Scientists to Monitor Coral Reef Ecosystems around Wake Atoll, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

March 5, 2014
Along a transect on a coral reef in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a diver conducts a
        Rapid Ecological Assessment survey of benthic communities. 
        NOAA photo by Russell Moffitt.
Along a transect on a coral reef in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a diver conducts a Rapid Ecological Assessment survey of benthic communities. NOAA photo by Russell Moffitt.
A diver conducts a 
        towed-diver survey
        at Wake Atoll. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.
A diver conducts a towed-diver survey at Wake Atoll. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.
Divers deploy an oceanographic mooring, a subsurface temperature recorder, and a wave-and-tide recorder,
        instruments
        that are part of a suite of installations that the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division uses to monitor the physical environment at islands 
        across the central and western Pacific. NOAA photo by Danny Merritt.
Divers deploy an oceanographic mooring, a subsurface temperature recorder, and a wave-and-tide recorder, instruments that are part of a suite of installations that the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division uses to monitor the physical environment at islands across the central and western Pacific. NOAA photo by Danny Merritt.
Amid coral mounds and humphead parrotfish, a diver collects photo-documentation of the biota at Wake Atoll. NOAA photo by Noah 
        Pomeroy.
Amid coral mounds and humphead parrotfish, a diver collects photo-documentation of the biota at Wake Atoll. NOAA photo by Noah Pomeroy.

Scientists of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division embarked today on an 84-day mission aboard the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai to study coral reef ecosystems around Wake Atoll, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). This expedition marks the sixth such research voyage in these islands by staff of PIFSC and partner agencies. Partners participating in this mission are from San Diego State University, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Open Boat Films, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California San Diego.

The expedition is part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. This long-term, integrated program of coral reef ecosystem monitoring and assessment is designed to provide a consistent, comparable flow of information to document and report the status and trends of environmental conditions and living resources of the nation's coral reef ecosystems and of the people and processes that interact with them. The scientific mission aboard the Hiʻialakai to investigate coral reef resources around the U.S. Pacific islands also complements long-term coral reef monitoring efforts of local agencies.

Under the direction of Chief Scientists Dr. Dione Swanson, Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Ángel, and Mr. Charles Young of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, teams of scuba divers will conduct Rapid Ecological Assessments (REAs) of reef fishes, corals, other invertebrates, and algae. Autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) currently in place will be retrieved and others deployed to assess the taxonomic diversity of coral reef species. Other scientists aboard the Hiʻialakai will collect data on water temperature, salinity, carbonate chemistry, and other physical characteristics of the coral reef environment using an assortment of oceanographic monitoring instruments. The mission also will include studies to assess the potential early effects of ocean acidification on rates of reef carbonate accretion and coral calcification by deploying calcification assessment units (CAUs) and bioerosion monitoring units (BMUs).

The expedition consists of several segments, or legs. Leg I will focus on studies at Wake Atoll and the island of Guam. Legs II and III will visit and work around the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, Aguijan, and 8 more islands and banks in the Northern Mariana Islands chain, including Pagan, Zealandia, Maug, Agrihan, Alamagan, Guguan, Sarigan, and Farallon de Pajaros. Finally, Leg IV will focus studies at Maug, where the local submarine volcanism provides natural conditions for investigating the impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and adaptations of the ecosystems to such acidified ocean conditions.

Data collected by the scientific staff of this expedition are pivotal to long-term biological and oceanographic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems in the Pacific. This 2014 expedition will add to information collected during baseline monitoring and mapping surveys conducted at Wake Atoll, Guam, and the CNMI in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. In particular, data on the abundance and spatial distribution of reef fishes and benthic organisms will allow scientists to evaluate potential changes in the condition and integrity of coral reef ecosystems around Wake Atoll and the Mariana Archipelago, enabling federal and local resource managers to more effectively manage and conserve reef-associated animal and plant life in this region.