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.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Green Island

By Hailey Ramey

It’s been exactly one year since I last stepped foot aboard the Hi`ialakai. This is my second trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and I feel so privileged to be here again. I am a visiting scientist who has been contracted by NOAA to count and size fishes. I can’t think of a better job or imagine a better office.  After an amazing 22 days at sea we have begun our four day transit home.  As I reflect back on the cruise I thought I would share one of the more memorable days with all you blog followers.
Green Island, a tropical paradise.

After our last day of diving at Kure Atoll I was fortunate enough to be one of the few scientists who actually got to go ashore on Green Island, the atoll’s largest and only habitable land mass. We were asked by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to assist with the transport of water samples back to Honolulu.  The samples were collected from a fresh water seep in the island’s interior by Cynthia Vanderlip, the manager of the State of Hawai`i’s Kure Atoll Wildlife Sanctuary. She has been doing work on Kure for the last decade. She and three other people are currently stationed on Green Island for half the year working on the eradication of the terrestrial-based plant Verbesina encelioides (aka Golden Crownbeard).  It is an invasive species that is rapidly overtaking and outcompeting native plants for precious and limited space. The Green Island crew also plant several native species of ground cover in an effort to stabilize the fragile dune structure of the eroding atoll. A fifth and recently arrived team member is responsible for observing monk seal behavior and in particular mother and pup interactions.
Scientists Zoe Dagan, Hailey Ramey, Erin Looney, and Kaylyn McCoy dressed in Kure garb.
We were greeted at the shore line and given shoes and a sarong to wear. There are strict rules in place to ensure the island remains isolated and free from foreign contaminants, and visitors are not allowed to wear clothes that haven’t been previously frozen.  The freezing kills any foreign seeds that might be stuck to clothes. The shoes that were provided to us were to protect our feet from the thorny balls of the native ground cover.  We got a quick tour of the Green Island camp which consisted of tents, a couple small buildings, and a picnic table. It is evident that birds are the dominant life form on the tiny, one mile long island.  I couldn’t imagine living for an extended amount of time in such small, secluded quarters.  I was thrilled to get the opportunity to experience it but after a half hour my curiosity was satisfied and I was ready, if not eager, to get off the sun drenched island and get back to the ship and all its amenities.
Booby birds keep watch from a tree near the camp.
As we loaded up the boat to depart I spent a few minutes beach combing for alien marine debris that the people living on Green Island regularly pile up for removal from the island. I found a glass bottle that must have drifted thousands of miles to wash up on these shores. I couldn’t help wondering how long that journey must have taken and what cool things it might have encountered along the way.  How many tiger sharks had it unknowingly floated by?  I kept that bottle as a memento because what most people view as trash or marine debris will always remind me of this remote paradise. Kure Atoll, with its stark white beaches and crystal clear water, is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Glass bottles washed ashore on Green Island.

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