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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Johnston Atoll – extreme isolation

by Beth Flint and Lee Ann WoodwardBiologists, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tomorrow we will arrive at Johnston Atoll, a remarkable place due to its extreme isolation in the largest ocean in the world.  This tiny spot in the Pacific is critically important to a community of organisms that need shallow water or land to live during at least part of their life cycle. Johnston is the only emergent land in approximately 450,000 square miles of deep ocean. Thus organisms, such as seabirds like the Sooty Tern or the Red-footed Booby, that can forage at sea but need to breed on land or organisms such as Green Turtles, that rely on benthic algae for food, converge at this lonely atoll.  Our jobs during the terrestrail portion of this visit are to estimate population sizes of nesting seabirds, identify and map plant species, and survey and monitor some of the remnants of various human uses of Johnston through the years.

President Calvin Coolidge recognized the atoll’s importance as a wildlife site and designated Johnston Island a National Wildlife Refuge back in 1926. In 1934 President Roosevelt added a military mission to the area and for the next 70 years the government used the atoll in a variety of capacities; as a base during Viet Nam, for the testing of nuclear weapons, and for the storage and disposal of chemical weapons.  During the 1950’s and 1960’s there were as many as two thousand people living at Johnston. The main island at Johnston was originally about 64 acres, however, it was enlarged in various dredge and fill operations to its present size of about 633 acres.  In addition to enlarging the existing islands, the military also created two new islands, North (Akau) and East (Hikina). The dredging destroyed some of the extensive coral reefs but much remains. The military has ended their mission at Johnston and departed the atoll in 2004 after several years of clean-up activities.  Now Johnston has been returned to the wildlife that had it in the beginning and where there once were buildings, seabirds are again.

In January of 2009 President George W. Bush expanded protection of the waters around Johnston Atoll out to 50 miles as part of the new Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Fifteen kinds of seabirds are once again nesting in great profusion at Johnston, in shrubs, on the ground like these Sooty Terns, and underground in burrows and rock crevices. The thing they all have in common is that they feed hundreds of miles out to sea but come here to lay their eggs and feed their chicks.


  1. It would be great to see more pictures of your visit to Johnston Atoll - are they posted anywhere?

  2. I was there in 1969. The diving was incredible.