Other Scientists

The Importance of the Chagos Archipelago for Seabirds

Principal Investigators
Associate Prof.
Other Scientists

Project Overview

The presence or absence of seabirds is a key indicator of the health of the ocean.

The British Indian Ocean Territory, is home to 18 species of breeding seabird. They range in size from the large ocean-going greater frigate birds, to small coastal species, such as the lesser noddy. By studying them, we can observe and understand changes to the marine environment – such as changes in sea bird prey populations. Unfortunately, seabirds are the most threatened group of birds and are hugely impacted by human activities such as over-fishing, the introduction of invasive species and plastic pollution.

One possible way to help conserve these important species is to create large Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, for these  to be effective they must include the areas which are most commonly used by the birds for breeding and foraging – which for many MPAs is still unknown or at least uncertain. The purpose of our work is to identify which areas are important to seabirds which breed in BIOT and whether these areas are included in the extent of the MPA.

To conduct this research, our science team spends several weeks on uninhabited islands in the British Indian Ocean Territory where our study species – red-footed boobies and brown boobies – pair-up to breed and raise their chicks. By attaching low-weight tracking devices to the birds tail feathers we are able to find out where in the Indian Ocean the birds go to feed, and what parts of the MPA they visit.

Red Footed Boobies can spend days out at sea foraging for food to feed their chicks. Finding out where they go to will help us work out how effective the MPA is at protecting these important birds.

Dr. Malcolm Nicoll

Key Facts

Red Footed Boobies have been tagged with GPS trackers in BIOT
of tagged birds stayed with the MPA boundary
1,250 km
the length of the longest recorded foraging journey