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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rose Atoll, part 2

by Kerry Grimshaw
photographs by Jean Kenyon
Exposed coralline algae at Rose Atoll

Our day began with a beautiful sunrise and light winds at Rose Atoll, which is one of the smallest atolls in the world and is diamond shaped. The outer reef slope around Rose is steep down to depths greater than 200 meters (~650 feet). The atoll also encompasses 2 small islets named Rose and Sand Islands. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the atoll is the bright pink color of the exposed reef. The reef gets itís pink hue from the dominant crustose coralline algae Porolithon. This crustose coralline alage is one of the primary reef-building species at Rose Atoll.

Rose Atoll has a coral and fish community different from elsewhere in American Samoa. Currently the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports that there are 113 species of coral and about 270 fish species recorded at Rose. The atoll also supports the largest populations of giant clams, nesting seas turtles and rare reef fish species in the territory. In addition, humpback whales, pilot whales and various species of dolphin have been seen in the waters surrounding Rose Atoll.

Reefs dominated by coralline algae
The 2 islets are not without their own claims of importance. Rose Island is home to a grove of Pisonia trees on it, which is the only remaining Pisonia stands in Samoa. Rose and Sand Islands provide vital nesting habitat to the most important seabird colony in the region, including 12 federally protected migratory seabirds. Some of the birds that utilize Rose Atoll are the Red-footed Boobies, Greater Frigate birds, Lesser Frigate birds, Black Noddies, White Terns, Reef Herons and Red-tailed Tropic birds.

Since Rose Atoll is very remote and extremely unique due to its terrestrial and marine communities it provides an excellent place for scientific research. As such, our days spent at Rose Atoll are always a highlight of our cruise!

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