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.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment