Coral Reef Ecosystems of Wake Atoll and the Mariana Archipelago Monitored

In late May scientists of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) completed a research mission of nearly 3 months aboard the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai In waters of Wake Atoll and the Mariana Archipelago. From March 5 to May 20, scientists on PIFSC expedition HA-14-01 studied coral reef ecosystems around Wake Atoll, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) and examined the ocean environment around the hydrothermal vent system at Maug in the CNMI. This expedition was the 6th mission for the CRED-led Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) to Wake Atoll and islands in the Mariana Archipelago since 2003.

On a reef off Rota Island in the CNMI, divers conduct a belt-transect survey of the benthos during the PIFSC mission HA-14-01, the 
        6th expedition in the Marina Archipelago since 2003 for the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, led by the PIFSC Coral 
        Reef Ecosystem Division. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel.
On a reef off Rota Island in the CNMI, divers conduct a belt-transect survey of the benthos during the PIFSC mission HA-14-01, the 6th expedition in the Marina Archipelago since 2003 for the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, led by the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel.

The survey methods used during Pacific RAMP missions for environmental and ecological monitoring are interdisciplinary and varied. At Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites, surveys for reef fishes are conducted to document species richness, abundance, and size composition. At the same locations, surveys of benthic and coral communities describe the percent composition of bottom-dwelling organisms in addition to the densities, sizes, and health conditions of coral colonies. During broad-scale towed-diver surveys along designated transects, divers record observational data on large-bodied fishes (>50 cm total length), percent composition of the seafloor and its biota, coral stress, and conspicuous invertebrates. Studies of microbial communities involve water sampling and document the diversity and abundance of bacteria and viruses and their interactions with coral reefs. Pacific RAMP cruises also include studies of the diversity of cryptic invertebrates and deploy various oceanographic instruments and other platforms to collect data on water temperature, salinity, carbonate chemistry, and other physical characteristics of coral reef environments.

The volcano on Pagan Island in the CNMI emits plumes of gas and steam on the evening of April 20, 2014 as seen in this photo taken 
        during the PIFSC mission HA-14-01. NOAA photo.
The volcano on Pagan Island in the CNMI emits plumes of gas and steam on the evening of April 20, 2014 as seen in this photo taken during the PIFSC mission HA-14-01. NOAA photo.

Pacific RAMP, part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program, is a long-term monitoring effort designed to collect information on the status coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. Pacific and to detect trends in coral reef ecosystem health and properties. During this latest expedition, scientists established climate monitoring stations at Guam, Saipan, Pagan, Maug, and Wake Atoll for assessment of the potential early effects of ocean acidification on cryptobiota (e.g., small, hidden organisms) and the rates of reef carbonate deposition and coral calcification.

On Leg IV of the expedition, May 13-18, the research focus was on ocean and climate change including ocean acidification. CRED researchers and several partners collected data at Maug, the site of an active hydrothermal vent system, and evaluated the setting as a potential site for more detailed and long-term studies of the effects of ocean acidification on coral reef environments. During the transits between Maug and Saipan, the Hiʻialakai's multibeam sonar was used to fill in gaps in existing coverage of bathymetry data in the region. Research partners participating on Leg IV included NOAA colleagues from the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, and NOAA Diving Program as well as scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California San Diego, University of Guam, CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.