Expedition to American Samoa and other U.S. Pacific Islands Aimed at Better Understanding of Coral Reef Ecosystems
A team of scientists has embarked from Honolulu on a three-month survey of coral reef ecosystems at Johnston Atoll, the U.S. Phoenix Islands, the islands of American Samoa, and the U.S. Line Islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The objective is to assess and monitor coral reef resources of these areas, many of which are seldom explored. The study is part of regular monitoring in the region conducted by NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii. It involves extensive cooperation among NOAA scientists and their partners, including local marine resource agencies in American Samoa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and San Diego State University.
The expedition will be carried out from February 27 to May 23, 2012 by the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai in three segments, each under the leadership of a researcher employed by the University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) and affiliated with the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division: Dr. Jill Zamzow will lead the first cruise leg at Johnston Atoll and Howland and Baker islands in the U.S. Phoenix Islands. Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Angél will direct the second leg in American Samoa. And Jamison Gove will head up scientific operations for the third segment at Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef in the U.S. Line Islands. Following this leg, the Hi'ialakai will return to her home port in Honolulu.
During each segment of the research expedition, the scientific field party will conduct comprehensive monitoring surveys of shallow-water coral reef ecosystems. Teams of specialists will survey and assess the status of fishes, corals, algae and marine invertebrates while SCUBA diving from small boats launched from the Hi'ialakai. Fine-scale assessments will be conducted by divers surveying along 25-meter transect lines, and larger-scale assessments will be conducted through towed-diver surveys.
Oceanographers will collect data using various kinds of oceanographic monitoring equipment, including data telemetry moorings, underwater moored instruments, and sensors on the ship. Oceanographers will also be taking cores of large coral heads to assess historical in order to investigate the consequences of ocean acidification and climate change to reef ecosystems. Calcification acidification unit (CAU) plates will be placed on the seafloor to collect baseline data on crustose coralline algae and scleractinian (hard) coral, information necessary to understand what changes to expect in these critical reef-building organisms, including their growth rates, as oceans become more acidic. Autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) previously placed on the seafloor will be collected and new ones will be deployed to gain a better grasp of cryptic invertebrate populations that are difficult to study using other survey methods. Finally, the role of microbes in coral reef communities will be studied by one of the team’s expert scientists, a microbial biologist from San Diego State University.
This is the sixth PIFSC expedition to American Samoa in recent years and the eighth to the U.S. Line and Phoenix Islands. Accordingly, it will allow the research team to revisit sites of particular interest that were identified during previous expeditions and explore new areas.
One of NOAA's high priorities is to ensure the conservation of coral reef ecosystems in U.S. waters, including the extensive coral reefs of American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, main Hawaiian Islands, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and U.S. remote island areas of the central and western Pacific Ocean. In each area, NOAA is partnering with other government offices and academic affiliates to conduct scientific studies of coral reef organisms, their habitat, and the oceanographic and other factors affecting coral reef ecosystem health.
The Hi'ialakai surveys are part of a comprehensive marine research and education program sponsored by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). The CRCP is a partnership between the National Ocean Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other NOAA agencies with the objective of improving the understanding and management of coral reef ecosystems.
During its stay in American Samoa waters, the Hi'ialakai will devote a day to education and outreach with local partners and students. Such efforts are an important part of building public appreciation of coral reef ecosystems and the role of science in understanding, monitoring and conserving them.