The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science is a collaborative programme bringing together scientists from all around the world to work in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Each contributes their own expertise to the research programmes and, with the support of the Bertarelli Foundation, tackles some of the most important and challenging questions in ocean science.
The Bertarelli family has long championed the extraordinary benefits of encouraging collaboration between scientists; the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering works with multiple institutions and has seen extraordinary advances in treatment for sensory disorders such as genetic deafness and retinal degenerative diseases. Keen to replicate these successes in the field of marine science the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science provides long-term funding to deliver transformative progress in marine science in the British Indian Ocean Territory’s Marine Protected Area (MPA).
This large, remote, near pristine, no-take MPA presents an incredible opportunity to take an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the role of these complex ecosystems for highly mobile species such as tunas, sharks, turtles, and seabirds. As BIOT was negatively impacted by the 2015-2016 global coral bleaching event, it also provides an important study area to explore the resilience that large marine reserves offer when fishing and other pressures from human activity are absent.
It is essential that all research can be applied to conservation objectives and the Foundation will not fund projects that only offer the opportunity to monitor and observe the continuing decline of the ocean. Between 2017 and 2021 the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science will transform our understanding of the benefits of the BIOT MPA for terrestrial, reef-dwelling and pelagic species and in its first phase addresses four thematic research areas:
- Sentinel Species: Determine the distribution, abundance and connectivity of charismatic megafauna, including seabirds, turtles, tuna, sharks and mantas. Examine how these species use the reserve and how it works to protect this biodiversity.
- Coral Reef Resilience: Establish the resilience of coral reef species and habitats within the BIOT MPA, particularly as a baseline comparison for more heavily impacted reefs.
- Translating Science into Improved MPA Management: Use research findings to inform the management needs of BIOT and support the UK’s international commitments to Sustainable Development Goal 14.
- Communicating Marine Science: Use new approaches to communicate science to engage a wider audience in ocean conservation and the value of large MPAs.
The next phase of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science will expand the research further into the open ocean with a planned programme of oceanographic, mesophotic and benthic research.