The Tristan da Cunha Island Council and the British government have announced plans to preserve the unique biodiversity surrounding the world’s most remote inhabited archipelago.
On Friday, 13th November 2020 the Tristan da Cunha Island Council committed to the designation of most of the archipelago’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a marine protection zone. The move will fully safeguard an area that spans more than 687,000 square kilometres (265,000 square miles), about 91% of the waters of the remote South Atlantic Ocean island chain, and create the fourth-largest fully protected marine reserve on the planet. Final action on the necessary legislation is expected in 2021.
Industrial Extraction Prohibited
With the new protected zone, which is nearly three times larger than the U.K., Tristan da Cunha will prohibit industrial extraction activities throughout most of the EEZ to safeguard a rich and diverse ecosystem.
A long-term Management Initiative
To help the community actively manage these newly protected waters, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project is committed to supporting long-term implementation projects. These initiatives include developing a partnership with Global Fishing Watch to support the planning and management of effective marine protections by harnessing near real-time, open-source and interactive data to evaluate ocean conditions, marine biology, and human activity, such as fishing.
Dona Bertarelli, co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation and Special Adviser for the Blue Economy to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, commented:
“This ambitious decision by the Tristan da Cunha Island Council to protect the archipelago’s waters is a great example of local leadership that has a global impact. Today’s announcement enhances the resilience of the Tristan da Cunha community, whilst making a significant contribution towards the science-based global target to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project looks forward to partnering with the Tristan Island Council to support the long-term implementation of the new protections for years to come.”
Professor Heather Koldewey leads the Bertarelli Foundation’s marine science programme, which is dedicated to advancing our understanding of the ocean. The programme fosters collaborative science that combines the skillsets and disciplines of a range of scientists, all of whom conduct their research in the British Indian Ocean Territory’s Marine Protected Area.
Here, Professor Koldewey describes how the marine science programme helps scientists make progress in this important area, and what she considers to be ocean conservation’s biggest challenges.
Can you explain the collaborative approach that the Bertarelli Foundation has adopted?
The idea behind the programme is that by bringing together scientists from diverse fields, working on different projects and with their own particular insights, we can solve bigger, more complex problems. Within our team of more than 70 scientists we have a wide range of disciplines including physicists, geneticists, biologists and ecologists and many others; so although everyone’s working in the same study site, everyone approaches the research with their own particular perspective.
For example, physicists are looking at how underwater waves move around seamounts. At the same time, we have biologists studying the distribution of sharks around the same underwater mountains. By working together, they are finding out how the physics of the ocean is affecting where sharks are found. The more you understand these processes, the more you can start to identify “hot spots” where sharks will be found.
How does the Bertarelli Foundation support marine protected areas in particular?
The Bertarelli Foundation played an important role in helping establish the British Indian Ocean Territory’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2010. Since then, the Foundation has worked with the Pew Charitable Trusts to establish new MPAs around the world, including around Easter Island, the Pitcairn Islands and many others. The Bertarelli Foundation is helping to safeguard these large ocean wilderness areas and help governments achieve international targets for ocean protection.
Can you describe some of the more significant results that have arisen thanks to the collaborative approach taken by the Bertarelli Foundation?
One of the biggest insights has been the relationship between the land and the water – we’ve discovered that what happens on oceanic islands has a huge influence on the neighbouring reefs. For example, there is a much higher biomass and diversity of various reef species adjacent to islands that don’t have rats. These islands are not only much richer in seabirds and natural vegetation, but there’s also evidence suggesting that islands without rats, and therefore healthy bird populations, have better resilience to detrimental events like coral bleaching.
How does the Bertarelli Foundation link science to policy making?
In the UK, there’s a very large marine science community, but it can be difficult to translate research into effective public discourse. Scientists often focus on their research but the Bertarelli Foundation’s work ensures that science is used to inform policy, not just in the Indian Ocean but globally.
2020 is the deadline for governments to meet their targets for ocean protection. Programmes like this are providing robust science to give policymakers the ability to make confident decisions and take much needed action.
There are a lot of issues facing ocean conservation today. If you had to choose just one, what do you think is the primary issue that we should be focusing on?
Having worked in ocean conservation for over 25 years I’ve seen many far-reaching changes. Although some are positive – and obviously the creation of marine protected areas is a positive development – they are often overshadowed by concerning declines in marine species and habitats
If I were to pick just one, the climate crisis would be it. Marine protected areas can build resilience over time but they can’t get to the root cause of the problem. It really is going to be down to policy makers to deliver on their promises such as the Paris Agreement!
Sea bird researchers Dr. Malcolm Nicoll and Hannah Wood from the Zoological Society of London have been working as part of the Bertarelli Foundation’s marine science programme in the Indian Ocean for the last several years. Returning to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) twice a year to conduct their field-work is always a highlight and their most recent expedition is no exception. Although they counted fewer breeding birds than expected, they still managed to tag 31 adult red-footed boobies in the first few days. Birds were tagged with small GPS loggers that record the birds’ position during their long oceanic foraging trips and are recovered from the birds when they return to their nests.
The researchers also started a study of the distribution of wedge-tailed shearwaters on Nelson Island. This population of ground-nesting birds has not previously been studied and, at the time of the expedition, the adults were just starting their breeding season, so this is a fantastic opportunity to make an island-wide population survey.
Meanwhile Dr. Nicole Esteban of Swansea University and Dr. Jacques-Olivier Laloe of Deakin University returned to BIOT to continue their work studying Green and Hawksbill turtles. They had great success flying a drone over Nelson Island’s reef flat to count juvenile turtles using this unique habitat. These new data will help assess how many turtles – and which species – use these waters as foraging grounds.
They also started a new piece of work looking at how plastic pollution is impacting the wildlife on the atoll. Sadly, after completing several surveys of the beaches, they observed that all sorts of single-use and durable plastic items are littered across the island such as plastic bottles, flip-flops, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, but also cooling boxes and fishing gear. One important research aim is to better understand how this plastic debris might affect the incubation, and sex-ratio of turtle hatchlings.
The two research teams worked together to conduct night-time turtle surveys and managed to deploy a satellite tag on an adult female green sea turtle. This is the first time a turtle was satellite-tagged on this northern outer island of the Chagos Archipelago and we look forward to finding out where she travels to once she has finished laying her eggs.
An important week of science for Switzerland and for the Bertarelli Foundation concluded last Friday with the eighth annual Bertarelli Neuroscience Symposium, the fourth to be held in the country and the second at Campus Biotech. Alongside an audience of scientists and students, also in attendance were delegates from the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ), which had taken place all week in Lausanne and for which the Bertarelli Foundation was proud to have been a lead supporter.
The WCSJ is a bi-annual event that brings together over a thousand science journalists and communication professionals from all over the world. At the conference in San Francisco two years ago, the Foundation supported Lausanne’s bid to host the 2019 edition and continued as one of three main sponsors for the event itself.
More than 1,200 participants in the conference, nearly 150 of whom received a travel bursary, came from 83 countries, including one delegate from Yemen, who had to travel to Cairo for three weeks to get a Swiss visa. Over the course of four days they enjoyed a packed programme of workshops, press conferences and speeches, including from some big names such as the Director of Russia’s Space Research Institute, a NASA administrator, the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs, and the Director of CERN.
For Lausanne – home to EPFL and to the University of Lausanne – and for Switzerland, the WCSJ was an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of science and research to the region. And for the Bertarelli Foundation, it provided an opportunity to showcase the work it funds in the fields of neuroscience and marine science, as well as show its support for science journalism and for its vital importance in turning scientific research into stories and news that can be better understood by the public and, crucially, policy makers.
The Foundation had two among 40 stands in the exhibition space, on which scientists from the neuroscience and marine science programmes met with conference delegates to talk about their work, to explain new neuroprosthetic technologies that were on show, or in the case of the marine scientists, invite the journalists to experience the Indian Ocean – both above and below water – via a virtual reality headset, which proved very popular.
Three scientists from the Foundation’s marine science programme – Prof. Heather Koldewey (Zoological Society of London), Dr. David Jacoby (ZSL) and Dr. Dan Bayley (UCL) – also gave a live press conference with updates from their research (and those of their colleagues) in the British Indian Ocean Territory.
In what must be a first, two of the programme’s scientists joined via satellite technology live from the field on Nelson Island in the Chagos archipelago right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They were joined by colleagues live from Mauritius and, together, discussed new research they have conducted on, for example, the impact on the marine environment derived from removing rats from islands, which benefits sea bird populations and thus, it seems, coral reefs and fish in the waters close to them.
On Friday, the conference’s last day, journalists split up to attend field trips all over Europe. Some went to CERN, some to IBM, some to The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Lyon, and some to Campus Biotech, in Geneva, where, during the morning, groups were taken around ten of the laboratories. And then in the afternoon, they joined the rest of the audience for the Bertarelli Symposium.
The theme of this year’s Symposium, which was put together by Professor Stéphanie Lacour, the Bertarelli Chair of Neuroprosthetic Technology at EPFL, was neuromodulation, the “alteration of nerve activity through targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as electrical stimulation or chemical agents, to specific neurological sites in the body”.
Presentations were given by scientists from the four Catalyst projects at Campus Biotech, which the Foundation funds, as well as by two excellent keynote speakers: Professor Tim Denison from the University of Oxford discussed the design and deployment of bioelectronics platforms for translational neuroscience, while Professor Tobias Moser from the University of Göttingen gave a great presentation about how optogenetics will change the design of cochlear implants for people with hearing problems.
There was also a talk given by two of the past Bertarelli Fellows: EPFL students who were funded to go and study in a lab at Harvard Medical School for a year of their Master’s research. They talked about how formative the experience had been and why any students in the audience who were considering it, should go for it. There have been a total of 33 Bertarelli Fellows since the programme was initiated and five more will be heading to Boston next year.
The Symposium, which was well attended, was closed by Foundation trustee, Kirsty Bertarelli. After her remarks, the audience moved to Campus Biotech’s main atrium for the closing ceremony of the WCSJ, to which journalists from other field trips in the region also came. There were speeches from Ernesto Bertarelli, from Olivier Dessibourg, the President of the WCSJ 2019 and from representatives of EPFL (Vice President of Education, Andreas Mortensen) and the University of Geneva (Vice-Rector, Antoine Geissbuhler), as well as a contemporary dance performance by Flux Laboratory on the Campus Biotech balconies. A fitting end to an important week for science in Switzerland.
The use of electronic animal tracking has revolutionised marine science and conservation; in recent years, animal tracking has become incredibly sophisticated and allowed scientists to observe behaviours that had so far remained completely unknown. Tracking devices are getting smaller allowing them to be attached to a wider range of species, whilst at the same time, battery technology is improving which allows the recording of longer time series of data. Sensors are also becoming more sophisticated so that scientists are now able to observe not just the location of tagged animals, but also their speed, acceleration and even, in the case of sea turtles and seabirds, whether they are in or out of the water. From this wide range of data, scientists are able to recreate the most detailed pictures of animal behaviour.
Prof. Graeme Hays of Deakin University with Dr. Nicole Esteban from Swansea University and Dr. Jeanne Mortimer has been studying turtles in the British Indian Ocean Territory for many years. Their work, which is an integral component of the Bertarelli Foundation’s marine science programme, has been utilising satellite tracking technology on Green turtles which has shown them travelling as far as the coast of Somalia – over 4,000 km away to the west. Dr. Esteban recently returned to BIOT to attach satellite tags to Hawksbill turtles for the first time; once the data from these tagged animals are analysed it will help give the team an even better understanding of how the Territory’s MPA protects sea turtles in the Indian Ocean.
The Chagos Archipelago is an important refuge for seabirds in the middle of the Indian Ocean – one of the planet’s most heavily exploited oceans. Researchers from the Zoological Society of London and Exeter University have been studying populations of Red Footed and Brown Boobies on the islands of Diego Garcia and Nelson Island to learn more about how they use the Territory’s Marine Protected Area. They recently traveled further north to the menacingly named Danger Island to find out how the populations there differ in their behaviour and foraging habits. Hannah Wood took some time out to send us this update from the field:
Hello from Danger Island in the Indian Ocean! I am writing this blog from our campsite by the beach, sitting amongst a grove of squat, leafy beach heliotrope full of small, white moths and unexpectedly arboreal hermit crabs. Today is thankfully overcast which gives us a break from the intense sunshine and lessens the sweltering heat. The sea is relatively calm at the moment, but the coral reef fringing the island means that there are always white-tipped breakers rolling and crashing into the shore.
We arrived here six days ago with the aid of British military forces and a British patrol ship. With their help we unloaded camping gear, drinking water, food for two weeks and all our science equipment. It took us the rest of the day to set up our camp and the following morning we circumnavigated the island to assess potential tagging locations. That afternoon we began tagging red-footed boobies with tracking devices, and by the end of the second day we had tagged 33 nesting birds.
Once the red-footed booby tagging was complete we moved on to the brown boobies, which are slightly larger and nest on the ground under bushes rather than in the trees. We have now tagged 15 of these and hope to begin retrieving the tracking devices tomorrow! In addition to all the tagging we have been conducting twice daily monitoring of nest attendance at all of our 33 red footed booby study nests, and erected a long-term camera trap near a collection of booby nests.
The tag recovery phase of this expedition has now begun; this morning we collected six of our devices from red footed boobies, hopefully full of interesting data! As the afternoon passes it should get cooler and we can head out to gather more tags, until then we are recharging our electronics with portable solar panels and recharging ourselves with powdered isotonic drink!
As part of the Bertarelli Foundation’s marine science programme, we have funded a long-term study of sea turtles in the British Indian Ocean Territory with the aim of learning more about the biology of the incredible animals and to determine how effective the MPA is at protecting them.
In the midst of the researcher’s expedition to Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), Dr Nicole Esteban provides an update on her work:
The second sea turtle expedition to Diego Garcia in 2018 is underway. Earlier this year we focused on nesting green turtles and this time we are in BIOT during peak hawksbill nesting season to find out more about this critically endangered species. One of our key conservation research objectives is to increase our understanding of hawksbill turtle nesting in BIOT and their post-nesting movements within and outside of the Marine Protected Area.
Unusually for turtles, hawksbills nest during the daytime in the Western Indian Ocean and often emerge to lay their egg clutches during the incoming tide. So we targeted beach patrols for nesting turtles in line with the daytime incoming tide, either starting patrols early afternoon or before dawn. To maximise our chances of finding turtles, we patrolled a 2.8 km beach in the southeast of Diego Garcia as this stretch of beach has one of the highest turtle track densities on the island and is easily accessible. Hawksbill nesting can be completed fairly quickly and they can return to sea just 45 minutes after emerging so we divided into two groups that patrolled 1.5 km of beach every 40 minutes to ensure we saw any hawksbill that emerged to nest. We were lucky to have assistance from over 50 volunteers to patrol the beach, move the restraining boxes and help with satellite tag attachment.
We were amazed to encounter five nesting turtles on our first day of patrols (four hawksbills and one green turtle). All the hawksbill turtles were measured, flipper tagged and a biopsy taken for DNA analysis. During subsequent days, we saw six more hawksbills. The nesting hawksbill turtles were fairly small and ranged in size from 74-86 cm (curved carapace length).
We attached satellite tags to five of the nesting hawksbills. The satellite tag attachment takes around 2 hours: first the carapace is cleaned, sanded and then cleaned with acetone (nail varnish remover), then the satellite tag is embedded in epoxy paint and lastly painted with a coat of antifoul paint before being left to dry. The satellite tag process is the same as we have used for green turtles (see how we have attached satellite tags on green turtles; https://tinyurl.com/yccp7aur). We keep the turtle cool with shade and by pouring water on the carapace, head and shoulders.
By the end of the expedition, we will have completed two weeks of nesting activity surveys to find out more about nesting emergence timings and the size of the nesting population in Diego Garcia. This will help inform timings for our expedition in November 2019 when we will continue our work with nesting hawksbill turtles. Satellite location uplinks are showing that all the satellite tagged hawksbills are still just offshore of the nesting beach, so we expect they will continue nesting every 12-14 days. In this way we will learn more about how many nests they lay in a breeding season before returning to their foraging grounds.
We wait with baited breath to see the migration destinations of these hawksbill turtles. If you’re interested to receive updates, please join our ‘Chagos Turtles’ Facebook Group .
The Bertarelli Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts have brought together global leaders to form the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Ocean Ambassadors group.
Working closely with Dona Bertarelli, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Ambassadors will advocate for and raise public awareness about the importance of marine protected areas in conserving the ocean.
Announced at Our Ocean 2018, held in Bali, Indonesia, from 29th to 30th October, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Ambassadors are:
John Kerry, co-chair, Ocean Ambassadors; former U.S. secretary of state (2013-2017); former U.S. senator, Massachusetts (1985-2013); distinguished fellow for global affairs at Yale University; visiting distinguished statesman at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
David Cameron, co-chair, Ocean Ambassadors; former United Kingdom prime minister (2010-2016); former leader, U.K. Conservative Party (2005-2016).
James Alix Michel, former president of Seychelles (2004-2016).
Carlotta Leon Guerrero, executive director of the Guam-based Ayuda Foundation; former member of the Guam Legislature (1994-2000).
Heraldo Muñoz, former Chilean minister of foreign affairs (2014-2018).
To date, the Bertarelli Foundation has supported the designation of 2,371,816 km2 of marine protected areas. The Bertarelli Foundation, in partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts, aims to create the first generation of ecologically significant and effective marine reserves around the world.
During Our Ocean 2018, New Caledonia’s government announced a new commitment to highly protect 200,000-400,000 km2 of marine waters within the Coral Sea Natural Park. This new commitment comes after the designation in August of four marine protected areas, which fully protect the Astrolabe, Pétrie, Chesterfield, Bellona and Entrecasteaux reefs and cover 28,000 km2.
Dona Bertarelli commented:
“The commitment made by the government of New Caledonia will help deliver its pledge to protect the Coral Sea Natural Park. The formal designation will safeguard the health of the ocean for a wide array of marine life, and for future generations of the island communities that rely on these valuable marine waters. This is another important step as we continue to work to protect 30% of our ocean.”
The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy will continue to work with the people of New Caledonia, the territory’s government, the fishing industry and local organisations to increase marine protection within the Coral Sea Natural Park.
To date, the Bertarelli Foundation has supported the designation of 2,371,816 km2 of marine protected areas. The Bertarelli Foundation, in partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts, aims to create the first generation of ecologically significant and effective marine reserves around the world.
On Tuesday 11th September 2018 the inaugural marine science symposium for the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science (BPMS) took place at the Royal Geographical Society in London. This one-day symposium brought together scientists, students, conservationists, policymakers and Marine Protected Area (MPA) managers to listen to presentations highlighting key research being undertaken in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This impressive line-up of speakers included keynote presentations from Amb. Peter Thompson, the UN secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, the New York Times’ journalist, Ian Urbina, recounting stories on ‘outlaw ocean’, and a special video message from HRH the Prince of Wales.
The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science includes more than 60 scientists and marine conservationists from across the world all studying the BIOT MPA to help determine how effective this large, remote MPA is at providing species protection and resilience. The symposium showcased the work of the first year of programme activities as part of the first phase of the programme which runs from 2017 to 2021. Following an introduction by Heather Koldewey, ZSL’s Head of Marine and Freshwater Conservation and Programme Lead for BPMS, and the keynote presentations, the scene was set ready for the programme presentations which introduced us to work from across the programme during three key sessions:
The Open Ocean
Reefs to Islands
Applying Science to Management
The open ocean session introduced the work being done using different technology to track and investigate how sharks and other pelagic species use the MPA, the networks identified and how oceanography can help us to understand how wave dynamics create predator hotspots within BIOT. The reefs and islands session covered the status of coral reefs and investigations to better understand their role in the archipelago and across the Indian Ocean and the use of bio-logging technology to investigate how species such as turtles and birds use the MPA. Nick Graham, Lancaster University and Principal Investigator of the reef fish project, explained their recent work identifying the link between rat infested islands, the presence of birds and the impact this has on the health and biodiversity on the nearby reefs.
The final session linked the science to management, highlighting the important role science plays in informing management and the use of large MPAs as a conservation tool. After the close of the symposium, guests joined a reception to celebrate marine science and to digest all the information communicated throughout the day. With 2018 as the International Year of the Reef, thoughts are driven to how we can best protect our oceans, what is being done to protect them and how we can raise the profile to ensure we work collaboratively across the world to tackle these pressing questions.
All presentations from the events are now available to watch on our YouTube channel here.
It has long been known that the introduction of invasive species can have a detrimental effect on native flora and fauna. Rats decimate seabird populations all around the world by eating eggs and chicks – and sometimes even adult birds.
The British Indian Ocean Territory includes the Chagos Archipelago and 58 tiny islands. Some of the islands are home to the Black rat (Rattus rattus), whereas others have mercifully remained rat free. Researchers from the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science have used these two types of islands – with rats and without – to see what effect the prescence of rats has on the health of the surrounding coral reefs.
Prof. Nick Graham commented:
“The islands with no rats are full of birds, they’re noisy, the sky is full and they smell – because the guano the birds are depositing back on the island is very pungent. If you step onto an island with rats, there are next to no seabirds.”
On rat-free islands, seabirds including boobies, frigatebirds, noddies, shearwaters and terns travel hundreds of kilometres to feed out in the ocean. When they return to the island, they deposit rich nutrients from the fish they feed on.
Prof. Nick Graham of Lancaster University considered whether these nutrients were being leached into surrounding waters and were influential in the biology of the reef systems. The findings, published today in Nature, are stark – fish on reefs adjacent to rat-free islands grew faster and larger compared to those fish living adjacent to rat-infested islands.
As coral reefs are regularly affected by changes in ocean temperature and the frequencey of coral bleaching events increases, this research suggests that the removal of invasive species like rats, could become an important way of increasing the resilience of these essential habitats.
Dr Ines Lange, marine biologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Exeter, a project partner in the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, took part in an expedition to study the coral reefs of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Here’s her report from the very wet and windy Indian Ocean:
Prof. Chris Perry and myself from the University of Exeter are studying the carbonate budgets of coral reefs around the islands of the Chagos Archipelago. The “Reef Budget” method we use was developed by Chris and calculates how much carbonate is produced by corals and calcifying algae, and how much is eroded by grazing sea urchins and fish, as well as by internal bioeroders such as boring worms and microorganisms. The results provide a metric of reef “health” in terms of whether it is growing or eroding.
The sites in Salomon and Peros Banhos we visited so far show a dramatically reduced coral cover due to the severe bleaching event in 2016, causing carbonate production rates to drop to about a third of the values in 2015. On the upside, there are many Porites and also some Acropora colonies that apparently survived the bleaching, and large numbers of small recruits of different genera. Especially in the understory of the reef structure, we find many live encrusting corals. Also, the substrate is quite clean of macroalgae, thanks to the high abundance of grazing herbivorous fish. Calcareous algae covering the dead coral substrate continue to produce substantial amounts of carbonate which help “glue” the existing structure together and offer a great substrate for further coral recruitment. We therefore hope we can see a fast recovery of the once glorious reefs over the next years.
To investigate local bioerosion rates in the reefs we had a “fun” day sawing 1,000s of blocks from dead Porites skeleton (well, it certainly felt like that, on my last count it was actually 28).
We will deploy the substrates at Peros Banhos, where they will be settled by encrusting and bioeroding organisms. As you can imagine the work days are long, but the company is great and the sunsets quite impressive. Yesterday, a bird tried to land on our heads. Today, I watched eagle rays dancing. New adventures every day…