathered for later analysis, two very exciting finds have  occurred.  The first is the discovery that the MPA appears to be either a non-breeding area or more likely, a transit route for Matsudaira’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma matsudairae (photo below left, (c) Alan Tate).  This species breeds on islands south of Japan and was thought to winter in the northern Indian Ocean within 5° of the equator.  Several birds are being recorded daily and it may be that these oceanic wanderers winter further south than originally believed, or regularly pass through the Chagos on their way to and from breeding grounds.  Of interest, the birds being seen regularly by the expedition are the first confirmed records of this species from the central Indian Ocean.
    ARKive Tahiti petrel imagePlanet of Birds Matsudairas Storm petrel imageThe second discovery does not appear to be of great conservation value but was a huge surprise.  As the last bird transect of the day was coming to a close, Jessica was out on deck with Pete checking on progress.  Jessica was somewhat shocked when Pete sprinted away from her and grabbed his camera and started taking rapid shots of a passing seabird.  The resulting photographs revealed what is thought to be a Tahiti Petrel Pseudobulweria rostrata (photo far right, (c) Steve J. Murray).  As the name suggests, this bird is usually found in the Pacific Ocean though occasional vagrants have occurred in the tropical Indian Ocean.  Photographs of this bird have been sent to seabird experts to verify the identification in view of its’ rarity.
    All that in three days!
    Pete Carr, Expedition ornithologist
    Rudy’s experience:
    Being here in Chagos has certainly provided me with opportunities to see some seabirds that I have never seen before. Being on the deck of the Marlin I have  seen and learned about seabirds that I would have missed if Pete wasn’t here.
    For me, the best thing that I have seen so far is a group of birds diving into a baitball of small fish, which was also providing food for dolphins and other pelagic fish. It was truly an amazing site to see.
    Cannot wait to see more.

  • Rudy's first impressions

    Rudy PothinThroughout the expedition, Rudy Pothin, ZSL’s Chagos Environment Outreach Assistant, will be posting blogs in English and Creole about his experiences of Chagos.

    English: After so many years of hearing stories, having dreams and even seeing pictures of where my family came from, I finally got the chance to not only come to Chagos but to also be part of a scientific expedition and work alongside some of the most amazing scientists and people as a whole. Coming down in the aeroplane and seeing Diego Garcia for the first time brought back a lot of memories that have been shared with me from my family. Although I was not born here, I have always felt drawn to it. Having the chance to quickly look around the town and seeing one of the many beautiful beaches I quickly realised this may have not been my birth place but I was home. The trees, birds, fish and beaches are a part of my life. Chagos was no longer a place in stories that I grew up with; for the first time it was real. I feel such a connection just being here that it is hard to explain, but I assure you that once you see it for yourself you cannot escape the bond, and the need to help protect this home we all call Chagos. I certainly would not be the person I am today without the dreams and hopes of my family, along with my personal enthusiasm to protect it.

    Creole: Apre tou sa bann lannen in pase ki monn tann zistwar, rev e menm war portre kot mon fanmir i sorti. Mon finalman gany sans pou pa zis vin dan Chagos me pou osi vin parti dan en lekspedisyon siantifik e travay akote bann siantis tre bon koman en endividyel. An anpozan dan avyon e war Diego Garcia pou la premyer fwa i rapel mwan enta memwar ki mon fanmir in partaz avek mwan. Menm si mon pan ne isi, monn toultan santi mon pre avek li. Monn gany sans pou vitman get son pti lavil e war enn parmi son bann plizyer lans kin fer mon realize ki isi i pa neseserman landwa ki monn ne, me mon ariv se mon. Bann pye, zwazo, pwason ek lans i en parti mon lavi. Zot nepli zistwar ki monn grandi avek me pou la premyer fwa zot vre devan mwan. Mon santi en gran koneksyon ki enpe difisil pou eksplike, me mon asir ou kan ou vwar li pou ou menm ou pa pou kapab anpes ou konekte avek sa landwa e santi anvi protez sa lakour nou apel Chagos. Mon sertennman pa ti pou sa dimoun mon ete ozordi san bann rev e lanvi mon bann fanmir akote mon entouzyaz pou protez li.

  • Going to sea: The first open water expedition in the Chagos

    Jessica MeeuwigThe entire scientific team has now arrived in Diego Garcia, travelling from Australia and the UK. We have arrived on our expedition vessel, the MV Pacific Marlin, the expedition medical officer, Dr. Jasjot Singhota, is establishing her infirmary, and scientific equipment is being sorted, checked and stowed.

    The latter is a big task as we have three main types of research activities occurring on the Marlin, all around the question of how do we understand the benefits of the Chagos no-take marine protected area (MPA) to open water species such as oceanic sharks and tunas.

    Understanding shark movements and residency in a large no-take MPA: Our tagging team, Matt Gollock and Gabe Vianna, are planning to tag ten oceanic sharks, with a focus on blue sharks. This species was historically the highest proportion of bycaught sharks in the tuna longline fishery. Using pop-up satellite tags which will release from the sharks in 90 days we can monitor movement patterns and increase our understanding of their residency in the Chagos MPA.

    Developing a method to monitor open ocean sharks, tunas and other large fish: Our fish ecologists, Tom Letessier, Lloyd Groves and Dave Tickler, are trialling the use of Stereo In-water Systems for Shark and Tuna Assessment (SISSTAs). These stereo video systems are baited and record the sharks and fishes that approach the camera out to a distance of about 10m. The team will later analyse these videos, determining the species and abundance of the observed sharks and fishes, and the sizes of all the individuals.  Paired with the SISSTAs team are our acousticians, Martin Cox and Philipp Boersch-Supan, using sonar (sound waves) to “see” the fish as they school and move through the areas where SISSTAs are filming. Providing basic environmental data to understand the conditions where we are deploying SISSTAs and acoustics is our oceanographer, Lewis Fasolo. If this pilot study is successful, we will have a much needed non-destructive method, based on videos and acoustics, to determine the status of open ocean species, and the benefits of protection not only in Chagos but in the ocean generally.

    Seabirds as an aid to fish monitoring: Our ornithologist, Pete Carr, is building on the close relationship between seabirds and tunas, whereby tunas drive balls of small baitfish to the surface, providing a relatively easy meal for hunting seabirds. By documenting the seabird activity over areas where video cameras and acoustics are being deployed, we can further explore this relationship as an aid to identifying appropriate monitoring locations. As we are going to areas of the MPA where no bird surveys have ever been done, the expedition also provides an opportunity to document seabird diversity.

    Stepping back on to the Marlin also feels a bit like coming home. At nearly 58 m, the Marlin is a fantastic research platform. Without the support of Captain Neil Sandes, who appears able to turn the Marlin on a penny, Chief Engineer Les Swart who can manufacture anything from nothing, and the able crew , we would not be setting out to sea so quickly.Our outreach coordinator, Rudy Pothin - ably assisted by the scientists - will be providing regular updates on our research activities over the next three weeks.

    Jessica Meeuwig, Expedition Leader.

  • Nov 2012 Chagos expedition begins!

    After a long wait finally the time has come to head to Chagos, a 12 hour flight from London to Singapore along with my colleague Matthew Gollock was followed by a 20 minute drive from the airport to the Santa Grant Hotel. Here we met with the other scientists who flew from Australia and Scotland. An early start on Monday morning involved getting all the equipment over to the airbase for check-in and customs. Hours later, we had to board a bus to the aeroplane and four and a half hours after that (and a huge meal) we landed in Diego Garcia. The island is absolutely beautiful, green vegetation dominated by coconut trees, blue sea and an amazing sunset that could easily have been a dream.

    After customs we all got our bags and equipment together and head off to the jetty where the amazing site of the Pacific Marlin greeted us. We were introduced to the crew of the boat and guided to our cabin, home for the rest of this pelagic research expedition.

    On Tuesday morning a 7.00am wake up for breakfast preceded an induction, and health and safety regulation brief aboard the Marlin. The sun is shining, with temperatures about 32-35°C. Sun block was applied, sunglasses and hat donned, and the piecing together of all the equipment started.

    I helped David Tickler (MRes student, University of Western Australia) put together the support system for the SISSTAS (Stereo Imaging System for Shark and Tuna Assessment) camera, while Matt Gollock was busy setting up hooks for his shark tagging research. Using a safe method of catch and release, without stressing or hurting the shark, we will tag them with a pop-up satellite system that will transmit the recorded data of the shark’s movement in the following months.

    Lewis Fasolo was also setting up a piece of equipment called a CTD (conductivity temperature depth) and he is hoping to measure the water profile; salinity, oxygen and many more variables.

    Martin Cox and Philipp Boersch-Supan are working on the echo sounder. They want to monitor large carnivorous fish abundance and also their smaller prey fish. The Echo sounder transmits sounds which bounce back off solid objects and are picked up, giving a better idea of fish quantities. The bigger the fish, the stronger the echoes.

    I got the chance to go to the town to pick up a few supplies and it is hard to imagine what it looks like until you see it for real. With a police station, a shop, yacht club and numerous others it is amazing to finally see it after hearing all the stories from my mum.

    We are setting sail first thing tomorrow morning for the beginning of an amazing adventure where I will learn from all these scientists, collecting the crucially important information and witnessing the results of all their hard work.


Rudy PothinZSL’s Chagos Environment Outreach Assistant Rudy Pothin will be part of the pelagic expedition team this November. A dream come true, to be part of such an amazing expedition and working to help protect Chagos. From a non-scientific background Rudy will be working alongside well respected scientists in their specific field. He will take a hands-on approach in experiencing all the research and work carried out on the Pacific Marlin, the Marine Protected Area’s patrolling vessel. From preparing all the equipment to deep sea filming and tagging sharks! From an outreach point of view Rudy will be also taking pictures, videos and doing sketches of the research team. Regular updates to this expedition blog aim to help the Chagossian community in the UK and overseas better understand the important but sometimes obscure conservation work that is being done on these expeditions. Follow Rudy and the researchers on their pioneering expedition with this blog in both English and creole.

For more information, please download the expedition overview document.

These posts originally appeared on the ZSL Blogs website..