for the past three weeks, twelve scientists and supporting team members have been recording, logging and observing sea life in the Chagos archipelago as part of the first full scientific expedition since the area was declared a no-take marine protected zone in April 2010. in this special guest blog from the middle of the Indian Ocean, the team investigate the Salomons Atoll…
Day 5 – We arrived at Salomons Atoll while it was still dark and so waited for first light to enter the lagoon. The captain of the Pacific Marlin, Neil Sandes, has obviously done this many times and the GPS waypoints are well known, but it is still a good precaution to be able to see where you are going.
We started work immediately, Pete C visiting the islands to do vegetation mapping and bird counts while the rest of us diving. The morning’s dive was on the reef slopes on the east of the atoll, off Ile Jacobin. The water was very clear but a strong current was running which made the work much harder. Running a 50metre tape transect in a strong current is no easy matter.
Bob, our expedition medic, has been assigned to work with Nick, our ichthyologist, on fish counts and on an interesting project looking at parrotfish behaviour. In areas where there are a lot of people, parrotfish will swim away from a diver while the diver is still fairly far away. The extent of their wariness has been shown to relate to catchibility – i.e. their vulnerability to fishing. Nick was interested to see how parrotfish who have never seen a diver will react. Bob has to swim towards the parrotfish and as soon as the fish starts to flee, he drops a marker and swims to where the fish was when it swam away, then measure back to the marker using a tape measure. According to Bob, the fish just gave him the middle flipper and dived under a coral head. We await the results of this experiment with interest!
On the way to our afternoon dive site, we encountered an abandoned longline. We radioed in to the Pacific Marlin who came and removed it. There are always going to be poaching attempts on an MPA but the Pacific Marlin is constantly patrolling, deterring and arresting. After the afternoon dive the water over the reef flat was to shallow to drive the boats over so we walked them over into deeper water. David, the dive supervisor, unfortunately stood on a Diadema urchin, but survived the encounter with only one spine in his foot.
All work was completed at the end of the day and we thankfully had a cold beer on the bridge watching yet another spectacular sunset.
images: Anne and Charles Sheppard / Chagos Conservation Trust
Januchowski-Hartley FA, et al. (2011) Fear of fishers: Human predation explains behavioural changes in coral reef fishes. PLoS ONE 6: e22761.