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.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Down time?

By Paula Ayotte
Benthic team members Erin Looney and Rodney Withall discuss algal specimens.
The past couple of days were spent transiting from French Frigate Shoals (FFS) to our next destination approximately 600 nautical miles away, Pearl and Hermes Reef (PHR). Although it’s the weekend and we’re not diving, these aren’t days off for us; everyone is still busy working. Whether catching up on data entry, quality-checking data that’s already been entered, prepping gear and boats, downloading GPS points and making maps for the sites we’ll be visiting, participating in drills, or writing reports—with the myriad of tasks to be accomplished, it seems there is always something to do. Even if I’ve finished everything on my to-do list, as part of the fish team I can always review my identifications for fish we expect to find here. There are quite a few fish species that not only look very different as juveniles than they do as sub-adults, or males and females, but they can also vary in appearance between islands and across the Pacific.
Invertebrate zoologist Scott Godwin examines invertebrates collected from the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS).

Because fish abundances and diversity are associated with the benthic habitat, we also are collecting basic information on coral and algae cover, habitat type, and complexity of the reef. We do this by taking photos of the survey area and of the substrate and by making visual estimates. Luckily, we have experts on board who can give us helpful hints on how to differentiate between coral, macroalgae, crustose coralline algae, and turf algae. Even more identifications to practice during transit!

Oceanography team members Jamie Gove and Frank Mancini prepare the Remote Access Sampler (RAS) for deployment.

Another way we make use of our time when we’re not in the water is by working out. Hauling tanks, dive gear, and heavy equipment while climbing in and out of the small boats can be physically demanding, and luckily there is a gym on board to help us stay in shape and prevent injuries. As a shorter petite female, I find that a consistent routine of weight-lifting, abdominal crunches and stretching is necessary for me to be able to don scuba gear that is almost half my body weight and complete four to five dives on a daily basis. Having two days out of the water to catch up, work out, and dry out after four days of diving at FFS is a perfect way to recharge and gear up for the next round of diving that lies ahead. We’ll be at PHR and Kure for the next eight days and while I know that I’ll be glad for the relief that the next transit day will bring, for now I’m looking forward to jumping back in and counting fish.

Scientists work on abdominal strength while crew members work on jet boat HI-1.

Scientists Kaylyn McCoy, Erin Looney, and Paula Ayotte take advantage of the shipboard gym facilities.

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