2016 CCT-US expedition scholarship

(Applications now closed)

Introduction to the CCT - US

Red-footed Booby. Credit: Petty Officer Lisa Kedding USN

The Chagos Conservation Trust – US (CCT – US) was founded in 2009 as a counterpart to Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) located in the United Kingdom. CCT – US is committed to the preservation of the natural diversity of plant and animal species through the prevention of environmental degradation and destruction in the Chagos Archipelago in the central Indian Ocean. By virtue of its extreme isolation and because the vast majority of Chagos is uninhabited, Chagos represents a rare surviving example of staggering variety and beauty of nature in a near-pristine state. Although the chain of atolls in the Chagos Archipelago is not a household name, the still largely untouched nature of Chagos, its vast extent, and defining remoteness offer a unique opportunity for long-term conservation and conducting research in one of the best preserved coral reefs on the planet.

Chagos-East Island. Credit Pete Carr

The CCT – US is a fully registered US 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, set up to support the ongoing protection of the Chagos Archipelago. Our mission is to extend the goals of Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT), a charitable trust based in Britain, to the United States by promoting conservation, science, education and awareness, and historical research in relation to the Chagos Archipelago, including the recently designated Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Background to the Chagos Atoll Restoration Expedition (CAREX) 2016

The Chagos Archipelago lies in the heart of the central Indian Ocean. It has a warm maritime climate, beautiful sandy, palm-strewn beaches and all but one of the islands of the archipelago is uninhabited. Travel to this British Overseas Territories is extremely restricted and very few people are fortunate enough to be given visiting access. Sadly, the Archipelago (also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory – BIOT) has suffered a familiar tale of being ecologically ravaged since the arrival of man in the late 1700s. The causes of this ecological devastation are predictable and center upon destruction of native habitat (in this case to establish coconut plantations) and the introduction of non-native species. Of the introductions, invasive black rats, Rattus rattus, are still dramatically suppressing ecosystems throughout all of the archipelago’s five atolls.

Under section 2 of the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK FCO)-sponsored BIOT Interim Conservation Management Framework of 2014 is a stated requirement to develop terrestrial management plans detailing the prioritized requirements and guidelines for restoration and rehabilitation of the ecosystems of the archipelago. Following discussions with the FCO it has been agreed that the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) will lead on the production of a Terrestrial Action Plan (TAP) for the Chagos, along with partners from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Royal Botanical Gardens Kew (RBG Kew), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as well as independent specialists’ in invasive plant and animal management and a Chagossian Environmental Student (from a program administered by ZSL). It has been agreed that the TAP shall include:

  • A base-line report of biodiversity for all islands
  • A prioritized list of islands for ecological intervention
  • A costed list of islands for ecological intervention
  • Bio-security guidelines for visitors to the northern atolls
  • An IUCN approved Regional Red List of the flora and fauna, including invertebrates where practical and possible
  • A detailed, island by island report on what ecological intervention is required to enhance native biodiversity throughout the archipelago.

In order to gather the data required to produce the TAP and its component parts, 12 specialists are to mount a one month expedition to the Chagos in August 2016 to undertake the necessary fieldwork. The expedition is being led by Peter Carr (petecarr1@hotmail.com), a former Royal Marine Commando officer and Executive Officer for BIOT, who has extensive knowledge of the Territory and participated in seven scientific expeditions to the Chagos. Other specialists include a RBG Kew vegetation mapping team, ZSL invertebrate experts, RSPB ornithologist, mammal management expert and BIOT logistics specialists. This logistically challenging and physically demanding venture is being facilitated and part funded by the UK FCO, who are providing, gift in kind, the use of the BIOT Patrol Vessel for the duration of the expedition. The other major sponsor is hoped to be Darwin +.

The expedition will work from a ship that patrols the islands of the archipelago. Daily for a month, the team will be visiting islands throughout the archipelago to conduct censuses on the flora and fauna of the islands. This will involve deploying from the mother ship in small inflatable boats, swimming on to the islands (boats cannot land due to surrounding coral flats), spend up to six hours gathering data, swim back and climb in to the boats, return to ship and then process data. On some days with smaller islands that require less time, this exercise could be repeated four times. All of the expedition participants will be expected to contribute their relevant expertise to the Terrestrial Action Plan.

Background to the CCT-US Expedition Scholarship

As part of this mission, the CCT-US aims to promote the role of US-based scientists in ongoing Chagos research. To realize this aim, each year we embark on a fundraising push to provide financial support to allow a US-based scientist to join a scientific expedition to Chagos. We will cover travel costs of the CCT – US Expedition Scholar who will be an outstanding scientist whose work will deliver meaningful and lasting insight into this Indian Ocean ecosystem. Sam Purkis, Chair of the CCT – US, will serve as the contact point for the successful candidate for the duration of the scholarship. For information on our past scholars and their expeditions to the archipelago, please visit this link.

Criteria of the 2016 CCT - US Scholar

For our 2016 scholarship we are seeking an applicant with a proven track record in invasive plant management to participate in the August 2016 CAREX expedition to the archipelago. This person shall be able to:

  • Work as part of an expedition team in a remote area, enduring long working hours, uncomfortable working conditions and inclement weather, both very hot and very wet.
  • Swim 400 metres unassisted.
  • Live in confined conditions on a research vessel, sharing a small cabin and using communal showers.
  • Work for the duration of the expedition without a day of rest.
  • Display sufficient fitness to undertake a full expeditionary days’ work including climbing down ladders in to small craft, swimming on to islands over coral beds, swimming off islands and climbing unassisted in to small inflatable crafts, and working up to six hours in intense heat.
  • Work in conditions where insect bites should be expected (no known diseases carried by insects in the area).
  • Work unsupervised gathering field data and producing written reports to deadlines.
  • Contribute to the Terrestrial Action Plan.

The successful applicant should have a proven track record in invasive plant management; be prepared for a phone/Skype interview; be able to travel to BIOT by 01 August 2016 and be able to spend a minimum of a month on the expedition. The successful applicant will have all travel expenses paid for and all food and board covered throughout the expedition. Due to very limited access to medical facilities, candidates must be in good health and the successful applicant must have medical insurance capable of covering a MEDEVAC flight to Singapore or South Africa (approx. US$ 110,000). We regret we are unable to provide additional funds towards salary.

Coconut Crab. Credit Pete Carr

The funded candidate must be US-based and an active member of the CCT – US. Selection of the scholar will be made on the basis of creativity, motivation, productivity, and publication record. The successful candidate will be expected to remain involved and actively contribute to research in the Chagos after their month-long field visit to the British Indian Ocean Territory. In return for financial support, the CCT – US Expedition Scholar will:

  • Acknowledge the CCT – US in publications arising out of the expedition
  • Write a summary of the expedition that the CCT – US can use for promotional purposes. This narrative describes how the scholarship has supported the scholar’s work and could be in the form of an expedition diary. The summary will be submitted electronically to the CCT – US within three weeks of returning from the expedition. See the excellent expedition diary provided by Dr. Doug Fenner, our 2014 CCT-US scholar.
  • Permit CCT – US the use of images arising out of the expedition on the cctus.org website and future for fundraising efforts
  • Contribute an article to the Chagos News within three months of returning from the expedition
Sunset in Chagos. Credit: Senior Chief Petty Officer Janet Prushansky USN

Sunset in Chagos. Credit: Senior Chief Petty Officer Janet Prushansky USN

 

Pete Carr explains some of the ongoing invasive plant management activities in Chagos

Applications are now closed