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
A notable increase in coral disease is one of the most recent concerns pertaining to the resilience of coral reefs worldwide, particularly in light of mounting natural and anthropogenic impacts. Acute diseases have resulted in dramatic coral loss and significant changes in community structure, diversity, and ecosystem function. For example, Acropora white band disease has been recognized as one of the major factors leading to live coral cover reductions of up to 98% in areas of the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. This loss of coral cover and associated phase-shifts in coral community structure has led to an increase in macroalgae cover and reduced rates of coral reef accretion.
For many years, the threat of coral diseases in the Pacific had been regarded as relatively unimportant based on limited impact sources, inaccessibility, and the spatial vastness of the region. However, increasing evidence indicates an escalating abundance and prevalence of disease throughout Pacific locations, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Philippines, as well as the Red Sea and east Africa. The 2002/2003 outbreak of white syndrome in the northern and southern sectors of the Great Barrier Reef, when disease levels increased 20- to 150-fold on outer-shelf reefs, was cause for great concern.
For most coral diseases, the lack of ecological and pathological data hinders a clear understanding of disease causation, virulence, and transmissibility. Moreover, the association between disease and environmental stress still remains largely unknown. Current research supports a connection between environmental deterioration and diminished coral immune capacity, and thus, environmental stress could influence coral disease by altering host/pathogen interactions. Because coral diseases may act synergistically with other stressors, there is reason to believe that management practices may be able to, at least in part, influence the impact of disease.
During this expedition, coral biologists are surveying for coral disease along twenty five meter transects and comparing the results to data from previous years and other areas of the pacific. Data collected by the scientific crew are pivotal to long-term biological and oceanographic monitoring of U.S Pacific coral reef ecosystems, including the assessment and evaluation for coral diseases.