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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sighting the rare Guitarfish

by Marie Ferguson

A Shovelnose Guitarfish (photograph courtesy of www.Elasmodiver.com)
A few days ago, while conducting a fish REA (Rapid Ecological Assessment) survey my dive buddy, Rusty Brainard, and I enjoyed a rare sighting of a Rhynchobatus djiddensis, Whitespotted Guitarfish, along the northwest side of Tutuila. The guitarfish was spotted while conducting a deep SPC (Stationary Point Count) survey, at approximately 70 feet. We had just completed our final SPC and were on our way to the surface for our safety stop when the 4 foot long guitarfish swam by us with a remora (‘shark sucker’) attached to its underside. Up until this point, a Whitespotted Guitarfish has never been observed or recorded by our research team in American Samoa or other locations during the many thousands of surveys we have conducted across the Pacific Islands over the past decade.

Rhynchobatus djiddensis belongs to the Rhinobatidae or Guitarfish family. It is unique in that it resembles a cross between a shark and a ray with the anterior or front half of its body looking like a ray while the posterior or rear half looking like a shark. Like other rays, guitarfish have small mouths with teeth that are flat and pavement-like and generally prey on crabs, cephalopods and small fishes. Most guitarfish species have been known to occur on continental shelves or insular shelves of large islands in roughly 2 to 50 meters of water depth. Due to the variation over its range, this type of guitarfish has been divided into approximately 5 to 6 species. Little is known about the biology of this species, however data collected has suggested that it does have a low fecundity and very slow growth rate.

According to the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species, the large size and nearshore areas that this species inhabits make it highly susceptible to gillnet and shallow-water trawl fishing. In several parts of the world, such as Tanzania, Rhynchobatus djiddensis is being exploited mainly for its fins and is being commercially fished in bottom-set gillnets. Data recorded has also shown that this species is caught as bycatch in prawn trawls. Other documented areas where this species of guitarfish is either fished intentionally or as bycatch include shores off of Kenya, Mozambique, East Africa and the Middle East in the Western Indian Ocean, many areas in which policing and regulatory enforcement is often limited. The ICUN Red List of Threatened Species has evaluated this species as ‘vulnerable’ due to the “commercially high value and growing demand for its fins, restricted nearshore habitat as well as its limiting life history characteristics”.

If you are out diving or snorkeling and see this elegant and fascinating creature, then make sure to grab a photo and relish in the moment of a rare sighting!

For more pictures of Guitarfish, check out Elasmodiver.com who kindly granted us use of the above photograph.


  1. wow,dis is mah first time seeing a real guitarfish...it looks like a stinging ray without a tail where the barbs r at.....i wish me and mah Samaoana High School marine science class can have a one day trip on your ship or around the island on those little boats.....easter fuifatu of Samoana High School....

  2. Wow, great picture! Why is it called a guitar fish? It doesn't look like a guitar to me. I mean, guitars don't swim in the ocean. This is the first time I've seen a guitar fish. Why are there spots? Why was the remora attached to it?
    Saylor, age 8.