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.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A few more questions on Rose Atoll

Coralline algal formation at Rose Atoll,
Porolithon craspedium (Photograph by
Cristi Richards)
We have received more questions regarding Rose Atoll from Samoana High School students and would like to take the time to provide these answers. We are excited that our work has generated such interest and hope that the questions keep coming. It is important to monitor reef health, but it is just as important to be sure that our findings are reaching the public and those interested. We hope that these answers help to clarify and provide more depth to our previous posts. Enjoy!

Soshana asks: Whenever you guys visit the Rose Atoll Island, do you discover anything new?

Good question Soshana!
I am not aware of any new discoveries made by us at Rose Atoll during our past visits. Every once in awhile our scientists have discovered a new species and that is always quite exciting!

More often the “discoveries” we’ve made have been documenting natural phenomena such as coral bleaching, sites with internal tides, and range extensions for various species of fish, algae, and corals. Many other discoveries are known to the local population and those living in the area, but may be unknown to the scientific community or to people living in other parts of the world. This trip we “discovered” that South Bank is a drowned atoll. As far as we know, this was previously unknown until our team completed multibeam surveys of the area!
- Kerry Grimshaw

Marissa asks: According to the picture (Photograph from noaa.coris.gov), is there any other possible ways to help save Rose atoll from sinking?
[The picture Marissa is referencing can be found on an earlier blog post]

I’m sorry to report that there is no easy answer to your question, although I like where your heart is! Islands may have many different fates over time and it all comes back to the geologic processes that take place. Fortunately, these processes generally take millions of years to happen, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see much change in the sinking of Rose Atoll during your lifetime.

On another note, the current hot topic of climate change could have significant effects on Rose Atoll in the future, particularly related to sea level rise and ocean acidification.
The excerpt below is from an article posted May 29, 2007 on the BBC website:

The Death of Islands
Exposed reef covered in coralline algae at Rose Atoll
(Photograph by Cristi Richards)
The world is constantly changing and islands will not live forever. There are four main fates for an island:

  • It may be brought up against a larger land mass by continental drift. 40 million years ago, this happened to the island of India, when it collided with the continent of Asia. The resultant crash hasn't finished yet - the Himalaya mountains are the crumple zone, where the folded Earth's crust absorbs the impact of India with the rest of Asia.
  • A small island may be eroded by the elements until there is nothing left above water. This was the fate of the westernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, which are now under the sea.
  • An island on an oceanic tectonic plate may be slowly dragged under the ocean as the plate collides with another plate and is subducted, that is, is pushed in under the other plate. This is the ultimate fate of each of the Galapagos islands. After they are created over a mid-ocean hot spot, they travel east until the plate they are on collides with and slides under the South American plate. The easternmost islands of the group are sliding back down into the ocean.
  • Changing currents in the Earth's mantle can cause a section of the ocean floor to be raised up, and subsequently to sink back down again. The Kerguelen Plateau, in the southern Indian Ocean, is now about two kilometres under the sea, with just a few isolated peaks showing above the surface as the Kerguelen Islands, but 100 million years ago, it was raised up to form an island three times the size of Japan. It is likely that it had animals and plants living on it. Then about 20 million years ago, the mantle currents changed and it slowly sank back down into the sea.

All of these slow deaths take millions of years to come about. In the meantime, islands continue to exert a fascination on mankind.
- Kerry Grimshaw

Valentine asks: Are there any human beings living on Rose Atoll?

No one lives at Rose Atoll and historically it has mostly been uninhabited with the exception of a brief time in the 1860s when the German government tried to establish a fishing station and coconut plantation. They didn’t have much luck as one of the 2 islands is often nothing more than a shifting sand bank!
- Mark Manuel

Oina asks: Are we allowed to visit Rose Atoll on our own or do we have to go with some sort of researchers?

Hi Oina,
As of now, the Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is closed to the public. This closure is to protect fragile seabird colonies, endangered species, and island habitats. Special use permits to conduct scientific research can be obtained from the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex office in Honolulu. For more information see www.fws.gov/roseatoll

With Rose Atoll recently being designated a Marine National Monument there are likely to be more regulations established for the area in the near future as visitor access is often considered in the regulations governing National Monuments. Until those new regulations are in place it is hard to answer your question completely. I would expect that there will be a permit system set up for controlling the work that can be done within the Monument. While it sounds like there may be lots of rules, we are used to obtaining permits for our work within various protected areas such as Sanctuaries, National Parks, Marine National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and other territorial or commonwealth Marine Protected Areas.
- Kerry Grimshaw

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