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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jarvis Island

by Paula Ayotte, photos by Jamison Gove

After five days of transit from Pago Pago, we’ve finally arrived at Jarvis Island, the sixth island in the Line Islands chain. This puts us once again close to the equator, about 1,000 miles from American Samoa, 1,200 miles from Honolulu, and 400 miles from our next stop, Palmyra Atoll.  For some of us on board, this is a return trip to this remote island chain. For others, this will be their first expedition to the Line Islands.  Regardless of how many times we’ve been here, how many dives we’ve already done, how many fish or corals we’ve counted, or how many oceanographic instruments we’ve deployed or retrieved, all of us are looking forward with great anticipation to getting in the water and conducting research at Jarvis Island.

The coral reef ecosystem at
Jarvis Island.
On land, this low-lying, arid, warm, lopsided rectangle of land seems unprepossessing, but underwater it’s a wonderland of swirling anthias, curious sharks, and schools of jacks amid an impressive variety of colorful corals. What contributes to the amazing diversity at Jarvis is the remote location and isolation from detrimental human impacts, along with its location in the path of the easterly flowing Equatorial Undercurrent which brings nutrient rich waters upward, enriching the primary productivity of the surface waters surrounding Jarvis.

Though Jarvis is relatively free from human exploitation, like Howland, Baker, Palmyra and Kingman, Jarvis was claimed for the United States under the Guano Islands Act of 1856.  Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands were also claimed by the United Kingdom as British Overseas Territories from 1886 to 1934, and guano mining was conducted by both British and American companies through the end of the nineteenth century, after which guano deposits were largely depleted.  As at Howland and Baker, a small colony of Kamehameha School graduates was established in 1935, which became known as Hui Panala'au (Society of Colonists).  These colonists occupied these islands continually, in three-month shifts of four men per island, in an attempt to help the United States assert territorial jurisdiction over the islands, a jurisdiction crucial to air supremacy in the Pacific. Water and bulk food were supplied from Hawaii. During the period between 1935 and 1942 era; at least 26 trips were made to Jarvis Island by various United States Coast Guard (USCG) cutters. Jarvis Island was evacuated at the beginning of World War II and was unoccupied during the remainder of the war.

A Green Sea Turtle drifts gracefully by. 
Post World War II, there were no attempts to re-colonize the island, and in 1948 the United States Coast Guard began making annual visits to maintain claim to Jarvis. In March 1963, and for the following 2 years, Smithsonian Institution employees made a number of visits to Jarvis Island as part of the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. The island and its territorial seas were transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1974 from the Department of the Interior. This area is now managed as a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System and in 2009 was established as part of the the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

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