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.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It is day 25 on our 30 day research expedition

by  Bernardo Vargas Angel

The HA 1008, Main Hawaiian Islands RAMP cruise has unfolded successfully. In addition to having benign weather and sea conditions, daily operations have run quite smoothly, no doubt the result of the high level of training, experience, and professionalism of all aboard. Equally important to this success is the positive and up-beat attitude of all involved, and the strong cooperative spirit, in spite of many of us having been out here for a long time. It's not always easy to keep the pace of long work days, with just a few breaks.
Daily small boat launch with team of divers
So far we have visited and completed work around the islands of Hawai’i, Maui, Lana’i, Moloka’i, Ni’ihau, and Kauai, gathering data on the relative abundance and spatial distribution of reef fish, invertebrates, coral and coral disease, algae, as well as on water temperature, salinity, and other physical characteristics of the coral reef environment. To date, more than 100 towed-diver surveys examining over 260 km of coastline have been completed; the fish and benthic teams have conducted more than 150 and 70 surveys, respectively, and about 30 oceanographic instruments have been serviced and re-deployed with hundreds of water samples collected for further chemical, biological, and microbial analyses. In addition, nearly two dozen Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) have been recovered and processed to assess the coral reef cryptic invertebrate biodiversity. Altogether, the teams have tallied more than 1000 SCUBA dives since the beginning of the expedition. 
Benthic diver Jacob Asher collecting coral demographics 
and disease data
As we wrap things up, during the next few days of operations, divers will be working around the island of Molokai. The Main Hawaiian Islands RAMP cruise is a challenging mission given the unpredictability of weather conditions around the islands (high winds and surf), as well as the extent of the marine ecosystems to be surveyed in such a short period of time. So far, activities have unfolded exceptionally well, and the data collected thus far are critical to the understanding of the long-term dynamics of the coral reef ecosystems in the Archipelago.
Nightly meeting meetings held to plan next day operations

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