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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Next stop, Asuncion

by Jake Asher and Annette DesRochers

Asuncion Island. NOAA photo by Annette DesRochers.

Asuncion was our first stop inside of the Marine National Monument. Spectacular as its appearance may be topside, with its iconic, conical shape, the underwater environs were equally, if not more, amazing.

ARMS team member Russell Reardon, normally busy recovering or deploying ARMS underwater, takes a few moments to enjoy the underwater scenery at Asuncion. The coral Pocillopora sp. can be seen in the foreground of this benthic habitat. NOAA photo by Russell Reardon.
A spectacular picture of the bubble coral, Plerogyra sinuosa. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.
Another beautiful species of coral, Euphyllia ancora. NOAA photo by Jake Asher.

High relief basaltic and rock boulder reefs were framed with a living veneer of coral cover showing an amazing level of diversity in some places, while large predatory fish like the dogtooth tuna patrolled along its perimeter.
A large dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor) cruises past divers. Note the scars and missing section of the pre-opercular plate. NOAA photo by Jake Asher.
One of the most unique aspects of Asuncion’s underwater habitat compared to all the other places across the Pacific where CRED conducts research is that it contains one of the few, if not only, vertical REA survey sites.
The vertical benthic REA site at Asuncion. NOAA photo by Russell Reardon.

In addition to the variety of coral and fish species that have been observed, we have seen many other types of organisms as well.
Usually our towed divers are ‘flying’ over the reef recording broad-scale observations of the habitat below, but every now and then, they get to observe the reef up close and personal, where they can observe some of the more conspicuous creatures such as this banded coral shrimp, Stenopus hispidus. NOAA photo by Jake Asher.
A pink whipray, Himantura fai, that is either expressing aggressive behavior towards the photographer or it wants to mate with him! NOAA photo by Kevin Lino.
Throughout the Marianas Archipelago, ARMS have only been deployed at some of the islands; Asuncion currently does not have any ARMS deployed. At islands where there are no ARMS units to recover and/or deploy, the ARMS team, when it's logistically feasible, will conduct non-coral marine invertebrate surveys instead. It's a real treat to observe some of  these cryptic species in their home environment as opposed to in the lab while processing the ARMS.
An octopus spotted in the field, looking very conspicuous indeed. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.

And an octopus collected from an ARMS. NOAA photo by Kerry Grimshaw.
It's amazing that such a vast ocean contains such wonderfully small and beautiful creatures hidden in the tiniest of nooks and crannies.

This coral crab, Trapezia sp., spotted by one of the benthic divers during a marine invertebrate survey, is hiding out in his favorite coral, Stylophora sp. NOAA photo by Kerry Grimshaw.

A persian carpet worm, Pseudobiceros bedfordi. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.

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