A marine science research and education programme to investigate the remote Mascerene Plateau in the western Indian Ocean, and develop knowledge and skills for the management and protection of its resources.
The overall aim of the Shoals Programme was to conduct an investigative, multi-disciplinary study of the marine environment of the Mascarene Plateau, ensuring that the research was of value to the host nations. Alongside this research aim, it was agreed that of equal importance were education and training objectives to ensure that skills and knowledge were passed on to assist the long term continuity of research and marine management in the region.
Achievements and Legacies of the Shoals Programme:
Since 1998, Shoals has hosted over 200 scientists from 21 countries, all investigating different aspects of the marine environments of Seychelles, Mauritius and Rodrigues. Scientific outputs are, of course, only just coming together from these studies, but the bibliography of outputs from Shoals already shows a broad range and impressive number of reports and papers. Alongside this, more than 300 local people from a wide range of Government and non-government groups have been trained in scientific, practical and marine safety skills, and are now in a much stronger position to support marine research in the region into the future. Behind all of this has run a broad-reaching education programme. Shoals has directly involved more than 400 local children and has assisted in establishing marine education and conservation issues into the National Curricula, thereby setting in place a mechanism for the continuity of marine education for future generations.
We have found out, through the planktonic data collected, that the Plateau causes large scale ocean mixing, and the waters to the west of the Plateau are as rich as those in the North Atlantic. We have recorded the first film footage of remote coral reefs on the Saya de Malha banks, only previously estimated remotely. We have shown that the reefs of Seychelles, which suffered from the dramatic coral bleaching associated with the warm water episode of 1997/98, are showing signs of new coral recruitment and growth, encouraging in that it shows there are at least reefs which are spawning the new larval recruits needed for regeneration. The International Workshop on the Biodiversity of the Rodrigues Lagoon has raised the total species list for the lagoon of Rodrigues from 45 to over 1,000 species, of which over 100 are thought to be new to science. Impressive though this is, however, such species numbers are low for the region as a whole, which in itself raises questions about the age of the Rodrigues lagoon, and the geological history of the region as a whole.