British-Israeli deep sea dive to save coral reef fish

Published: 5 November 2010

A British-Israeli fish conservation project is to explore little understood deep reef fish populations in an effort to help safeguard their future.

A British-Israeli fish conservation project is to explore little understood deep reef fish populations in an effort to help safeguard their future.

Dr David Bailey (University of Glasgow) and Dr Moshe Kiflawi (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Inter-university Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat) have been awarded funding from the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership to use advanced microchemical methods to carry out the study on coral reefs on the Gulf of Aqaba (the Red Sea). They will work with Dr Clive Trueman (University of Southampton), who specialises in using the chemistry of biological tissues as markers, linking animals to their locations.

Dr David Bailey, an expert in the ecology and physiology of marine animals, said: “Using specialist diving gear capable of reaching great depths, we aim to catch fish from deep on the reef for analysis. By establishing the paths along which fish larvae disperse, we can tell us whether these deep reef fish are all one population, or many small ones. This information is very important to planning their conservation. Deep reef environments are very poorly understood, mostly because the diving technology to study them is still new, and few people are trained to use it.” coral reef

The dispersal of fish and other coastal marine organisms is a major contributor to their population’s resilience and viability. Populations that are linked by the exchange of drifting larvae can repopulate each other and recover from the impact of over fishing or short term pollution.

Previous studies have established links for some species, but only in the shallowest parts of the coastal zone. The limited scope of these studies is not for scientific reasons but because of the limits of SCUBA diving. It is now known that light-dependent marine habitats can extend from 30 metres down to depths of 150 metres and constitute an integral part of many coastal environments. Recent technical advances in diving are finally bringing these habitats into badly-needed scientific scrutiny.

New state of the art analytical equipment recently installed in Southampton allows the detection of a wide range of chemical species in biological tissues, allowing the team to study movement in these deep reef fish with much greater resolution. The joint study will use these advances in chemical fingerprinting and technical diving to investigate, for the first time, the scale of demographic connectivity of populations of fish species that inhabit deep coral reefs. By assessing the level of connectivity between reef fish populations the study will help will provide information for conservation and management efforts that target the entire reef ecosystem.

The £30,000 project is one of only ten joint British-Israeli research projects tackling global challenges in Energy and the Environment which have been selected to receive funding through the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership, BIRAX. 

Further information:
Martin Shannon, Senior Media Relations Officer
University of Glasgow Tel: 0141 330 8593

Dr David Bailey, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
University of Glasgow Tel. 0141 330 8183

Notes for Editors:
About the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership

First published: 5 November 2010