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.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Reefs at Wake

by Ben Richards
photos by Kara Osada, Ben Richards, and Edmund Coccagna

Humphead Wrasse
We have completed our operations at Wake Atoll and are now en route to Saipan, six days hence.  Our first day of operations were met with 25 knot winds and sporadic squalls and a dismal weather forecast for these conditions to continue throughout our survey period.  However, the long 12-day transit combined with Wake's reputation as a thriving coral reef environment fueled a high level of excitement to jump in the water and conduct research, easily overwhelming the bumpy, wet, and cold diving conditions.

Bumphead Parrotfish
After the first day the weather began to improve and continued to do so over our five days at the atoll. Before long we were back to warm waters, blazing sun, and light winds. Being in the middle of the tropical Pacific, the waters around Wake are incredibly clear and it is not unusual to have underwater visibility of over 100 feet. Coral cover in many areas exceeded 50 percent and we encountered big fish like Humphead wrasse and Bumphead parrotfish on many of our surveys.

The Reef at Wake
With the improved weather, each of the survey teams completed their assigned tasks with a bit of time to spare, and, courtesy of the base commander, we were treated to the brief tour of the island on the afternoon of our last day. It was nice to see that, overall, both above and below the water, the atoll seems to have been little affected by the recent tsunami.

A Threadfin butterflyfish and Giant
Clam on the Reef at Wake
As we transit to Saipan over the next few days, each of the research teams will be posting a brief overview of their time at Wake with more details about their experiences and findings. So, keep checking in ...

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