NOAA scientists on the Hi'ialakai surveying coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument

August 30, 2006
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Basalt altars, or marae, line the spine of Mokumanamana (Necker Island), NWHI

The NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai is now at sea conducting a Reef Assessment and Mapping Program (RAMP) cruise in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. The Hi'ialakai expedition is a project of the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) under the direction of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (PIFSC, CRED).

Survey operations will be conducted at Mokumanamana (Necker Island), French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island/Neva Shoals, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Kure Atoll, and Midway Atoll.

The cruise is collaboration between PIFSC and the Division of Aquatic Resources of the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Hawaii, and NOAA's National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) / Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS). The cruise also supports the mapping and monitoring components of the CRCP Coral Reef Ecosystem Integrated Observing System (CREIOS) in the Pacific.

Under the direction of Chief Scientist Rusty Brainard (PIFSC, CRED), scuba divers on the Hi'ialakai will conduct rapid ecological assessments (REAs) of reef fish, corals, other invertebrates, and algae in NWHI reef habitats. They will also carry out towed-diver surveys of fish and macroinvertebrates and collect data to create maps of the benthic habitat and cover.

The research is a vital part of long-term biological and oceanographic monitoring of the coral reef ecosystems of the Hawaiian Archipelago, including waters of the new Monument and the main Hawaiian Islands. Data collected by the Hi'ialakai's scientific crew on this expedition will expand information gathered during earlier baseline assessments, monitoring surveys, and mapping operations conducted each year from 2000-2004. In particular, data on the abundance and spatial distributions of reef fish, invertebrates, corals, and algae will help scientists evaluate any changes in the health and condition of the remote NWHI coral reef ecosystems. Long-term scientific monitoring of ecosystem status and trends enables Federal and State managers to better understand the marine resources under their jurisdictions.