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.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where are all the little guys?

Did you know that a coral reef ecosystem contains thousands of creatures besides fish and coral? We just can’t easily see them because many are cryptic, nocturnal, or simply too small to easily see.   And yet, these invertebrates make up most of the diversity in a coral reef system. So how do we monitor and assess all the organisms that we can’t see? Our answer is the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure, otherwise known as ARMS.

ARMS were developed as a long term sampling and monitoring device to detect, measure, and monitor the diversity of cryptic invertebrates in reef systems over time. They are designed to simulate a reef environment.  The layers of the ARMS have both open and closed spaces which provide both hard settlement areas and small hiding holes for various kinds of small organisms. Our ARMS are installed by two divers and remain on the sea floor for 2 years collecting organisms before we remove them an analyze their contents.

Overtime, critters will start to colonize the ARMS. Sessile invertebrates such as sponges, tunicates, and bryozoans, will recruit to and settle on them. Small motile critters such as majid crabs, squat lobsters, polychaetes, brittle stars, and nudibranchs will eventually make their way within the layers and call the ARMS their new home. It’s like a little reef apartment building.

An aspiration of the ARMS project is to create indices of biodiversity across diverse habitat gradients around the world. ARMS currently exist in Moorea, Australia, Brazil, Hawaii, American Samoa, and the U.S. Pacific Islands and will soon be deployed in Papua New Guinea, Panama, Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Seychelles. MARAMP 2009 added Wake Atoll, Guam, and Saipan, Pagan, and Maug in the Marianas to the ever growing list. This global ARMS effort is a part of the Census of Marine Life, CReefs project.

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