The îles Eparses (scattered islets) dot the Indian Ocean to the west and north of Madagascar. The islands were protected by the French government in 1975 because of their importance for turtles and seabird nesting.
The above photograph (ISS002-E-6913) shows details of the reefs surrounding îles Glorieuses, one group in the îles Eparses, and was taken June 17, 2001 from the International Space Station. The image was used to plan the 2002-2003 field expeditions conducted by Agence pour la Recherche et la Valorisation Marines, based in Réunion (ARVAM) and partners. The photograph served as a base map for field cartography of the geomorphological and ecological zones of the reefs. These maps supported biological inventories and surveys of coral reef health using the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef Check protocols.
The high spatial resolution of these astronaut photographs (about 5 meters/pixel) captures the detail needed to support this kind of detailed field research. Images of coral reefs taken from the International Space Station are one of the science themes for the Crew Earth Observations Project.
Research in the îles Eparses is part of a 5-year project coordinated through a French initiative to preserve and restore coral reefs, IFRECOR (Initiative Française pour les Récifs Corallines). The project was created following severe coral bleaching events in the region in 1998.
The next step in the IFRECOR project is to get more detailed information on another island, Juan de Nova. Fortunately, for these marine biologists, the Space Station Expedition 5 crew took a detailed photograph of this small island on August 11 2002, and it is ready for them to use in the field (see ISS005-E-9412.)