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, 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

No comments:

Post a Comment