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, April 20, 2011

Eight is enough

by Steve McKagan

Working primarily with the Fish REA team, I'm used to having up to four people at most in the water at a given time during a survey.  The reason is fairly simple, fish don’t like being disturbed.  Today was a markedly different experience as I jumped aboard the biggest field boat on board the Hi’ialakai, HI-1, and went on a documentary dive with the benthic, oceanography, and ARMS teams.
ARMS team member Kerry Grimshaw securing lines to an ARMS unit to be recovered. Her team member is in the distance doing the same. During a typical recovery, three ARMS units in all are recovered from a site and are then brought back to the Hi`ialakai to be processed. NOAA photo by Steve McKagan.

It isn’t just the sheer number of people on an HI-1 dive that differs from a regular day out with the Fish REA team; it is also what they are doing.  To successfully establish fish counts, divers hover quietly several feet above the bottom watching and noting the behavior of their subjects.  In contrast, today the ARMS team was both deploying new settling plates and collecting baseline units which were stationed at this site two years ago, just after the Marine National Monument designation took place (http://www.fws.gov/marianastrenchmarinemonument/).
It's hammer time as ARMS team member (and Operations lead) Russell Reardon pounds stakes into the substrate that secure the ARMS units in place for ~2 years. NOAA photo by Steve McKagan.
The Fish REA team does its best to blend in with the surroundings bringing minimal gear; today a single oceanography diver brought more equipment to the bottom than could possibly be carried once filled, more than doubling his size and weight.
At depth, Chis Sullivan fills three twenty-liter bottles with seawater to later be used for metagenomic analysis to determine the microbial composition of the seawater. NOAA photo by Steve McKagan.

Yes it is true, Fish REA folks can sometimes be seen looking down into a hole trying to identify a camouflaged fish or eel, but when one dive buddy is looking down the other is most likely looking up and around.   In contrast, I couldn’t get a single member of the benthic, oceanography or ARMS teams to look up for this photograph.
Six members of the Benthic, Oceanography, and ARMS teams busily working away on the reef conducting benthic surveys, collecting water samples, and deploying ARMS units. Can you spot them all??  NOAA photo by Steve McKagan.

In the end I learned that you don’t absolutely need to have a lot of big fish around to have an enjoyable and educational dive, especially when algae experts are willing to show you what it would look like if a barracuda in the vicinity decided to charge the oceanography samples.
Benthic team member Ryan Okana demonstrates barracuda-like behavior as Chris Sullivan slowly surfaces with his water samples in hand. NOAA photo by Steve McKagan.

Thanks to everyone for another great day on Leg 2 of MARAMP.

1 comment:

  1. Google earth seems to indicte HI is anchored off of a golf course in Saipan. wish I was there, NICE! enjoy