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, March 23, 2011

Ready for Wake

by Paula Ayotte

Scientist Brian Hauk masters
walking on a ship in rolling seas.
After two successful rescues (three, really, if you count the EAR retrieval), we're finally back on track to Wake Atoll and are ready to get back in the water. We've learned that even with the three days we spent evacuating and transferring personnel, we won't lose any time at Wake and will be able to do five survey days as originally planned and we're all eager to get to work. Twelve days of sea transit on the ship is far more than most of us are accustomed to, and we realize we've been somewhat spoiled during the first week of our trip when we had sunny days and flat, calm seas. Now we're experiencing overcast skies and 8 - 10' swells; everyone is making sure anything loose is tied down and equipment is secured; just staying upright can be a challenge! Luckily, we took care of most of our prep work during those first tranquil days.

Current turbulent sea state. Compare to the
benign seas during EAR retrieval.
This will be my second trip to this remote atoll, and I'm looking forward to seeing the large schools of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) that are common around Wake, though rare in other parts of the world. As a member of the fish team, it's my job to count and size these amazing creatures, which can reach sizes up to 130cm (about 4 1/2 feet; I'm only slightly taller!).

The largest species of parrotfish,
Bolbometopon muricatum
Along with being on the fish team at CRED, I'm also the scientific liaison for the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIA), of which Wake is a part of, along with Johnston Atoll, Howland and Baker Islands, Kingman Reef, Jarvis Island, and Palmyra Island, which we visited last year (see Blog Archive 2010, January - April). The PRIA are all National Wildlife Refuges and were named in 2009 as Marine National Monuments, affording them even greater protections. As some of the most remote and pristine coral reefs in the world, these areas serve as important baselines for ecological monitoring. We can compare these relatively untouched areas to places that have human populations to try to get an idea in the of how to better manage the reefs that have suffered from human impacts. Though Wake is under the jurisdiction of U.S. Air Force, the waters from 0 to 12 nautical miles are protected as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Not only do the waters around Wake support abundant fish populations (at least 323 species), the small amount of land provides important seabird and migratory shorebird habitat. We all feel greatly privileged to have the opportunity to study this far-flung, isolated island in the middle of the Pacific.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering if there were any problems with the waters or anything that you had trouble with or any kind of issues with the environment there.