Coral reef ecosystems being monitored by team of scientists

Divers begin by laying out transect lines at predetermined locations to guide the coral reef surveys. (Image Credit: NOAA PIFSC)

Scientists from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) embarked today on a 103-day mission aboard the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai to conduct ecosystem monitoring and research in the coral reef habitats of American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) from January 21 to May 3, 2015. On the initial leg of the expedition, scientific operations will be conducted at Johnston Atoll, Howland and Baker Islands of the PRIMNM and at Swains Island, and Tutuila Island in American Samoa.

The 2nd and 3rd legs of the expedition will conduct coral reef surveys throughout remaining areas of American Samoa, including Tutuila, Rose Atoll, Ofu and Olosega Islands, and Taʻu Island. On the ship’s return voyage to Honolulu, surveys will be conducted at three other islands of the PRIMNM: Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. The PRIMNM was created by Presidential Proclamation in 2009 and recently expanded in 2014. The Monument, located far from any major human population centers, contains some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, and thus offers unique opportunities for studying and understanding how coral reef ecosystems function in the absence of direct human activities.

The expedition is part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. Field operations will include integrated, interdisciplinary ecological and oceanographic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems that will include biological surveys of the diversity, abundance, distribution, and condition of benthic and reef fish species and the retrieval and deployment of various monitoring devices and oceanographic instruments. The data collected will contribute to our understanding of the overall status and trends of the nation’s coral reef ecosystems and will also complement long-term coral reef monitoring efforts of local agencies.

The expedition is also being supported by NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) and the PIFSC. For OAP, the goal is to augment ongoing efforts to monitor and understand the effects of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems, including for example, potential changes in the rates of reef carbonate accretion and coral calcification. For the PIFSC-supported portion of the expedition, the goal is to improve fisheries management by enhancing our efforts to assess reef fish populations in these areas.

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Source: NOAA