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, March 15, 2011

Evacuation of Laysan

by Ben Richards

Our Captain stands by
the radio, monitoring
the operation
The Hi'ialakai arrived at Laysan Island at first light and as the sun rose it was clear that the 12 foot swell we had expected was in reality more like 15-18 feet.  We watched in amazement as the breakers crashed on the reef sending up towers of spray thirty feet into the air.  As we found the landmarks for the western passage through the reef, it was clear there was no way we would be able to get a boat into shore to retrieve the shore party. Slowly we made our way south along the west side of Laysan, hoping for a break in the surf.  As we rounded the southern tip of the island it seemed luck, and the conditions, were on our side. Jutting out from the beach was a shallow bench of reef that appeared to be breaking up much of the surf.  As we watched, we saw a few small waves crashing here and there, but nothing that would prevent a rescue effort.  As we made ready the boats, the rescue swimmers and coxswains had their final safety briefing and laid final plans for the recovery.

The AVON, with coxswain Gaetano
Maurizzio and rescue swimmer
Jamie Gove head in to shore
We would send in two boats.  The larger SAFEBoat would wait just offshore of the surf zone while the smaller, and more agile, AVON would make its way as close to shore as possible before deploying the two rescue swimmers. After making their way through the small surf to the beach, the swimmers would then bring the shore party out to the AVON, one-by-one. After reaching the AVON, the members of the shore party would then be transferred to the SAFEBoat for transit back to the Hi'ialakai.

As luck would have it, there was a strong rip current pulling off the beach and out to sea, which meant that the rescue swimmers had a hard swim in, but everyone had a fairly easy swim out to the boats. After recovering all personnel, the two swimmers went back in to the beach to recover the few belongings our new guests would need until they returned to Honolulu.

The rescue mission was a resounding success. A few cuts and scrapes, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The SafeBoat returning from Laysan

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