I recently spent about a month on Magoodhoo, a small island on the southern rim of Faafu atoll, which is one of 26 atolls that make up the Maldives archipelago. This was my first season of fieldwork for my PhD research. I am a graduate student in marine biology, and I am interested in understanding how climate change-related warming events are changing the structure and functioning of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. Specifically, I study how disturbances alter the community composition of corals (by selecting for certain species), and how these alterations will be linked to changes in reef fish diversity and function. Will the “reefs of the future”, that will have to persist in warmer and more stressed waters, be biased towards certain functions and relationships? How will this impact patterns of reef fishing and human use? These questions are particularly pressing in low-lying small island states like the Maldives, where the effects of the 2017 El Niño are already beginning to play out on its reefs and shorelines.
Since there was no baseline data on corals and fish from this atoll, my first priority was to systematically survey these reefs. I did this using photogrammetry, a fairly new technique being employed by marine scientists today. Photogrammetry – which involves creating large composite “mosaics” by the fusion of 1000s of separate images together – is an effective way to survey large areas quickly, but more importantly, allows you to extract fine-scale data from these images as well as track mapped reefs over time. I created mosaics of 16 different reefs around Faafu atoll in this manner, and also surveyed these same sites for their abundance and diversity of reef fish. In the coming months, I hope to analyze these data to understand how similarly (or differently) these reefs are functioning today, in the wake of the major coral mortality event in 2017. I plan to return to the Maldives in December for some follow-up work.
It was also very rewarding to be able to spend so much time on Magoodhoo and to be able to work so closely with the people there. Spending most of the day underwater is tiring, but the kindness and generosity of everyone living there made the work easy and enjoyable.
All this was possible because of the EWCA award as well as 3 other named scholarships that I received from the EWC last year. I was able to use the money I was awarded for a very productive field season, and I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received from the Centre during this period!