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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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!’

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