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, January 25, 2010

Our First Days at Johnston

by Benjamin Richards
photos by Kevin Lino, Kara Osada-D'Avella, and Russell Moffitt

Our first two days at Johnston Atoll have been spectacular. In years past we have arrived at the atoll to find howling winds and pounding seas which have kept us from surveying large sections of the exposed forereef areas along the north. This year a gentle swell has been breaking along the northern reefs as gentle breezes come in from the south. We can only hope the weather continues to hold.

Our first half day at the atoll was a shakedown day, which each of the teams used to kick off the "rust" that had built up after several months out of the water. While all are experienced divers, several of the teams have not worked together before and it usually takes a dive or two before they meld into the well oiled machine we see by the end of the expedition.

The towed-diver team started off their surveys along the western forereef where we often see large numbers of grey reef sharks. Sure enough, there they were as soon as we splashed into the water. See sharks out here is a good sign and we are happy each time we see these apex predators which tend to indicate a fairly intact food chain and a healthy reef system.

Our Oceanography team has been able to recover and install a number of instruments which measure sea surface temperature as well as a number of other oceanographic variables during their two year deployment. They were also able to install several calcification plates which are a new deployment for us. These small plates are being installed at various locations around the pacific during this expedition. They will be recovered after two years at which time scientists will measure the amount of calcification which has taken place.  By comparing measurements from various areas over time, we may be able to get a better understanding of ocean-acidification, one of the many threats facing these magnificent reefs.

We were also able to drop off our US Fish and Wildlife Service partners on the main island where they will spend the next few days surveying the local bird, turtle, and other populations. We look forward to their report when we pick them up before heading south to Howland Island.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any pictures of Johnston Atoll from your trip? It would be interesting to see how the Atoll looks now.