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 7, 2010


by Kaylyn McCoy
Acanthuras triostegus, Convict surgeonfish forming a feeding
aggregation (photograph by Cristi Richards)
As my dive buddy and I are ascending from a dive, she points behind me and puts her hand to her forehead, making the sign for “shark.” I whip around, full of anticipation and hoping to catch a glimpse of a 12 foot Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), preferably swimming away. But, it’s just a three foot Black-Tip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), cruising around below us. Big fish like sharks and jacks are exciting and important, but we can’t forget about the little guys! Above is a picture of a school of Convict surgeonfish (Acanthurus triostegus). These fish are herbivorous, and feed on the algae that grows on the reef. Certain species like these Convict Tang form dense feeding schools possibly to overwhelm smaller, but incredibly aggressive damselfish defending their territories.  Herbivorous fish play an important role in maintaining equilibrium in an ecosystem. Without these fish, certain species of algae can grow out of control, smothering the corals of the reef.

Scarus xanthopleura, Red Parrotfish
(Photograph by Paula Ayotte)
Another algae muncher that we see on the reef is the red parrotfish (Scarus xanthopleura). These fish have a specialized “beak” or dental plate used for scraping the algae off of the reef. Some parrotfish simply scrape the algae off the surface while other, usually larger species, bite of sizable chunks of the reef. Sometimes when we are counting fish, we can actually hear them feeding. Much of the sand you see on a coral reef may have passed through the belly of a parrotfish at one time or another.

Some areas of the Pacific are considering protecting specific herbivorous fish to help control invasive algae. So while it’s exciting to think about a shark snacking on a poor unsuspecting fish, don’t forget about the importance of the herbivores, the lawn mowers of the reef!

1 comment:

  1. wow, cool pictures..do you have a picture of that shark..i wish me and my marine science classmates from Samaoana High School can be on that boat of yours...