The Chagos Archipelago, a remote British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) located 500km south of the Maldives, is one of the most pristine marine environments on earth.
For almost a decade, the area has been covered by a 640,000 km² Marine Protected Area (MPA), which incorporates a no-take zone, meaning it has endured little negative impact in terms of day-to-day human activity.
However, as with the rest of the planet, it is being affected by climate change and has a legacy of fishing.
So it provides a perfect testbed to assess their effects, understand how mostly intact marine ecosystems function and explore how conservation practices put in place as part of the MPA might benefit other areas of the marine environment.
That is the goal of new research by the University of Plymouth. Funded by a £1million grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation as part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, scientists are embarking on a two-year programme to identify what underlying mechanisms keep the region’s seas – and the species living within them – so healthy and explain the distribution of the large organisms found there, such as sharks and mantas.
This new research will bring together a wide range of scientific disciplines to provide the first detailed assessment of BIOT’s oceanographic processes, seabed habitats and deep water (mesophotic) coral reefs, and how the two may link to keep shallow water reefs resilient.