Coral reef ecosystems owe their prodigious productivity to a symbiotic relationship between algal symbionts and their hosts, which has evolved over 250 million years under relatively stable conditions to a remarkable level of efficiency. Conditions are no longer stable, and that relationship is now the ‘Achilles heel’ of corals, and coral reef ecosystems are either going to change markedly or be lost.
Coral reef benthic communities are of fundamental importance to the ecological health of the reefs and existence of the islands. Coral condition is one of the paramount guides to the future condition and trajectory of the BIOT marine environment in our present warming world.
Specifically, I lead a work package building a video archive of coral reef benthic community structure across depths at permanent monitoring sites throughout the atolls, for detailed analysis of the changes in communities
Videos provide a permanent reference and ‘bench mark’ for observing the effects of changing conditions in the absence of direct human impact. This video archive provides the opportunity to revisit sites in time to assess factors that have since become of note (e.g. disease). It also provides a visual baseline allowing newly engaged scientists to compare coral reef community structure in time.
Coral reef ecosystems are either going to change markedly or be lost. We do not know which outcome will be, but my hope is that we can still influence their trajectory such that we have resilient reef ecosystems in the future.
Coral Reef ResilienceMonitoring Coral Reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory
Current research is developed in partnership with end users (e.g. British Indian Ocean Territory Government Section of Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Cayman Islands Government; Seychelles Island Foundation; The Nature Conservancy, USA). Recently, my research has focussed on coral reefs of the UK Overseas Territories. My research strategy is driven by the need to protect marine environments largely through the establishment and monitoring of Marine Protected Areas, or use of tools such as Environmental Impact Assessment and Coastal Zone Management, often to comply with the major conventions. Research is implemented through practical research expeditions overseas involving scientific diving operations, training, stakeholder consultations and outreach initiatives, often including placement of Project Support Officers to build capacity within organisations. I am also a member of the DEFRA Darwin Initiative panel of the Darwin Plus Advisory Group for the British Overseas Territories.