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.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Wreck at Wake

text and photo by Cristi Richards

Corals recolonizing the wreck site

It is interesting to see the relative resiliency of coral reefs when there are only a few stressors present.  It is often said that our coral reefs are experiencing a death of a thousand cuts. Warming sea surface temperatures, increased rates of coral disease, invasive species, pollution, marine debris, and over-fishing are just some of the stressors that can combine to cause a decline in overall reef health.  At Wake Atoll we found a site that appears to be experiencing only a few of these stressors and is not exhibiting as much reef degradation as we might have expected.

This site is located next to the harbor mouth on the south side of the Atoll where a fuel barge ran aground and sank in 1967.  Normally we would expect such an area to have large cyanobacteria blooms due to the increased iron and other trace nutrient inputs from the deteriorating wreck.  However, we found a relatively low amounts of cyanobacteria and, although the corals showed some signs of stress, the signs were not as pronounced as we might have expected.  Although we have not yet conducted the extensive analyses necessary to definitively answer the question “Why are Wake’s reefs in such good shape?”, the Atoll’s remote location and low human population density certainly help reduce the number of stressors.  While we certainly don't want to be dumping large amounts of metal into the ocean, as you can see in the photograph above, after 43 years, corals are continuing to re-colonize the wreck area.  Although we cannot duplicate Wake’s remote location for all coral reefs, Wake provides an indication that, if we can reduce the number of stressors affecting our reefs, their natural resiliency may be able to overcome at least some of them.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Thats amazing cant wait to see the analysis of it.!!