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.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reports from Laysan Island

by Ben Richards

We will arrive at Laysan tomorrow at first light. If conditions are safe, we will launch one of our 19 foot SAFE Boats to retrieve the 5 personnel (3 from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and 2 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service) from the island, and will then begin our transit to Midway Atoll. From Midway, the 5 personnel will be flown back to Honolulu. A large swell generated by a storm in the north Pacific is forecast to arrive at Laysan tomorrow, which could potentially cut off the primary access point into Laysan. If this is the case, and the boat channel is impassible, we will transit to the east side, where we'll launch both our Avon and the SAFE Boat, and assess conditions for an alternate beach retrieval point.

Although the Laysan personnel are used to inclement weather and adverse conditions, being hit by a tsunami was understandably traumatic. The field team completed their first inspection of the island yesterday. They reported extensive damage to the island, with the wave line extending well into the vegetation. In places, reef fish were found in the short trees that ring the island. Most of their food buckets and water jugs were washed away, and they were still seeing buckets and jugs being washed back to shore. The kitchen tent was destroyed and they are cooking and eating at the USFWS camp.The USFWS camp has 32 six gallon jugs of water, which should be enough to sustain the Laysan personnel for the remainder of their time on island. Fortunately no injuries have ben reported and their office tent was spared and most of their electronics and communication equipment were not damaged.

Once aboard the Hi'ialakai, the Laysan field team will be evaluated by the ship's medical officer. Several of the scientists have offered their bunk space and the ship's stewards will be putting together linens and anything else they may require for their short stay aboard the ship.

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