Ecological Assessment of Fish

Important Living Resources

A diver counts and sizes a school of the Whitebar surgeonfish (Naso literatus). Photo by Kaylyn McCoy.
A diver counts and sizes a school of the Whitebar surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucopareius). Photo by Kaylyn McCoy.

The Coral Reef Ecosystem Division's fish team works to assess and monitor reef fish assemblages around U.S. Pacific islands, atolls, and banks. Our aim is to improve our information base and understanding of the long-term trends and status of these fish populations and related ecosystems. To accomplish this goal, we gather data by conducting surveys of reef fishes. We collect most of our data during Pacific Rapid Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP) cruises. Pacific RAMP is one of the national-level monitoring programs for which the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program maintains consistent objectives, survey methods, and designs through its National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan (NCRMP). For more information, contact Ivor Williams.

There's more than one way to count fishes

A diver with survey gear prepares to roll in and conduct SPC survey.  NOAA photo by Adel Heenan.
A diver with survey gear prepares to roll in and conduct SPC survey. NOAA photo by Adel Heenan.

The fish team uses several complementary, noninvasive, underwater surveys to enumerate the diverse components of diurnally active shallow-water reef fish assemblages. We use two main types of surveys:

Why do we to it?

A bubble plot showing total fish biomass from SPC surveys from May to June of 2011 during the CNMI RAMP cruise and a supplemental 
                 shore-based survey effort around the island of Guam, part of the Mariana Archipelago. Each bubble or dot represents a survey site.
A bubble plot showing total fish biomass from SPC surveys from May to June of 2011 during the CNMI RAMP cruise and a supplemental shore-based survey effort around the island of Guam, part of the Mariana Archipelago. Each bubble or dot represents a survey site.

Fishes are important living resources on Pacific coral reefs. The status of fish populations is related to overall reef health and to other ecosystem and oceanographic processes and conditions and to a range of human-induced and other disturbances.

Results from our surveys contribute to the scientific basis essential for sound management.

What data we gather:

  • Baseline data
  • Species composition, diversity, and abundance
  • Species inventories at U.S. Pacific islands
  • Spatial distribution

What we do with survey data:

  • Monitor size-frequency distributions of fish assemblages
  • Assess fish community responses to factors that affect them, such as fishing, pollution, and tsunamis
  • Assess effectiveness of managed areas
  • Assess distribution data to better understand habitat utilization
  • Provide information on the status of species of particular interest, such as the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) which is an endangered species
  • Quantify extent of the effects of human activities on populations of coral reef fishes and reef sharks

Related Links

A humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). NOAA Photo by Kevin Lino.
A humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). NOAA Photo by Kevin Lino.
Grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhyncos), school at Jarvis reef. NOAA Photo by Jacob Asher.
Grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhyncos), school at Jarvis reef. NOAA Photo by Jacob Asher.
A school of bigeye jack (Caranx sexfasciatus). NOAA Photo by Kaylyn McCoy.
A school of bigeye jack (Caranx sexfasciatus). NOAA Photo by Kaylyn McCoy.

We can't do it alone!

CRED collaborates with the following agencies:

  • Department of Aquatic Resources of the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • University of Florida at Miami
  • American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources
  • U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries Program
  • U.S. National Parks Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • University of Hawaiʻi
  • Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
  • University of Guam
  • University of Western Australia
  • Papahāunomokuākea Marine National Monument
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego
  • Division of Fish and Wildlife of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Wildlife and Aquatic Resources
  • Fishbase.org