A Better Understanding of Coral Reef Ecosystems

Pelagic predators such as these barracuda, Sphyraena qenie, are part of the coral reef ecosystem in the U.S. Line Islands (NOAA Photo by Kevin Lino).
A team of scientists have embarked from Hawai'i on a three-month survey of coral reef ecosystems at Johnston Atoll, the U.S. Phoenix Islands, the islands of American Samoa, and the U.S. Line Islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The overarching objective is to better understand the coral reef ecosystems of these areas, many of which are seldom explored. The research expedition is part of a regular monitoring program, conducted by the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), headquartered in Honolulu, Hawai'i. The expedition is supported by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program and involves extensive cooperation among NOAA scientists and research partners, including the University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, San Diego State University, and the Papahānaumaokuākea Marine National Monument.

The research expedition will be carried out from February 27 to May 24, 2012 aboard the NOAA ship Hi'ialakai. Under the leadership of Chief Scientists Dr. Jill Zamzow, Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Angél, and Jamison Gove, a diverse team of researchers will be conducting multidisciplinary coral reef ecosystem surveys, assessing the status of fishes, corals, algae, marine invertebrates, and the oceanographic conditions in which these organisms exist. The scientific data collected during the three-month research expedition will enable informed and effective implementation of ecosystem-based management and conservation strategies for coral reef ecosystems, helping to ensure their protection for generations to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Small boat launch and recovery

The most dangerous part of the daily operations while at sea is probably the deployment and recovery of small boats from the ship, although the Hi'ialakai crew make it seem easy.

The day starts with each team putting their gear in a designated loading zone. After breakfast and morning muster, boats are lowered by a crane or a davit arm to the side of the ship. During our work days we use five small boats; the Steel toe, SAFE boat, HI1, HI2 and the Avon.

Steel toe in cradle attached to crane.

Steel toe being lowered by crane.

Crew handling lines to prevent boat from swinging.

Jason Kehn securing lines before gear loading.

As the small boats are moved from their cradles to the side of the ship they are handled with lines by four crew, to prevent them from swinging. The boat is brought along one of the cutouts of the ship and is secured by lines for loading of gear and people.

The crane slowly lowers the small boat into the water. By then, the small boat is connected by a painter (front) line and an aft (back) line. Once in the water, the crane is disconnected and motor is started. When the small boat is running the aft line is released, the coxswain (boat driver) then accelerates to be at the same speed as the ship and the painter line is released. The coxswain drives away from the ship towards the first dive site.

At the end of operations, upon returning to the ship, it is all done again but in reverse order.

The Tow team with Painter line attached getting ready to attach crane.

The SAFE boat being hoisted out of the water.

SAFE boat being moved aft of the Hi'ialakai after getting gear and people removed from it.

NOAA ship Hi'ialakai with loaded boats, port (left) side view.

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