Multi-agency Team of Scientists Conducting Interdisciplinary Monitoring of Coral Reef Ecosystems in American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

January 21, 2015
Divers begin by laying out transect lines at predetermined locations to guide the coral reef surveys.
Divers begin by laying out transect lines at predetermined locations to guide the coral reef surveys.
Pulled along the survey track lines by small boats, researchers use towboards to record detailed information on the coral reefs and 
        associated biological communities.
Pulled along the survey track lines by small boats, researchers use towboards to record detailed information on the coral reefs and associated biological communities.
Calcification accretion units (CAUs) help monitor changes in calcification associated with ocean acidification.  During the surveys, 
        CAU plates previously placed on the reef (top plates in photo) are retrieved and new ones (bottom plates) are installed.
Calcification accretion units (CAUs) help monitor changes in calcification associated with ocean acidification. During the surveys, CAU plates previously placed on the reef (top plates in photo) are retrieved and new ones (bottom plates) are installed.

Scientists from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) embarked today on a 103-day mission aboard the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai to conduct ecosystem monitoring and research in the coral reef habitats of American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) from January 21 to May 3, 2015. On the initial leg of the expedition, scientific operations will be conducted at Johnston Atoll, Howland and Baker Islands of the PRIMNM and at Swains Island, and Tutuila Island in American Samoa. The 2nd and 3rd legs of the expedition will conduct coral reef surveys throughout remaining areas of American Samoa, including Tutuila, Rose Atoll, Ofu and Olosega Islands, and Taʻu Island. On the ship's return voyage to Honolulu, surveys will be conducted at three other islands of the PRIMNM: Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. The PRIMNM was created by Presidential Proclamation in 2009 and recently expanded in 2014. The Monument, located far from any major human population centers, contains some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, and thus offers unique opportunities for studying and understanding how coral reef ecosystems function in the absence of direct human activities.

The expedition is part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. Field operations will include integrated, interdisciplinary ecological and oceanographic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems that will include biological surveys of the diversity, abundance, distribution, and condition of benthic and reef fish species and the retrieval and deployment of various monitoring devices and oceanographic instruments. The data collected will contribute to our understanding of the overall status and trends of the nation's coral reef ecosystems and will also complement long-term coral reef monitoring efforts of local agencies.

The expedition is also being supported by NOAA's Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) and the PIFSC. For OAP, the goal is to augment ongoing efforts to monitor and understand the effects of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems, including for example, potential changes in the rates of reef carbonate accretion and coral calcification. For the PIFSC-supported portion of the expedition, the goal is to improve fisheries management by enhancing our efforts to assess reef fish populations in these areas.

During the American Samoa operations, enhanced monitoring will be conducted at Swains, Rose, and Tutuila to support the management of the National Marine Sanctuaries located in those areas.

The expedition will be led by a trio of Chief Scientists from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research: Dr. Kelvin D. Gorospe, Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Ángel, and Mr. Charles Young. 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 and chemical characteristics of the coral reef environment using an assortment of oceanographic monitoring instruments, including calcification accretion units (CAUs) and bioerosion monitoring units (BMUs).

The 2015 mission marks the 7th such research voyage to American Samoa and the PRIMNM (earlier expeditions occurred in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012) and will build upon previous datasets, enabling federal and local resource managers to more effectively manage and conserve reef-associated animal and plant life in this region.

PIFSC personnel participating in the expedition include researchers from the Fisheries Research and Monitoring Division and Scientific Operations staff of the Science Directors Office. PIFSC Partners participating in the mission include colleagues from American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, San Diego State University, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Scientific staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will include terrestrial biologists continuing their ongoing efforts to monitor terrestrial biological resources of the PRIMNM and National Wildlife Refuges within these areas.

 

Red markers (click to display location name) on the map indicate areas where scientific operations will be conducted.