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, February 18, 2010

Corals, corals, everywhere ...

by Bernardo Vargas-Angel

High percent coral cover and species diversity; that is what we encountered while working site TUT-09, located on the south-facing shores of Tutuila Island. It was a vibrant tapestry of texture and color; Montipora, Acropora, Pocillopora, Hydnophora, Coscinaraea, Leptastrea, Leptoria, etc; the list of coral genera was endless, and so was the number of individual colonies encrusting on the flat bottom.

The coral working-group of the Benthic Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) team specializes in gathering data that pertains to the structural demographics of the coral populations. In other words we are interested in acquiring information about the different types of corals present on the reef, their relative abundance, as well as the sizes of the different colonies. Once collected, this information is later summarized and analyzed, and is made available to local, regional, and state resource managers.  Armed with this information, these managers can make informed decisions pertaining to the administration and use of natural resources around the island.

The coral working-group collects the coral demographic data along two belt-transects, 25m in length by 1m width. Today, my dive buddy Erin and I were particularly challenged in getting our work accomplished at survey site TUT-09, not only due to the high numbers of coral colonies growing on the bottom, but also because we had wave and surge action which made it difficult stay focused on one portion of the bottom at a time. Nonetheless, after a long 85 minute dive, Erin and I emerged satisfied with the work we accomplished, and were pleased to have had the opportunity to investigate such a site.

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