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.


Sunday, March 7, 2010


by Kaylyn McCoy
Acanthuras triostegus, Convict surgeonfish forming a feeding
aggregation (photograph by Cristi Richards)
As my dive buddy and I are ascending from a dive, she points behind me and puts her hand to her forehead, making the sign for “shark.” I whip around, full of anticipation and hoping to catch a glimpse of a 12 foot Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), preferably swimming away. But, it’s just a three foot Black-Tip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), cruising around below us. Big fish like sharks and jacks are exciting and important, but we can’t forget about the little guys! Above is a picture of a school of Convict surgeonfish (Acanthurus triostegus). These fish are herbivorous, and feed on the algae that grows on the reef. Certain species like these Convict Tang form dense feeding schools possibly to overwhelm smaller, but incredibly aggressive damselfish defending their territories.  Herbivorous fish play an important role in maintaining equilibrium in an ecosystem. Without these fish, certain species of algae can grow out of control, smothering the corals of the reef.

Scarus xanthopleura, Red Parrotfish
(Photograph by Paula Ayotte)
Another algae muncher that we see on the reef is the red parrotfish (Scarus xanthopleura). These fish have a specialized “beak” or dental plate used for scraping the algae off of the reef. Some parrotfish simply scrape the algae off the surface while other, usually larger species, bite of sizable chunks of the reef. Sometimes when we are counting fish, we can actually hear them feeding. Much of the sand you see on a coral reef may have passed through the belly of a parrotfish at one time or another.

Some areas of the Pacific are considering protecting specific herbivorous fish to help control invasive algae. So while it’s exciting to think about a shark snacking on a poor unsuspecting fish, don’t forget about the importance of the herbivores, the lawn mowers of the reef!

1 comment:

  1. wow, cool pictures..do you have a picture of that shark..i wish me and my marine science classmates from Samaoana High School can be on that boat of yours...