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, April 30, 2012

The U.S. Line Islands Research Expedition Begins

Track of the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai. 
Imagery SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO 
(Becker, 2009; Smith and Sandwell, 1997) © 2008.  
The Regents of the University of California
by Jamison Gove
Located in the central equatorial Pacific, the U.S.-owned Line Islands are comprised of three remote coral reef ecosystems: Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef. Owing to their isolation and historical lack of human habitation, these locations are among the few coral reef ecosystems left that are free from direct human impact, offering a rare opportunity for scientists to study thriving and healthy reef ecosystems. The overarching purpose in visiting coral reefs in such isolation, far from human populations, is to better understand how intact and healthy coral reef ecosystems function, providing an ecological baseline for which to compare present-day reefs. The data collected from these baseline reefs will provide valuable information to resource managers and the scientific community, aiding in the formulation of effective strategies to mitigate present and future human impacts to coral reef ecosystems.

During the research expedition, researchers aboard the NOAA ship Hi'alakai will first be traveling from American Samoa to Jarvis Island; a small, arid speck of land no more than a few square miles in size located on the equator, 1200 miles south of Hawai'i. Jarvis was first claimed by the U.S. in the mid 1800's and was historically mined for guano. In 1935, the island was home to a small group of Kamehameha Schools students who occupied the island in an effort to assert U.S. jurisdiction. The group of students, known as the Hui Panala'au, or Society of Colonists, were evacuated in 1942 at the onset of World War II.  Jarvis is currently a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge and part of the recently formed Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Kingman Reef
Heading north from Jarvis, the next stop will be Kingman Reef. Kingman is a triangular shaped reef that is mostly submerged. A few small patches of emergent land exist, predominantly comprised of dead and dried coral skeletons; however, no vegetation or any land-based life is able to persist as the entire atoll is constantly awash during high tide. Kingman's sheltered lagoon historically served as a halfway stop from Hawai'i to American Samoa for Pan American Airway's flying boats in the 1930's. Presently, Kingman is both a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge and part of the Marine National Monument.
Palmyra Atoll. Photograph by Stuart Sandin

The final destination for this research expedition will be Palmyra Atoll. As with Jarvis, Palmyra was first claimed by the U.S. for guano mining purposes; however, the atoll was never actively mined as it resides in a region that receives extensive rainfall, making it too wet for guano accumulation. During World War II, Palmyra was occupied by the U.S. military, serving as a Naval Air Station. Palmyra is now a National Wildlife Refuge and part of the Marine National Monument. In addition, The Nature Conservancy currently owns the main island, Cooper Island, providing a destination for scientific research and limited Eco-tourism.

Upon departing Palmyra Atoll, the Hi'ialakai will begin the long journey back home to Honolulu, Hawai'i. We hope you will follow along as the scientists aboard explore, observe, and document these incredible coral reef ecosystems.

No comments:

Post a Comment