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, September 14, 2010

Morning Madness

By Annette DesRochers

Most if not all of the activities that take place on the ship are pretty much routine for the ‘veterans’ who have participated in numerous research cruises onboard the Hi’ialakai. As one of very few newbies participating on this cruise I find many of these activities new and exciting, which may be entertaining to those same salty veterans, especially when I’m running around trying to photograph every detail. This is especially apparent in the mornings, when I eagerly awake to participate, or at least be present for, what I like to call “Morning Madness”.
Deck hand Mark O’Connor operates the crane to maneuver small boat HI-3 from its cradle.

“Rubber Duck”, the Oceanography team’s small boat, is craned across the stern of the ship.

On the first day of dive operations at French Frigate Shoals, I was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the dry lab (our “Office at Sea”) along with everyone else that busy morning. A few suggested that I should still be in bed or reading the paper while drinking my morning coffee. You see, my role on this cruise is Data Manager and so while all of the divers were hastily prepping their dive gear, gathering their survey equipment, donning their wetsuits, and gobbling their breakfasts, technically I could have been hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock. Really though, there is no way to sleep through the flurry of activity that occurs each morning, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to, and I especially didn’t want to that first morning.

HI-2, one of the two fish team boats, is lowered from its davits alongside the ship to the loading deck.

Deck hands Chris, Scott, and Rich load gear onto HI-3, the second fish team boat.

For most of the divers, alarm clocks are set for 6:00 am. In the hour until breakfast is served, the divers have to gather and stage all of their survey and dive equipment, grab their lunch and water coolers, and make sure that the SCUBA tanks they’ve checked the night before are in the proper place before they are craned onto the loading deck at 6:45 am. Then it’s breakfast at 7:00 am sharp, dive safety meeting at 7:30 am, and then the queue to load and launch the small boats begins. It really is something to see when 19 SCUBA divers, 5 boat coxswains, 4 deck hands, plus the NOAA Corps officers work together to load, board, and launch 5 small boats off the Hi’ialakai in about 1 hour.

Divers and gear are loaded onto HI-2.

The Benthic team is ready and waiting to launch on board small boat HI-1.

What I hadn’t realized is that 3 of the 5 small boats are launched from the ship by a crane, and 2 are launched from davits. As I eagerly waited for the operations to begin, camera in hand, I also quickly learned that the crew takes the operations very seriously when they’re underway. Safety is of the utmost concern when the boats are being craned; hard hats and life vests are a must and when they’re operating the cranes, its best just to stay out of the way. One by one, small boats are craned from their cradle to the side of the ship, or lowered carefully from their davits straight downward. Once in position, the gear is loaded onto the boat, the divers board, and the boat is lowered to the water. The lines and crane hooks are carefully released when the order is given, and the coxswain drives off to the team’s first survey site of the day. Some of the teams visit only one survey site before returning to the ship (you’ll learn more about ARMS in the next couple of days), however, most of the teams are out on the small boats all day, returning to the ship just before dinner. The choreography from the morning’s operations is essentially repeated as the boats return to the ship, only in reverse.
The towed-diver team, onboard the Safeboat, is slowly and carefully lowered to the water as the deck hands signal to each other.

Benthic team member Jason Helyer and deck hand Guy Maurizio, release the crane hooks from HI-1.

We’ve been lucky so far during this cruise that Mother Nature has been kind to us; the weather and seas have been perfect. It’s hard to imagine what those launch operations entail when conditions are less than ideal. I’ve especially been grateful, not just for my colleagues who’ve had an easier time during their daily dive operations, but for my sake as well as I have yet to be struck by seasickness during this trip. Hopefully Mother Nature will continue to be kind to us during the rest of our time here.
HI-1 is released and the Benthic team is on its way to conduct the first round of surveys at Pearl and Hermes Reef.

The Remote Access Sampler (RAS) unit, deployed for the first time during this cruise at Pearl and Hermes Reef, was launched just after the Oceanography team.

No comments:

Post a Comment