Scientists on the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette Conduct Coral Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Monitoring around the Main Hawaiian Islands

October 16, 2008
Waters off Hamakua, on the northeast coast of the island of Hawai'i, will be surveyed during the 
    expedition. NOAA Photo by B. Vargas-Ángel
Waters off Hamakua, on the northeast coast of the island of Hawai'i, will be surveyed during the expedition. NOAA Photo by B. Vargas-Ángel

Scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette are embarked on a 30-day mission to study coral reef ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). The expedition is the third research cruise by staff of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and partner agencies to assess and monitor reef-associated plant and animal life in the region.

The voyage is a collaboration between the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), the State of Hawai'i (Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources), the University of Hawai'i, San Diego State University, and the National Geographic Society.

The expedition is a component of a biennial integrated coral reef ecosystem assessment led by CRED in 50 U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. The comprehensive, multi-agency research and education effort is sponsored by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), a partnership between the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Ocean Service, and other NOAA agencies with the objective of improving understanding and management of coral reef ecosystems.

Divers will conduct belt transect surveys on the east coast of Maui. NOAA Photo by B. 
    Vargas-Ángel
Divers will conduct belt transect surveys on the east coast of Maui. NOAA Photo by B. Vargas-Ángel
Several species of the stony coral <em>Porites</em> occur along the south coast of Maui. NOAA Photo 
    by B. Vargas-Ángel
Several species of the stony coral Porites occur along the south coast of Maui. NOAA Photo by B. Vargas-Ángel

Scientists on the Sette will investigate coral reef resources of seldom explored or hard to reach areas of the MHI, deploying small boats to reach study sites along many of the windward coasts and near the channels between islands. The work will complement ongoing coral reef monitoring programs in the protected, leeward waters surrounding the archipelago that are serviced by small boats launched from shore. Survey sites will be visited at Kauai, Ni'ihau, Lehua Rock, and Kaula Rock, Maui, Lana'i, Kaho'olawe, Moloka'i, O'ahu, and the island of Hawai'i.

Under the direction of Chief Scientist, Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Ángel (NOAA-University of Hawai'i Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research), teams of SCUBA divers deployed from the Sette will conduct Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) surveys of reef fish, corals, other invertebrates, and algae. Fine-scale assessments will be completed by divers surveying along 25-meter transect lines, while larger-scale assessments will be conducted through towed-diver surveys. Other scientists on the Sette will collect data on water temperature, salinity, and other physical characteristics of the coral reef environment using an assortment of oceanographic monitoring instruments, including data telemetry moorings, underwater moored instruments, and sensors on the ship. The research cruise also supports monitoring components of the CRCP Coral Reef Ecosystem Integrated Observing System in the Pacific.

Data collected by the Sette scientific crew are pivotal to long-term biological and oceanographic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems in the Hawaiian Archipelago. The 2008 expedition will add to information collected during baseline monitoring and mapping surveys conducted in 2005 and 2006. In particular, data on the abundance and spatial distribution of reef fish, invertebrates, coral, and algae will allow scientists to evaluate potential changes in the condition and integrity of coral reef ecosystems in the entire Hawaiian Archipelago and enable Federal and State resource managers to more effectively manage and conserve coral reefs ecosystems of the main Hawaiian Islands.