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.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Behind The Scenes

by Julia Ehses 

     Today is not only the last day of the expedition HA1008, but it is also the last day of a long field season. The CRED research cruises usually last from March trough November. This is a long time especially for the scientists who come on and off the ship for month long adventures but the Hi’ialakai is home for those who work the whole season, and take part in every expedition, and repair and stock the ship during in-ports. I’m referring to the crewmembers of the Hi’ialakai who spend the majority of the year away from their family and friends.  The crewmembers share a big portion of daily responsibilities on the NOAA research Vessel Hi’ialakai.
     Seven NOAA Corps officers control the ship and find the safest and most comfortable path by navigating trough rough waters, wind and weather.
     Six engineers operate the ship while monitoring, fixing and controlling 4 engines plus one emergency generator, the steering system as well as the air conditioning, water treatment systems, and much more. The daily checklist for the engineering staff is very long.
     The electronics technician or ET does the maintenance and repair of all the electronics including the navigation systems, data acquisition systems, and communications that allow the ship to stay connected to the rest of the world from many miles offshore.
     A survey technician is also onboard. She supports the scientists and facilitates scientific operations including CTD, pCO2 and water column properties measurements as well as running the seafloor mapping system.
     The dive chamber operator is an important crew member particularly if a dive accident were to occur. He administers and supervises any hyperbaric treatment required. A member of the National Health Service, affectionately referred to as “Doc” is also one of the officers and takes care of any injury and sickness that may occur on board.
     One of many responsibilities of the eight deck-team members is small boat operation. This means launching 5 small boats every day, driving these boats through rough waters to bring the divers to their survey sites, and recovering the boats every afternoon. Watching the team launch and recover the boats is like watching a well-choreographed performance. The safety of many is at stake with cranes lifting the heavy loads, lines in tension, and pinch points galore.  Each member of the deck crew knows and executes their role perfectly time and time again.

     And of course all this work couldn’t be done without sufficient nutrients. The Chief Steward and his staff do an incredible job taking care of hungry bellies with a huge range of cooked, boiled, baked, steamed and fried specialties. You might be asking, “Fresh fruits and veggies every day…..is it magic?” Well, it may not be magic, but creativity and a talent for management is certainly required. Many sailors say that the role of the Chief Steward is the most important job on the ship because good food equates with high morale and a job well done.
     This is just a glance into the variety of jobs on board but one thing is for sure; A successful expedition is like a big puzzle where everyone (both scientists and crew) represents the small pieces that come together to form the whole big picture.
     A big THANKS to the crew who, once again, have brought the scientists safely back to shore.

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