Coral Reef Ecosystems in American Samoa and Pacific Remote Islands Studied during 2012 Reef Assessment and Monitoring Expedition

Scientists on the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai conducted research on coral reef ecosystems of American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIA) from February 27 to May 23, 2012. The 2012 Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) expedition was led by the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) with the mission of providing an update on the condition of coral reef ecosystems in these areas of the central Pacific. Data collected on the 2012 surveys augmented information gleaned from earlier biennial cruises, which began in American Samoa in 2002 and at the Pacific Remote Islands in 2000.

Field operations included integrated, interdisciplinary ecological and oceanographic surveys of coral reef ecosystems and retrieval and deployment of various monitoring devices and oceanographic instruments. During the first 3 segments of the Hi'ialakai expedition, beginning with the ship's departure from Honolulu, operations were conducted at Johnston Atoll and Howland and Baker Islands of the PRIA and at Swains Island, Tutuila Island, Rose Atoll, Ofu and Olosega Islands, Ta'u Island, and South Bank in American Samoa. On the ship's return voyage to Honolulu, surveys were conducted at 3 other islands in the Pacific Remote Islands complex: Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll.

Divers conducting fish counts at Swains Island, American Samoa, encountered many species, including schools of bigeye 
               trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus).  NOAA photo by Ben Ruttenburg.
Divers conducting fish counts at Swains Island, American Samoa, encountered many species, including schools of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus). NOAA photo by Ben Ruttenburg.

In addition to conducting routine shipboard survey operations, cruise scientists engaged in activities while the vessel was in port at Pago Pago, American Samoa. These activities focused on coral reef science projects and topics of particular interest identified through collaboration with local management agencies. One project involved characterizing local benthic habitat and establishing permanent survey transects in Faga'alu Bay, Tutuila, to assess effects of sedimentation on the benthic habitat. Training was provided to marine science students from the American Samoa Community College, who collected time series of benthic habitat images at the permanent transect locations. The other project involved a spatially comprehensive ecological assessment of reefs influenced by the Vatia and Faga'alu watersheds, using standard CRED protocols. These areas have been identified as priority watersheds by local resource managers.

In Pago Pago, CRED staff members met with several local partners, including the American Samoa's Coral Reef Advisory Group, the Faga'alu Watershed Management Committee, and other collaborators and community leaders. CRED scientists and staff of NOAA's Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary also hosted local students aboard the Hi'ialakai for outreach and education events.

While the surveys were underway in American Samoa, PIFSC released a new report, Coral reef ecosystems of American Samoa: a 2002-2010 overview. The booklet summarizes key findings based on data gathered during the Pacific RAMP surveys in American Samoa conducted by CRED and partners in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010. The booklet is available for download at http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/library/pubs/SP-11-002.pdf (73.0 MB). The new report extends CRED's comprehensive analyses covering the first 3 American Samoa research surveys. That earlier work was published in 2008 as the Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring Report for American Samoa 2002–2006, which is available at http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cred/hmapping/amsareport.php.