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, May 25, 2012

Portraits of an ecosystem

Check out some of the amazing photographs of the Line Islands taken by researchers aboard the Hi'ialakai over the past few weeks.

Palmyra Atoll

Jarvis Island

Jarvis Island

Palmyra Atoll

Palmyra Atoll

Jarvis Island

Kingman Reef

Palmyra Atoll

Kingman Reef

Kingman Reef

Palmyra Atoll

Jarvis Island

Kingman Reef

Kingman Reef

Kingman Reef

Jarvis Island

Palmyra Atoll

Jarvis Island

Palmyra Atoll

Jarvis Island

Jarvis Island

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A brief, and rather fishy, history of life

By Oliver Vetter

Transiting for days between islands can be a difficult pastime, even with our modern conveniences, because when the ocean decides to move, it can be quite disrespectful to the forecasted conditions foretelling of calm seas and a gentle swell. I write this during that forecasted time as we topple and yaw, pitch and roll, over a swell that is neither calm nor gentle. But it does offer a healthy dose of perspective, of both the vastness of the ocean and the smallness of man, that we so often overlook on land while irritated about our commute, or talk show tragedy, or which contestant might win American Idol. The gentle rolling of my stomach, poorly syncopated with the movement of my computer screen, prompted a search into where our bizarre fascination with the treacherous mother ocean stems from and why we just can’t seem to keep our toes dry.
Oceanographers… just can’t keep their feet dry.
Lets start at (almost) the beginning. I’ll fast forward some of the earlier millions of years, but as far as any reasonable theory goes, life formed on Earth around 3 billion years ago with a little help from a meteor shower that formed our moon, stabilizing the Earth’s own pitch, roll and yaw, that helped form suitable conditions for life. The Earth’s crust cooled below water’s boiling point and the gaseous H20 in the atmosphere condensed and fell to earth as rain, pooling in the low lying areas, to form the early oceans. This is where the ocean science stuff gets interesting; the primordial soup of organic molecules concentrated over time, becoming more and more complex, eventually becoming simple organisms and the first life on Earth.
A deep-sea hydrothermal vent. The beginnings of life?
The soup we crawled out of could have begun in various different environments, one theory being deep sea hydrothermal vents where Archaea, the earliest single celled organisms, still thrive. This was the first step in the evolution of all life on Earth. These guys quietly sat down there for about 100 million years before they figured out photosynthesis, but once they got the idea they then cranked out so much poisonous gas it caused the largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history: The anaerobic bacteria, that was quite happy watching the new moon and new tides and changing chemistry, all died out due this nasty poison… oxygen.
Energy to matter, matter to amoeba, amoeba to flatworm, flatworm to fish, fish to frog, frog to lizard, lizard to mammal, mammal to monkey, monkey to man.
The great oxygenation event that ensued opened the door for significant advances and more complex life on Earth. The free energy in Oxygen was much more readily available to living organisms than the previous anaerobic system, and life evolved at an accelerated rate. From there it was a hop skip and a jump of mutation and adaption; single celled organisms became multi-celled complex organisms. Complex cells became simple worms - these gave us brains and eyes, worms became fish – offering us internal skeletons, amphibians became reptiles – developing lungs and limbs, reptiles became amphibians – with nervous systems, from amphibians came land mammals – giving us ever greater intelligence, from land mammals evolved monkeys – with social ability, facial recognition and tools, and then Man. What will we leave as our legacy?
Man’s Legacy? Plastic, carried by the ocean currents to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands of Papahanaumokuakea.
So in the big history of things we’re fresh out of the ocean ourselves, the reptiles crawled out onto land about 250 million years ago, some even decided to go back. Today’s modern whales have vestigial hip and leg bones from generations past that took their land adaptions back to the sea. This got me thinking: Why not us? We’re a salty bunch, us marine scientists, clumsy and awkward in the ocean compared with those animals we see and study around us. But we answer a silent call to the water, despite our backwards knees and opposable thumbs, that is perhaps louder in us than most. If a visceral desire to understand the sea is a first step in adapting back to our mother ocean, perhaps we can convince everyone else that maybe she’s worth treating a little better.
Something worth evolving for?

Open Boat Films - Field Notes: Part III

By Stephani Gordan

Today, Sunday (May 6), was my first day in the water filming. A little background on me and what I do. I’m a documentary filmmaker, but I spent many years as a marine field biologist in these very waters before heading off to film school. In Montana I earned an MFA in Science & Natural History Filmmaking at MSU, started my own production company- Open Boat Films- and spent half a dozen years filming for projects all over the world. Last summer, Open Boat Films won the grant competition to make an outreach film for the three new Marine National Monuments and after nine months of preparations- here I am. This trip is the first part of field film production for the outreach video. I am a team of one, or a part of a team of twenty, depending on how you look at it. I’d say it’s more accurate to call me the visual documentation member of the scientific research team. I am here to document the field science as it happens, as well as these remote, intact coral reef ecosystems. With saltwater, unpredictable ocean conditions, electronics, and nowhere tobuy spare parts for 3000 miles- wish me luck! Fingers crossed all my gear will work, and continue to work, and beyond that- yes, I’ll try to capture glimpses of these reefs that show how worthy they are of our care, our interest, and our protection. These reefs, unlike their sister reefs in heavily populated areas, are healthy and whole and function as a coral reef ecosystem should. Let’s see what that looks like. I’ll do my best to document it and will share images with you so you can see it too- what a lively reef looks like. It’s nothing like you’ll see off the sunscreen slicked waters off Waikiki, with all due respect to the fun little waves that break there.

 So, today was my first day filming underwater, since I was on the island for 3 days. Did my camera gear work? Yes! Nothing leaked, fried, or fizzled. The buttons all worked. I need to work on holding the camera very, very steady- it’s a smaller, jumpier setup than I’m used to and I haven’t fine-tuned the trim or buoyancy on it. Each blog post I’ll share a tip or trick for field shooting. Today’s tip- invest time in adjusting the ergonomics of how you shoot so the camera feels balanced and you can move effortlessly. It’s worth it.

Here few stills I captured from the video showing the thick carpet of coral, algae, and other living creatures that absolutely blanket the reef at Jarvis. There were small flecks of nutrients in the water from upwelling (water that comes from deeper in the ocean) and clouds of purple and gold anthias were feeding on it. Turtles were tucked into the reef here and there, and as I swam slowly up to an overhanging ledge crowded with red soldierfish, three napping whitetip reef sharks pushed past the red fish and surprised me. Note to self, be careful of swimming up to things while peering through the wide-angle port. There should be a safety warning stenciled on it ‘objects may be closer than they appear!’

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Open Boat Films - Field Notes: Part II

5.3.12 – Thursday. Jarvis Island, terrestrial team.

There is sand in my tent, the backs of my legs and feet are sunburned so badly I just took two ibuprofen, and the light is decent for exactly 1.5 hrs in the morning and again in the late afternoon. But we had a good day on the island. I got up at 5am, just before sunrise. Filmed a redtailed tropicbird in her driftwood log cavern, surrounded by large red hermit crabs. The light was exquisite, so I ran around, trying to shoot before it ran out. Sure enough by 7:30 the sun was headed fast up into the sky, and by 9 it was nearly overhead. Seriously. I slapped on some sunscreen, loaded up my pack, and away we went, around the island. That was our main task today- to circumnavigate the coastline of Jarvis noting any signs of human disturbance. We came across some old rusted barrels, an empty tin of soybean oil, a shipwreck, a wooden block and tackle (that must be pretty old), a fish buoy, and the sea surface temperature buoy CRED deployed 2 years ago, buried in the sand. At one point we came across a fantastic little inlet with 20 or 30 blacktip reef sharks swimming in it. There were jumping gobies (the big ones) in the tide pools near the edge of that channel. It was an enchanting place. The battery on my camera ran out of juice about then, but I was able to film the sharks.

What did I learn today? Bring twice the batteries you think you need. Make that three times as many.

5.4.12 – Friday. Jarvis Island, terrestrial team.

Another hot, hot day on an exposed pile of coral rubble, sand, and over a million sea birds. Masked boobies predominate. Sooty terns blanket huge swaths of the interior- hundreds of thousands, actually quite easily over half a million. Brown boobies, red-footed boobies, and redtailed tropicbirds are scattered around in smaller clusters. There is a gang of frigate birds. Gray backed terns nest here as well, and blue gray noddies- both rare sightings anywhere else. Brown noddies too- in scattered clusters of a dozen or two. Bristle-thighed curlews- a handful. Ruddy turnstones. Wandering tattlers, which the Hawaiians call ‘ilili, for their call. As for vegetation- five or six plants are common- a few salt tolerant succulents, a low lying plant with leaves that resemble morning glory, bushes with tiny purple or white flower clusters. Ilima. Salacornia. Tribulous with its bright yellow flowers and sharp thorny seeds. No coconut palms or any shade providers- nothing that needs that much fresh water.

Home Sweet Home, Jarvis Island
Woke up at 5am, with the sun about to rise over the horizon. It’s a race- the good light lasts a scant hour- 5:30-6:30. I stretch it to 7, but by 8 it might as well be nearly noon. I filmed tropic bird chick- a fuzzy gray one, and I don’t remember what else. I do remember feeling vastly discouraged at my lack of everything (skills, equipment, time) to get the shots I wanted- which were the golden lit boobies, tropic birds, terns, and frigates zooming past in flight. I squandered most of the morning light trying to film a tropic bird landing in a big flurry of white wings and popping into the nest cavity to greet and then relieve its mate. Anticipating which bird would land, focusing, zooming- and focusing with the lcd in the bright light- it conspired to make that task impossible. Tip of the day- if a shot eludes you, at some point acknowledge the limitations of your gear or situation and move on.

 5.4.12 – Saturday, Jarvis Island, terrestrial.

An old shipwreck
At 5am I called out ‘good morning’ to Amanda, and she and I climbed out of our respective tents, quickly got packed up and headed out for the day’s work. I speed-walked along shore, racing the fast rising sun, and filmed the stone monument right at sunrise. Amanda caught up with me a few minutes later, and I filmed her collecting samples from the bug traps we’d set on the first day. The light was so nice that I interviewed her perched on the edge of the stone tower. The island is a soft, gentle, beautiful place early in the morning. By 6:30am, the sun was high enough that it started to get hot. By 7:30- no more soft gentle light, just hot desert island sun. Amanda headed off to collect the bug traps on the far side of the island, and I walked around filming tern skeletons scattered about the hardpan ground, and then made my way back to the shoreline by the sign. I meant to walk back to camp and continue along the coast past there, but instead I just sat for a few minutes in the narrow wedge of shade made by the sign. I closed my eyes and just listened, and breathed.
Amanda setting the bug traps
When I opened my eyes, I saw the beauty of the shoreline at low tide- coralline pink algae and flesh frilly green algae covering the rocks at the edge of the shallow reef flat. The reef crest was beyond, with waves breaking on it, and a deep cerulean blue channel leading thru the barrier up to the area near the sign. The Hi’ialakai was running alongshore a quarter mile off. I picked my way carefully down the steep slope of coral rubble, and then even more carefully across the tidepools with my tripod and camera balanced on my shoulder. I filmed the waves washing over the pink algae, filling the tidepools, and the surreal landscape that is Jarvis island’s shoreline- brilliant white beach, pink reef, jade green shallows, deeper blue water, crashing waves, birds zipping from sea to shore and back, water washing up and then sucking back. The beach was made of bleached white coral pieces, shells, and the occasional jewel-colored lobster carapace or bright orange crab shell.

The colors are all so intense and pure. Tip of the day- stop, close your eyes, and breathe. I almost walked right past the place I ended up happily filming for an hour.

A hermit crab wondering about in the early morning light.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Open Boat Films - Field Notes: Part I

 By Stephani Gordon

Stephani Gordon, Open Boat Films
Hi, I’m Stephani Gordon, documentary filmmaker at Open Boat Films and so very much a part of the outreach arm of this expedition. In the blogs posted here, I’ll be sharing what I see and learn as I film each of the different research teams. I will be filming the scientists underwater and topside, as well as the amazing ecosystems that we find out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What cool creatures will we find? Will all of my camera equipment work? Will the weather and seas cooperate? From years of experience, I know as well as anyone that absolutely anything can happen when you’re on a ship in the middle of a big ocean!

NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai steaming into Pago Harbor, American Samoa
04.28.12 – Saturday. Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Long travel day on Thursday, 6 hr flight to Honolulu, then another 6 hours to Pago Pago. It was nearly midnight by the time we had cleared customs and driven through the dark streets of Tutuila to the Pago harbor area where we checked into a room at Sadie’s by the Sea. The balcony looked out over a warm, humid saltwater bay with water lapping at the small beach beyond a rock wall. The room itself was pretty basic, but the view was sweet.

Was ravenous the next morning and devoured a plate of fresh-caught fish loco moco (eggs on top of fish on top of a big mound of brown rice, with a rich red sauce), and then scarfed down an ono burger with crispy fried onions, and fresh pineapple juice for lunch. Molly drove us in the rattletrap rented van up that steep road over the mountain so I could film the harbor. The van chugged along at 10mph the whole way up, and the brake didn’t want to hold once we parked, but we made it. The view up there is excellent, and the breeze feels wonderful. It’s next to a steep rock cliff face, and if you look you can see white birds soaring next to the green mountain side (tropicbirds). Saw a lone frigate soaring high as well, and later from the road, big furry floppy-winged fruitbats.

From the overlook I filmed the bay as a huge container ship pulled out and went to sea. Then the Hi’ialakai came in, which is what I was hoping for, so I filmed them pulling in. Glorious sight- the tiny white ship in that big bay surrounded by steep green mountains.

5.2.12 – Wednesday. Jarvis Island on the near horizon.

Filmmaker Stephani Gordon 
Redtailed tropicbird nesting on the beach
After days and days and DAYS of traveling across the ocean at 8.5 kts, today, near the end of the afternoon, there she was - Jarvis. Low lying island with scrubby vegetation and white sand. The ship had traveling through a squall with 30 kt winds, so there was some hemming and hawing about whether or not they’d launch the small boat to take us to the island. There was just enough daylight and the seas had calmed down, so at 4:45 sharp they launched the Avon, and then Rubber Ducky (one of CRED’s boats). We loaded our 7 buckets, 3 dry bags, 4 pelican cases, 1 cooler, and 3 water jugs, and climbed aboard one of the boats ourselves. A pod of shiny, muscular dolphins escorted us in- leaping next to the boat, riding our bow as we sped across the water to the island.

Masked booby (juvenile) living up to its name
Gaetano, who has landed folks on this beach before, coached Scotty on the landing spot, and how to thread the channel. There were waves breaking on shallow coral baumies to either side, but a calm slot down the middle, so Scotty drove the boat straight up to the sand. We hustled all the gear off, carrying it to the tide line, and then pushed the boat off so they could return to the ship. Once they were out of sight, we stripped off our ‘non-quarantine’ clothes, put on Jarvis clothes, and set up camp. Amanda and I each have a pup tent. We ate foil packets of chickpea curry for dinner, and then read through our laundry list of scientific tasks while on island. Amanda Meyer is the Fish & Wildlife Refuge Manager for Jarvis, Palmyra, and Kingman, and part of my duties on this expedition are to help her with terrestrial surveys on this island. It’s just the two of us on the island, and we have a lot to do!

Vestiges of WWII
Southern cross, and the false cross are both up, as is Maui’s Fishhook (Scorpius). There’s an almost full moon, and scattered clouds. It’s a beautiful night. My skin feels salty and sticky, and we need to save our fresh water for drinking so no shower in my immediate future. Ocean sounds and birds calling (those noisy terns, they talk all night!), but no generators or air conditioning or all the interior and exterior background noise of a ship.
Pretty peaceful here. The ship looks far away in the dark- just a small patch of light on the horizon. I can’t tell if that makes me feel small and insignificant, or if I’m ok with it. I think I’m fine with it. Time to set up a night sky timelapse! Then, I’ll climb into that little tent for some well earned shut eye, and dream of birds and hermit crabs.

Red coralline algae exposed at low tide with the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai in the background

Meet the Scientists

The Benthic Team  

Erin Looney (Team Lead)
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
Originally from Georgia (y’all), Erin Looney moved to Hawaii 3 ½ years ago to be a part of the benthic team at CRED, where she studies the demographics and disease states of coral communities.  Erin earned a BS in Biology and a BS in Ecology from the University Georgia in 2004, and after a few years of moving around from one fun job to another, she returned to UGA for a MS in Environmental Health Science, where she focused on the microbial aspects of coral disease.  While on these research expeditions, Erin’s primary job is to count and measure every coral within a certain area, while assessing the health and condition of each.  This is Erin’s first trip to the U.S. Line Islands, and she couldn’t be more excited.

Rodney Withall 
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
Rodney Withall works as a phycologist (the study of algae) and loves to find, collect and study algae. Originally from a small town in Ontario, that’s in Canada EH!  Rodney began scuba diving 18-years ago in the frigid Great Lakes when he was hardly old enough to drive a car and somehow was inspired to become a marine biologist.  He has a BS in marine biology from the University of British Columbia and an MS in biology from the University of New Brunswick where his research focused on the biodiversity and molecular systematics of marine macroalgae. Although his task is to document the diversity of corals and algae, he remains interested in biodiversity and is often seen looking into every little crack in the reef hoping to find the rarest algae, perhaps even one that is new to science.  Rodney is also interested in protecting these pristine environments and the integrity of the science that is conducted within them.  He has just been accepted to law school, so if you wish to donate to his tuition fund, you can email him at rodney.withall@noaa.gov

Jeff Anderson
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Jeff conducts benthic habitat surveys collecting coral reef ecosystem data for long-term monitoring and research.  On this cruise through the Line Islands, he is part of the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) team responsible for counting, measuring, and assessing disease condition of hard coral colonies.  Earlier in this expedition, and on previous CRED research cruises, he participated as a member of the Towed Diver team which conducts benthic habitat and fish surveys over large spatial scales (~ 1.5-2 km per dive).  In addition to his work with the Benthic team, Jeff is a member of CRED’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) team collecting coral reef ecosystem data beyond SCUBA diving depths (up to 1,500 m).  Prior to joining CRED, Jeff worked on NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Damage Assessment and Resource Protection (DARP) team stationed in Key Largo, FL. In that role, he specialized in conducting benthic surveys collecting demographic data for hard and soft corals, along with underwater still photo and video image capture, assessing injuries and implementing restorative actions to coral reef and seagrass benthic communities caused by vessel grounding, anchor dragging, etc.  Additionally, Jeff helped the Sanctuary maintain a network of 35 subsurface water temperature monitoring devices.  Conducting benthic habitat surveys for over 8 years, Jeff has been a NOAA Working Diver since 2008, NOAA Scientific Diver since April 2000, and a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer since October 1997.

Chris Sullivan
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Chris Sullivan is the microbiologist on the U.S. Line Islands research expedition. He is a 2nd year master’s student in Dr. Stuart Sandin’s lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). Chris holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology (Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution) and also in Economics from University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Growing up in San Diego, Chris became very familiar with southern California’s coast and the life within its coastal waters. He first became interested in studying marine biology when he visited San Diego’s Sea Camp in the eighth grade. It was during his time as a UCSD undergraduate that he volunteered on a CalCOFI research cruise and worked in two different labs at SIO. He spent time processing phytoplankton samples in Dr. Ralf Goericke’s lab and measuring CO2 in seawater in Dr. Andrew Dickson’s lab. This is Chris's third CRED research trip, with his first being the Main Hawaiian Islands research expedition in 2010 and second in the Northern Marianas in 2011. Although Chris currently studies fish ecology, his microbiology and water chemistry background made him a great candidate for the position. 

Molly Timmers
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Molly leads the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure team examining crazy, intriguing, and fascinating marine invertebrates that are totally cooler than backbones and charismatic megafauna….totally.  She has a BA in Biology, an MS in Conservation Biology and Environmental Science,  and has been diving and working with CRED throughout the Pacific Ocean for the past 11 years.  This is the 5th time that King Neptune has granted her permission to conduct research on a research cruise to the U.S. Line Islands.  When Molly is not examining the biodiversity on reef systems, she’s hiking, backpacking, singing show tunes, enjoying a Chimay, crushing in cribbage, dominating in pinochle, and daydreaming of Middle Earth.

Scott Godwin
Papahanaumakuakea Marine National Monument
I have had the privilege of participating in expeditions to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Samoa and the US Line Islands for the past 12 years. My participation has always involved documenting and collecting the hidden animals that make up a majority of the diversity on coral reefs. I am a marine invertebrate zoologist but I do not focus on corals. I instead look at the variety of invertebrate organism evolved to use coral reefs as a home. Since these animals hide or are camouflaged, most people do not have many chances to see them while diving on coral reefs. While my colleagues are counting fish and documenting corals I usually am looking under rocks or have my head stuck in a hole. Most everyone is familiar with crabs, snails and sponges but do not realize the important role they play in the existence of coral reefs and that some of them represent our closest relatives in the ocean. Furthermore the beauty that these organisms possess can rarely be seen since they hide so well. I am working with colleagues on this expedition to identify crabs and other hidden creatures to document their diversity.I presently work as the Resource Protection Specialist for the Papahanaumakuakea Marine National Monument, which encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Data Management Team

Annette DesRochers (Team Lead)
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

 After earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Science Biology from Long Island University in New York in 1997, Annette worked for a local municipality for 10 years where she learned and eventually managed Southampton Town’s Geographic Information System (GIS). Her desire to work in the Marine Sciences again brought her to Hawai’i just over four years ago to work for CRED as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist; a perfect opportunity to combine her educational background and professional experience. In 2010, she took on a new role with CRED as the head of CRED’s Information Services team; a group of technical specialists focused on data management, GIS, graphic design, and scientific technical editing. Annette is excited to be part of the mission to American Samoa and the Line Islands and will be supporting the scientific staff as Data Manager. It is her second trip to American Samoa—she was part of the CRED team that assisted the Territory with marine debris surveys following the tsunami in American Samoa in 2009—and her first expedition to the U.S.-owned Line Islands

The Fish Team

Dr. Jill Zamzow (Team Lead)
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Jill Zamzow is originally from northern California, and she graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Marine Biology in 1993. She received her M.S. (1999) and Ph.D. (2003) in Zoology from the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. Her graduate and postgraduate research (always involving fish and SCUBA diving) has taken place on many small Pacific islands, as well as in Australia, Jamaica, Panama, and Antarctica. She began working for the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division in 2010, currently holds the position of Reef Fish Researcher and serves as scientific liaison to the main Hawaiian Islands. When on research trips, Jill counts fish using both the towed-diver and Rapid Ecological Assessment methods. While Jill has participated in numerous research cruises, this is her first time to the Line Islands. When not counting fish or exploring long-term trends in reef fish population data, she enjoys running marathons, backpacking, paddling outrigger canoes, and relaxing on the couch with her husband and their two cats. 

Paula Ayotte
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
Originally from California, Paula Ayotte moved to the Big Island of Hawai`i in 2002 where she attended the University of Hawai`i at Hilo. After graduating with a major in Marine Science with a minor in Biology, Paula moved to Oahu and joined the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division as a marine ecosystem research specialist. Paula has participated as a Rapid Ecological Assessment fish diver on more than 20 Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program cruises throughout the Pacific during the past 7 years; this will be her fourth visit to the Line Islands. During this cruise, she will again be counting and sizing fish, as well as torturing her fellow scientists with her 8-minute ab® workout.

Kevin Lino
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Kevin Lino is a Marine Ecosystem Research Specialist at the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) in Honolulu (2005-present). Kevin works primarily as fish diver conducting both types of surveys (tow and SPC). Kevin also functions as both a permit and logistics coordinator for various research cruises. Kevin has been a scientist and coxswain on most of the research cruises aboard the Hi’ialakai and Oscar Elton Sette over the past 7 years with CRED and is quite familiar with the shipboard operations and crew members. Kevin is an experienced scientific and working diver who has also worked with the marine debris program in the Northwestern Hawaiian and Main Hawaiin Islands aboard vessels, helicopters and shore based removal activities. Prior to CRED Kevin worked as a fisheries observer on the Honolulu tuna and swordfish long line fishing fleet. After graduation from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (BS Biology), he worked as a pre-college instructor at Wallop’s Island Consortium in Virginia teaching coastal ecology and conducted coral reef research in Roatan, Honduras and San Salvador, Bahamas. 

Mark Manuel
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
Mark Manuel was born and raised on the island of Hawai‘i and is on this particular cruise as a fish team member looking to assess fish populations among the different atolls and islands visited. He currently works with the Coral Reef Ecosystems Division (CRED) of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, HI. He achieved a B.A. in Marine Science from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and is currently finishing his M.S. in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science also at UH-Hilo. 

The Oceanography Team 
Danny Merritt (Team Lead)
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Daniel Merritt is on the cruise working with the Oceanography Team. This is his 4th research trip  to the Line Islands. Daniel has been working with CRED since 2004, first as a graduate research assistant from 2004-05, and as an ocean engineer since 2006. Merritt works with and supports many technical and oceanographic projects at CRED including the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures, Calcification-Acidification Units, and oceanographic instrumentation used on this research cruise. He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in California, and a M.S. in Ocean Engineering with an emphasis on coastal processes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Hawai`i. 

Jamison Gove (Chief Scientist)
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Jamison Gove moved to Hawai´i in 2001 to work for the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division removing derelict fishing gear from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  His background in science combined with his experience in the NWHI lead Jamison to graduate school a year later, when he entered a Masters program in Physical Oceanography at the University of Hawai´i. Jamison continued working with CRED as a graduate research assistant, then as an Oceanographer upon completion of his degree in 2005. Presently, Jamison leads the Oceanography group at CRED while concurrently working on his Ph.D. at UH in Oceanography, researching the effects of oceanographic forcing on benthic coral reef communities.

Oliver Vetter
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
Oliver was born and raised in Cardiff, Wales. He received his undergraduate degree in Oceanography with Physics at Southampton University in England and moved to Hawai'i the following year.  Initially he worked as a field and lab technician in the University of Hawai'i School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and subsequently completed his masters in Physical Oceanography from the University of Hawai'i.  His master's thesis investigated wave energy attenuation over reefs in Hawai'i and Guam.  In addition to the scientific training he received during his masters he received his scientific diving qualification and learned many aspects of oceanographic instrumentation which opened the door for employment at CRED. He has been with CRED since 2006 and in addition to his scientific and field work he is the CRED's scientific liaison to Guam.

Chip Young
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
Chip began working at CRED in 2005.  As a member of the Oceanography Team, he has participated in research projects that have taken him throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.  He has a B.S. degree from the United States Naval Academy and an M.S. degree from the University of Hawaii.  While studying chemical oceanography in the Department of Marine Geology and Geochemistry at UH, Chip developed his interest in marine nutrient cycling and the impacts of anthropogenic influences on nearshore coral reef ecosystems.  While on this research trip, Chip will focus on water column and reef measurements related to the process of ocean acidification.  Through the collection of water samples, coral cores, and the deployment of various instrumentation, the Oceanography Team will monitor chemical, biological, and physical variability exhibited by the coral reef ecosystems CRED studies.

The Towboard Team

Jake Asher
Coral Reef Ecosystem Specialist
Jake Asher is a Marine Ecosystem Research Supervisor with NOAA PIFSC CRED in Honolulu, HI. He is originally from Washington DC, but spent many summers along the eastern seaboard where his interest in marine science grew. He has a Bachelors of Science from the University of Michigan (1994), a Masters of Environmental Management from the Duke University Nicholas School of  Environmental (2001), and will be enrolling in a PhD program at the University of Western Australia (2012 –  2015). From 1995 – 2002, Jake was involved in a variety of marine science research programs, including phytoplankton/cyanobacteria research at the Heinz Steinitz Marine Biological Laboratory in Israel, a fellowship at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences examining coral disease frequencies, a Sister Exchange Program between the Chugach National Forest and Magadan Marine Preserve in Russia, marine mammal research with the NOAA Beaufort, North Carolina Laboratory, and working as a NOAA Fisheries Observer in Alaska. Jake’s current interests focus on benthic habitat assessments using rapid ecological assessment and towed-diver surveys, along with reef fish stock assessments using unbaited/baited remote underwater video stations.   

Marie Ferguson
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Marie Ferguson graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in Environmental Science and began her scientific diving career in 2003 working for the Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the Marine Science Institute in Santa Barbara. She moved to Oahu in 2006 to pursue her interests in tropical marine ecological research and has been working for CRED with the marine debris, fish, benthic towboard and Mapping teams. This cruise she is a benthic towboard diver conducting benthic surveys over large spatial scales. When Marie isn’t out at sea she enjoys running, hiking, backpacking, biking, surfing, camping, traveling and getting in the ocean as much as possible.

Kaylyn McCoy
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division 

Kaylyn is from North Carolina and is on the Hi`ialakai as a member of the towboard team to assess reef fish populations. She works for the Coral Reef Ecosystems Division of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, HI. She received her B.S. in Zoology from North Carolina State University, and has done research on the coral reefs in Australia and the Turks and Caicos Islands. She has been in Hawai`i for six years, and this is her second trip to Jarvis, Kingman, and Palmyra. She likes long walks on the beach, PBR tall boys, and getting caught in the rain.

Noah Pomeroy
Coral Reef Ecosystem Division

Typically involved in oceanographic research, Noah is mixing it up this cruise as a fish survey towed diver so he doesn't lose touch with his marine biology roots. Alongside another towed diver surveying the benthos, Noah is pulled behind a boat at a depth of about 50 ft while holding onto a board and documenting observations of large (>50cm) fish. A member of the CRED team since 2005, Noah has participated in several marine debris survey and removal cruises in addition to RAMP cruises during which he has fostered his interest and experience in oceanographic research, including the passive acoustic investigation of coral reefs. Noah received a BS in aquatic biology from the University of California Santa Barbara in 2004 where he also learned to SCUBA dive and began his career in marine science.
Visiting Researchers

Stephani Gordon 
Open Boat Films
Filmmaker Stephani Gordon spent years as a marine field biologist before leaving Hawaii to pursue an MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking. With her production company, Open Boat Films, she has filmed in locations around the world, working for PBS, National Geographic, The Waitt Institute for Discovery, NOAA, National Park Service, and other organizations. She is working with the science team on this cruise to film an outreach video for NOAA that will offer the public a way to vicariously experience these remote coral reef ecosystems.

Amanda Meyer
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Amanda Meyer grew up on the island of Oahu and has spent most of her life in and around the water.  She received her PhD from the University of Hawaii, studying marine ecology of coral reef fish, with a specialization in ecology, evolution and conservation biology. Presently she works for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and has been the Wildlife Refuge Manager for the Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef National Wildlife Refuges for the past three years.