Coral Reef Ecosystems Monitored at Wake Atoll and the Mariana Archipelago

In early March, PIFSC scientists from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) scientists and several research partners embarked from Honolulu on the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai for a nine-week Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) cruise to Wake Atoll, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

On March 11, the ship was on its planned course to Wake Atoll when NOAA learned about the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal communities in northeastern Japan. As the tsunami spread across the Pacific, it posed a risk to PIFSC staff at winter field camps in the low-lying Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Accordingly, the Hi'ialakai was diverted to the NWHI, where the ship's crew evacuated staff from field camps at Laysan Island and Kure Atoll affected by the tsunami. Evacuees were taken by the Hi'ialakai to Midway Atoll and later flown back to Honolulu; all field camp personnel were safe.

NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai in waters off Oahu in the main Hawaiian Islands.
NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai in waters off Oahu in the main Hawaiian Islands.

After departing Midway, the Hi'ialakai resumed its mission and traveled to Wake Atoll. There, researchers conducted comprehensive oceanographic and ecological surveys of coral reef ecosystems and retrieved and deployed various monitoring structures and oceanographic instruments. The Hi'ialakai then proceeded to Saipan, CNMI, arriving on April 2, and conducted Pacific RAMP activities around CNMI and Guam through May 9.

Chief Scientists for this expedition were CRED oceanographer Jamie Gove and researcher Jake Asher. Research partners included JIMAR, CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, Guam Coastal Management Program, University of Guam, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawaii (HIMB), San Diego State University, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.