Charles Sheppard and I have been working on a long-term program monitoring the health of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) reefs since 1978. Various reef have been monitored through different warming and mortality events. Therefore, tracking the reefs response to these environmental stressors, affecting coals reefs worldwide, is key for establishing a pattern in the absence of other and more direct anthropogenic impacts. We also monitor, the gross seawater temperature rise, as well as the length of the various spikes in temperature that are lethal to corals.
A recent suggestion states that some Acropora table corals survive beaching episodes and regrow new colonies from the surviving polyps. Sadly, initial results of my research show that survivorship rarely occurs. The new colonies are in fact newly settled polyps only (which are reduced in number along with numbers of the adults). Nonetheless, we have ascertained that adults on the periphery of large corals do survive: Faviids and Porites especially have shown such survivorship.
The ongoing health of the corals which build the reefs is fundamental to the continued existence of the whole complex, diverse reef ecosystem, upon which so much depends.
Coral Reef ResilienceMonitoring Coral Reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory
As part of the ecological evaluation of BIOT reef I also studied the distribution ecology of the molluscan fauna, the first such research carried out in that group of animals worldwide.
Photographic records of the reef over time and documenting the changes to it are an important adjunct to the data as they highlight, often very graphically the shocking changes to the reefs. They are also important for outreach and educational material. I have been photographing the BIOT reefs since 1978.
I am also the project co-director on a coral reef restoration programme at Bundegi Reef in the World Heritage Ningaloo Reef area of Western Australia. This aims to carry out the restoration of a locally important reef that was destroyed by a cyclone in 1999.