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 7, 2010

First Day of Dive Surveys

By Jeff Anderson

Arriving on station late yesterday afternoon, this morning brought the beginning of dive surveys for this cruise. The activity of the morning resembled the well-orchestrated hustle and bustle of the city loading and launching the small boats carrying all the dive scientists to their stations. Reflecting on the trip of the last couple days, it has been quite a transition – a transition from the heavily populated, high mountains of Oʻahu, with its noise, light, and other forms of pollution, passing the high islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, entering the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument where the only noise is the whistling wind and rolling waves, and countless stars shine in clean night skies, passing the rocky cliffs of Moku Manu (Nihoa) and Mokumanamana (Necker Island), finally arriving at the atoll of French Frigate Shoals. Steaming into the sunset each night en-route to this remote place, it is easy to understand the spiritual connection Hawaiians have with this special place.

Despite the remoteness of this fragile unique marine ecosystem (this place is home to dozens of marine flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world), it is still critically important for these RAMP cruises to continue visiting on their periodic schedule as yet another transition is occurring – the transition to seas influenced from afar by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and the associated increase in air and sea temperatures along with the potential for the ocean to become increasingly acidic as it absorbs more CO2 from the air. Documenting scientifically how these ecosystems out of reach of local stressors can help resource managers make informed decisions about how to help protect them in the face of this transition.
Photo by Jeff Anderson
Another transition occurring today was the transition from a ship-bound cruise to being in the field conducting dive surveys. I participate on the Towed Diver team, conducting the types of surveys described in the blog posting below entitled, “Perspectives Of Underwater Flight: Towed-Diver Surveys Around The Line Islands.” Today was a first for me in another way besides being the first dive of this cruise. This was my first dive on my first trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Whether it was the brown booby and tern escorts we had traveling above our small boat from the ship to the dive sites, or the jacks that traveled with us occasionally during the dives, the “locals” seemed to be curious and welcoming of the strangers visiting their home. The 5 dives our small team conducted today didn’t seem to reveal anything out-of-the-ordinary from past RAMP cruises. We did see a few small clusters of Crown of Thorn Sea Stars, Acanthaster plancii, and there were not any areas of extensive coral bleaching, both preliminary findings being good news.

The team and project on which I participate is one of about 6 or so occurring on this cruise. Neither 1 project nor one day of diving tell the whole story, so stay tuned to the blog for more reports from the other scientists. Together, we hope to gain more understanding about the ongoing health of the fragile marine ecosystem within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.


  1. Will you report any UXO you find?
    WWII Navy ships dumped tons overboard before entering Pearl Harbor. They are now disintegrating and leaching heavy metals. Poison in the fish, then poison in the people that consume them. Will the Department of Commerce be willing to include information like that in it's survey?
    Joel Becker, Friend of former NOAA employee Marvin Gordon who died of cancer last year.

  2. I find your description of the activities extremely interesting and educational, if you can on occasion, also identify the names/roles of the other scientists and Divers involved in the experiments. thanks

  3. Aloha Frank. Thank you for your excellent suggestion. We plan to incorporate short bios of the scientists and staff that are contributing to the mission in the next few days.

  4. Aloha Joel: Our towed-divers, who conduct extended surveys of nearly 2 km in length and record data on large-bodied reef fishes and benthic habitat, do also make note of the location of UXO. On our first day of surveys at French Frigate Shoals we encountered several large shell casings of the type used in artillery pieces and small naval guns. To the untrained eye, most of these pieces appeared to be simply the casings rather than unexploded ordinance. We have encountered UXO in other locations and report our findings to the appropriate agency in each of our survey areas.

  5. Aloha Frank. We have added an "About the Scientists" page in the right-hand navigation bar. We hope you enjoy. Thanks for the suggestion and keep 'em coming!

  6. . We have encountered UXO in other locations and report our findings to the appropriate agency in each of our survey areas.

    May I ask which agencies you report to?

  7. Joel: Thank you for your question. As of yet I have been unable to find you an answer but i wanted to let you know that I am still pursuing this. I hope to have an answer for you soon.

  8. CRED provides copies of the cruise reports to approximately 50 institutions and agencies. In addition, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is co-managed by the following agencies: NOAA's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Hawaii State's Department of Land and Natural Resources. These offices are generally responsible for taking further action on UXO. Please let me know if you would like the complete distribution list for the agencies that receive copies of CRED's cruise reports. I'd be happy to provide that for you.