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.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fish Tales

by Kara Osada-D'Avella
For this first leg of the expedition, our fish team is made up entirely of women – but no fish about it, we are out to take on the seas and collect data no matter the conditions; sunny or rainy; rough or calm. Our team lead, Paula Ayotte, is on her third trip to these waters along with me (Kara Osada-D’Avella), Jonatha Giddens and Emily Donham. As reports of over-fishing worldwide have topped headlines, concern for the possibility of over-fishing occurring on coastal reefs has also been increasing. According to recent scientific reports, over-fishing on coral reefs may be as high as 36%, with many high-valued species facing the possibility of localized extinction.

Throughout our three-month cruise, researchers will have a unique opportunity to survey diverse locales ranging from the extreme remoteness of Howland and Baker Islands to heavily populated areas of American Samoa. Our data will also be combined with surveys from the Northwestern and Main Hawaiian Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to provide an overview of the status and trends of coral reef fish populations in US Pacific waters. Our fish survey method uses a stratified random design where our survey sites are chosen within three depth zones: shallow (1-20 feet), mid (21-60 feet) and deep (61-100 ft) and within each of three general habitat types; fore reef, back reef and lagoon. By using this type of method, we are able to get a holistic view of the fish assemblage at each island we visit.

This is my second trip to Johnston Atoll. During the previous expedition in 2008, high winds and rough seas kept us out of the water for all but two days of the six we had planned. This year the weather cooperated and we were able to survey each of the 5 1/2 days we were at Johnston, allowing us to see much more of the reef environment. I found fish populations at Johnston to be similar to my experiences in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Unlike the Main Hawaiian Islands, we saw sharks on many dives with a maximum of 10 sharks on a single dive. We also saw many large black jacks and other apex predators which is a good sign. On my last dive with Jonatha we were privileged to jump in on a reef with hundreds of spawning blue-lined surgeons. For me it was a unique experience to be in such a large school of fish; something you just don’t get to witness very often in less remote areas.

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