About the Expedition
On January 21, 2010, scientists from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (CRED/PIFSC), along with visiting scientists from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego State University, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and local agencies in American Samoa, departed on a three month expedition to Johnston Atoll, Howland and Baker Islands, American Samoa, Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef aboard the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai. This is the fifth biennial Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) expedition to American Samoa and the seventh to the Pacific Remote Island Areas. The expedition is sponsored by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and is divided into three segment sequentially led by Chief Scientists Benjamin Richards, Rusty Brainard and Jamison Gove.READ MORE...
The strategic goal of this research is to improve scientific understanding of coral reef ecosystems throughout the Pacific, and serve as the basis for improved conservation and resource management. The recent designation of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument highlights the importance of this research.
With their extremely isolated location, many of the Pacific Remote Island Areas host a vibrate marine ecosystem. Previous Pacific RAMP cruises have documented relatively high coral cover and diversity; and high densities of large-bodied reef fish including large numbers of apex predators such as Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and Scalloped Hammerhead sharks (Sphyraena lewini). Many of these apex predators are rare near human population centers. AS in previous years, this Pacific RAMP cruise will perform a suite of standardized multi-disciplinary methods which include Rapid Ecological Assessments (REA) for fish, corals, other large invertebrates, and algae; towed-diver surveys for large-bodied fish and habitat composition; and oceanographic studies, which include the measurement of conductivity, temperature, and density of the water column (CTD casts); water sampling; and deployment of sea-surface temperature (SST), subsurface temperature recorders (STR) and acoustic doppler current profilers (ADCP). Scientists will also be deploying Ecological Acoustic Recorders (EARs) to learn about changes in the presence and activity of marine mammals, fish, crustaceans and other sound-producing marine life when researchers aren't there to record it otherwise. Autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) will also be deployed as part of the CReefs project. ARMS are simple, standardized collecting structures designed to roughly mimic the structural complexity of reef habitats. They allow for the identification of small, hard-to-sample, but ecologically important cryptic invertebrates. ARMS are being utilized throughout the Pacific and globally to systematically assess spatial patterns and temporal changes of biodiversity. Use of the EARS and ARMS are an exciting addition to RAMP data collection efforts.Follow along below to learn more about where we are going, what we are seeing, and what we have found ...
Thursday, January 28, 2010
photos by Benjamin Richards and Jason Helyer
Stony corals (Class Anthozoa, Order Scleractinia) are marine invertebrates that secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton. Stony corals can be hermatypic (significant contributors to the reef-building process) or ahermatypic, and may or may not contain endosymbiotic algae called “zooxanthellae”. The largest colonial members of the Scleractinia help produce the carbonate structures known as coral reefs in shallow tropical and subtropical seas around the world. The rapid calcification rates of these organisms have been linked to the mutualistic association with the zooxanthellae, found in the coral tissues. Massive and branching stony corals are the major framework builders of shallow tropical reefs. Some stony corals occur in deep water and are azooxanthellate (they do not contain zooxanthellae), but these deep water corals typically do not form extensive reefs. Corals are arguably one of the most important components of the coral reef system, providing substrate for colonization by benthic organisms, constructing complex protective habitats for myriad other species, including commercially important invertebrates and fishes, and serving as food resources for a variety of animals.
While at Johnson Atoll we are collecting data on corals that will tell us more about species abundance and distribution, size class distribution, and disease. Each site we visit differs in terms of species dominance, the relative abundance of coral, and the health of the corals present. Many factors contribute to this, including the location of the reef (whether it is a backreef, forereef, or in a lagoon), wave intensity, and its closeness to human population and associated pollution. One would expect that reefs as far removed as Johnston would be pristine, healthy, flourishing environments, but even these are subject to disturbances such as hurricanes, marine debris, and pollutants introduced to the environment throughout history. Especially in the Pacific, many island which are not currently inhabited, have had sizable human populations in the past. Johnston is one of these and, we find a relatively high prevalence of coral disease at Johnson Atoll compared to other islands.
Although these reefs may not be as pristine as we might hope, they are by far some of the most beautiful and deserve our best efforts in understanding the dynamics that keep them thriving. Every day we are amazed by something new, something we've never seen before (possibly that no one has seen before), and are reminded of why we are out here, trying to learn more about this complicated and amazing environment.