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.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Towing around Kingman Reef

By Kaylyn McCoy
Scientist Jake Asher towing at Kingman Reef.
My team; the towboard team, consists of four scientists that collect ecological information on coral reefs by being towed behind a small boat (see a previous post for more information about the towboard survey technique and how we employ it during our research expeditions: http://noaacred.blogspot.com/2010/04/perspectives-of-underwater-flight-towed.html). Towboarding around Kingman reef, another predator dominated ecosystem, has been breathtaking. There is the occasional hammerhead shark, and a few curious grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), but no impressive whale sharks (yet). 
Twinspot Snapper, Kingman Reef.
The most common large fish that we see here at Kingman, which is also one of my favorites, is the
twinspot snapper, or Lutjanus bohar. This snapper can be 90 centimeters in length, and will eat pretty much anything, from tunicates to other fish. These fish are very curious, and are not afraid to take a towboarder head-on. To me, these fish always look angry. They have indentations above their eyes that look like furrowed eyebrows and they also have very large teeth, which only adds to their menacing look. Kingman is one of the only places where we see these fish congregate in groups, or schools. At most every other location we survey, these fish tend to be solitary, but we are lucky enough to see them schooling at Kingman. It is pretty impressive to see 40 large snappers, all with their eyes trained on me, coming down the tow line. The group of snappers will often swim in for a look and end up tagging along for a bit during our survey. It is slightly more comforting to turn around and see a school of snappers as opposed to a bunch of grey reef sharks, which can also happen often. Either way, it is really impressive to see such a thriving and healthy reef!
A large school of twinspot snappers, Kingman Reef.

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