Scientists to Monitor Coral Reef Ecosystems throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago

July 12, 2016  

Coral reef off the eastern coast of Lānaʻi.
Coral reef off the eastern coast of Lānaʻi.

Scientists from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's Coral Reef Ecosystem Program embarked today on a 75-day mission aboard the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai to study coral reef ecosystems in the Hawaiian Archipelago. This expedition marks the sixth such research cruise in the main Hawaiian Islands and the eighth in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by staff from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and partner agencies. Partners participating in this mission include scientists from State of Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, and San Diego State University, among others.

Diver conducting belt-transect surveys to assess coral populations.
Diver conducting belt-transect surveys to assess coral populations.

This expedition is part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program 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. This work by scientists, aboard the Hiʻialakai, to investigate coral reef resources around the main Hawaiian Islands also complements long-term coral reef monitoring efforts of local agencies.

Stony coral assemblage at French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA photo by Brett Schumacher.
Stony coral assemblage at French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA photo by Brett Schumacher.

Scientists will survey sites around Kauaʻi, Niʻihau, Maui, Lānaʻi, Molokai, Oʻahu, and the island of Hawaiʻi, in the main Hawaiian Islands, and the reef systems at French Frigate Shoals, Lisianski/Neva Shoals, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, and Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Small boats will be deployed from the Hiʻialakai to reach study areas, including locations along the leeward and windward exposures, near the channels between islands, as well as in forereef, backreef, and lagoonal locales.

Dive partner from San Diego State University collecting water samples for microbial community studies. NOAA photo by 
        Bernardo Vargas-Āngel.
Dive partner from San Diego State University collecting water samples for microbial community studies. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Āngel.

Under the direction of Chief Scientists Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Āngel and Brett D. Schumacher (NOAA-University of Hawaiʻi 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 will be deployed and retrieved to assess the taxonomic diversity of 'cryptic' coral reef species (small crabs, shrimp, snails, etc.). Other scientists aboard the Hiʻialakai will collect data on water temperature, salinity, carbonate chemistry, and other physical characteristics of the coral reef environment with an assortment of oceanographic monitoring instruments. This mission will also include studies to assess the potential early effects of ocean acidification on rates of reef carbonate accretion and coral calcification by means of the deployment of calcification assessment units and bioerosion monitoring units.

Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (A), Calcification Accretion Unit (B), and Bioerosion Monitoring Unit (C) deployed at Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA photo by Brett Schumacher.

Data collected by the scientific staff of this cruise are pivotal to long-term biological and oceanographic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems in the Hawaiian Archipelago. This 2016 expedition will add to information collected during baseline monitoring and mapping surveys conducted from 2000 to 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013. 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 in the Hawaiian Archipelago, and enable federal and state resource managers to more effectively manage and conserve reef-associated animal and plant life in the region.