Chagos Expedition

Perhaps the rarest passport stamp ever?

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I was just flicking through my passport the other day and saw this. It was a truly amazing expedition and experience!IMG_5532.JPG


Revisiting the Chagos Open Ocean Monitoring System with ZSL

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Today we hooked back up with some of the chaps at ZSL to run through and do some further testing on the Long Term Open Ocean Monitoring System we developed for monitoring Sharks and Tuna in the Chagos Archipelago.

An amazing reception

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Well the work I completed on the Marine Monitoring was published and seems to have gone viral, I’ve had some messages back which are incredibly kind and really goes to show there is real benefit in community based projects – I really do hope this is the start of many more!

Being featured on two of my favourite websites is just a real pleasure and I’d like to thank them for the posts!


This tweet really boosts my ego! Fab stuff!


ZSL Chagos Report

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You’ll no doubt find this on the web via the numerous Hackspaces which were involved in this project, but here is my copy – the report shows the amazing technology and collaboration that presented the project with some amazing results as summarised in the document.

ZSL Approved Blog 20 May 13 PDF Document

ZSL Approved Blog 20 May 13

Best pictures from the Chagos Expedition

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Some of my personal pictures from the expedition.

Long term, deep water satellite connected monitoring system

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A quick movie demonstrating some of the work I done in the Chagos Archipelago with the camera system I developed.

Blog post on the Chagos Trust website, from my expedition trip

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Buoy1Battling heat, broken equipment and a sunburnt back

So here we are on the expedition and it’s been incredibly hard graft. Lifting heavy equipment, fabricating and assembling in 32 degree heat and high humidity. It‘s incredibly difficult but the mantra for the whole team is to just push through. It’s very motivating.

I’ve been working on an underwater camera monitoring system that can be left in situ, underwater, for long periods of time. The recorded images are sent back to ZSL over a satellite connection. The system I’m working with uses a modified navigation buoy which has a power and camera system tethered below it.

Photo: ZSL’s underwater camera monitoring system (c) Gary Fletcher

Yannick who is from the joint ZSL/CCT Chagossian outreach programme, has taken a particular interest in my project, and has helped me immensely in this heat. I’m incredibly grateful. His continual positive attitude and great ideas have been well received! Alongside his ability to organise the crew and equipment. It’s also interesting to hear some history of the island where his family used to live, I’m sure we’ll remain good friends after the expedition is over.

Whilst assembling the equipment I’ve encountered many problems including an electrical short, which took me through almost every fuse I had. Everything overheated and cut out.

Perhaps the biggest issue has been drilling holes in the stainless steel boxes. The heat makes this an impossible task. Having drilled 5 holes in 5 minutes at ZSL back in December, the same saws I brought with me here for the same job, seemed to temper and harden the stainless steel in the heat. This made it impossible to even make a dent in them. The ships doctor even tried ice bags to cool it down, but to no avail!

After going through 6 drill bits (my entire stock!), we had 2 out of the 5 holes required. I managed to run all the cables required through these 2 glands, and use silicone to create a seal. But I‘m not sure how effective that will be as it didn’t dry very well in this humidity.  The ship’s engineer Dennis, has had similar problems and he’s trying to source something more suitable to this environment via Singapore.

At one point, I was completely puzzled because the system appeared to be up and running, but the images produced were wholly white. This led me to think that there was a software, or perhaps even a hardware problem.

After 4 hours of playing with some camera settings, it was the exposure settings. These were of course set for a somewhat darker aquarium in London Zoo! It’s funny how you sometimes solve problems by accident. It was a huge relief!

So by day 6 (only the third day on location!), and several 18 hour days, we had a full system assembled and in the water. But, it wasn’t all good news…

We’ve been battling the heat on deck, which is scorching. In the time it took to have the system fully working, and moving it 12 foot across deck, the system had overheated and stopped functioning completely. It was incredibly frustrating.

We decided to put the system in the water regardless, to check its buoyancy. There was also the chance that the lower camera system, which works independently, was working unlike the surface mounted system, which had completely overheated.

Within seconds of lowering the system, the camera was being circled by black tip reef shark. This  was incredibly motivating and exciting!  I have my fingers crossed that we captured those images. After a non-stop, energy-sapping few days, I decided to get in the water and took up the offer from Rob – the BIOT Fisheries officer – who gave me a wonderful introduction to some of the snorkel sights here. He also gave me a rundown of some of the issues in policing the marine protected area.

I must say the marine life and corals here are absolutely stunning, and I feel very privileged to have had such an experienced guide for my first look in the water. I’m hoping to accompany Rob tomorrow to satellite tag some tuna.

On returning to the ship, we inspected the buoy which actually looked pretty cool tethered to the Pacific Marlin. The system was very cool to the touch which was very reassuring.  I suspect it’s due to the water spray from the ocean and sea breeze, which really help to bring the temperature down.  To give you some perspective on deck, I can’t even touch any metal surface without burning myself!

So my new tack is to wake up early tomorrow (another 4am start!). I’ll replace all of the burnt out electrics, get them back in the water before sunrise, and hopefully then we should be in business!

Gary Fletcher 13 March 2013

Shark** An Update from Gary **

We’ve now had multiple successful deployments of the underwater camera system. Floating on the surface of the ocean it dissipates the heat very well so everything is working great now. And we’ve got some great pictures from the Solomon Islands!

In the Solomon Islands, at first the images were a little over saturated, but this has now been rectified. As you can see in the attached picture, you can clearly identify the species.

The motion detection and satellite connectivity also seem to be working well so the images are being sent over to ZSL in London for review.

We’ve had a really successful field deployment and proved the system functions incredibly well. We’ve learnt a lot from this trip and will now spend some time before the next expedition making some minor adjustments. We’re looking forward to a more permanent deployment this November.

Gary Fletcher

Photo: Underwater camera photos from the Soloman Islands, Chagos marine reserve (c) Gary Fletcher

Creole traduction: Mo apel Gary Fletcher et mo travail dans London zoo dans department  technologie  . mo project lor ki mo tip e travail c’est ene camera ki capave filme enbas delo pou ki pou capave servi lore ne longue period et ki envoiye bane zimage direct London zoo par connection satellite .

Sa system ki mo p travail la c’est ene buoy ki relier par soleil ek tout so bane la pareil communication ki trouve déjà la dans ek ene camera enbas delo ki silmer couma ene zafer passé devant li . Sixieme zour expedition ti bien fatigant ar tout sa bane , arranger , lever , fabriker dans ene salere 32 degree ek lumiditer , mais couma ene team nou ine fer facon ki travail resi manger par motivation tou dimoune .

Yannick c’est ene chagosien ki lore ne program ek London consernant chagos ine vraiment intereser ek mo project et li ine aide moi pou ki mo projet reusi marcher avec so l’esprit et so motivation nou ine resi fer sa project la marcher et mo vraiment reconaisant enver li pou so l’aide . li ena ene bon sense organisation li ine explik moi parki mo bizin coumencer eke ne plan action pou ki tout deroule ok lor sa project la . ti vraiment interesant kand li fine raconte moi zistoire so bane fami ki ti reste lor sa bane z’iles la et mo sire ki tout pou rest bon camarade meme après sa expedition , nou ine develope ene vrai l’amitier a traver sa expedition la .

Malereusema nou ine reste encore ene zour dans singapour  et sa ine fer nou en retard pou arrange mo bane lekipma ki nou ti pou met dans delo pou 2 semaine dans lagon diego Garcia mais sa pane empeche nou continier dans nou travail .

Malereusema nou ine perdi 4 braket pou nou dexieme buoy mais sa ine laise nou concentrer plis lor premier buoy et fer tout possible ki li marse a la perfection .

Nou ine gagne locazion zoine ek craig sowden ki travail dans ene des pli grand l’aquarium du monde kand nou tip e ale fer ene visite et line arrange ene visite gratuity pou nou eke ne guide ki fine explik nou ki zot fer dans l’aquarium et ki zot project zot pe fer  .

Gary Fletcher