SE16-02: Re-Breather diving in Samoa; counting fish without bubbles

by Jamie Barlow

Team Redundant” is what we proudly call ourselves; we are the re-breather team on the R/V Steel Toe and silently dive with the goal to count and size reef fish.

Figure 1: Ray Boland and Tate Wester pose for a picture; all gear up, cameras in hand, and in moments will roll out of the boat to start their reef fish survey.

Figure 1: Ray Boland (left) and Tate Wester (right) pose for a picture; all gear up, cameras in hand, and in moments will roll out of the boat to start their reef fish survey.

For the next couple of weeks PIFSC staff and partner agencies will be working off of the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette in the American Samoa archipelago. There are a total of 4 vessels tending divers and 3 of these small boats are covering as many sites within the day as possible.  We need statically enough to quantify abundance but in this 19’ SAFE boat warmly called “ R/V Steel Toe” we are diving on the same site twice…Why? one could very well ask… and the reason is that there is a notion that bubbles escaping from normal SCUBA systems (or “open circuit ”)  could bias fish counts because the noise the bubbles make could either attract or spook fish from the area being surveyed.

Figure 2: The divers will spend up to an hour hovering over the reef and counting fish. Notice the lack of bubbles escaping from Ray Boland’s re-breather unit.

Figure 2: The divers will spend up to an hour hovering over the reef and counting fish. Notice the lack of bubbles escaping from Ray Boland’s re-breather unit.

The CREP fish team is taking this “does SCUBA bubbles effect fish counts?” question head on with a comparative study. And so, re-breathing comes into the fold. The R/V Steel Toe visits 3 sites a day where a team of scuba divers and a team of rebreather divers survey the same site on the same day….. randomly deciding which method goes first at each dive site.

Figure 3: Andrew Gray preps himself for a 75ft re-breather dive. His CREP colleagues using SCUBA are just finishing up their dive , they will be on the surface momentarily and quick chat about the direction of current and the line angle is all he needs before he rolls in. This comparative study is looking to see if the fish he sees has any stastical difference to what his colleagues just saw.

Figure 3: Andrew Gray preps himself for a 75ft re-breather dive. His CREP colleagues using SCUBA are just finishing up their dive , they will be on the surface momentarily and quick chat about the direction of current and the line angle is all he needs before he rolls in. This comparative study is looking to see if the fish he sees has any statistical difference to what his colleagues just saw.

The “Team Redundant” nickname refers to the, thorough planning, extra safety precautions, backup safety equipment and a 16 action item checklist that each re-breather diver completes prior to each dive. This check list runs thru the opening of valves, checking of sensors and calibrating dive computers and when everything checks out; each diver dons their 75 pound re-breather and breathes off the unit for 5 minutes before rolling of the boat slate-in-hand.

Figure 4: Andrew Gray and Tate Wester thoroughly examine and check their re-breather units prior to each dive. They are in the middle of their 16 action item checklist; demonstrating safe and best practices for closed circuit diving.

Figure 4: Andrew Gray (back) and Tate Wester (front) thoroughly examine and check their re-breather units prior to each dive. They are in the middle of their 16 action item checklist; demonstrating safe and best practices for closed circuit diving.

As the Coxswain , I read off the their 16 action item checklist , but I have no idea what each action is, means or requires the diver to conduct. However I hear “check” from each diver before we move to the next item. It’s obvious to me that years of rigorous training and a careful, methodical and observant personality give each diver the edge they need to safely dive with re-breathers. However for Andrew Gray, Ray Boland and Tate Wester , or as they affectionately call themselves “Team Redundant”  this silent diving is just another effective methodology to count and size Samoa’s reef fish.

Figure 5: “Team Redundant” hard at work

Figure 5: “Team Redundant” hard at work

Posted in coral reef ecosystem, Scientific Operations | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

SE16-02: Training Collaborators in American Samoa to Conduct Reef Fish Surveys

by Paula Ayotte

On April 4, 2016, I traveled to American Samoa to train partner scientists on methods used to conduct fish and benthic surveys, ultimately preparing them to join the Reef Fish Survey cruise (SE-16-02) aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette. The NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program (CREP) is leading this research cruise, but it is a multi-agency partnership—bringing together participants from the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Training blog (1)

Scientists taking a fish identification test.

Monitoring data collected by the CREP fish team are used to assess the status and trends of coral reef fish populations. This requires high standardized data collection methods. In order to collect high quality data for the CREP fish team, divers must undergo rigorous training in the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) fish stationary point count (SPC) survey method. The purpose of the training is for survey divers to develop the required skills in fish identification, fish size estimation, the survey method protocol and visually estimating benthic cover (coral, algae, crustose coralline algae, and sand), urchin counts, and habitat complexity.

I launched our comprehensive new online training package for the first time at the recent training course, hosted by the DMWR, with broader support from the American Samoa Coral Reef Advisory Group (CRAG) appointed by the Governor. The participation of DWMR partners also requires them to acquire reciprocity to dive with NOAA divers. NOAA CREP and DWMR fulfilled this requirement ahead of the training course so that our respective monitoring programs can work more collaboratively in future.

Participants in this week-long training included: Alice Lawrence, the Coral Reef Monitoring Fish Ecologist for the American Samoa Coral Reef Advisory Group (CRAG-DMWR); Motusaga Vaeoso, a coral reef monitoring technician and marine debris project coordinator (CRAG-DMWR); and Brittney Honisch, a research technician at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. Several other scientists from DMWR as well as the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency attended the first introductory day of classroom training.

After a full day of classroom training where scientists reviewed the methods, practiced counting and sizing fish, took a fish identification test, and ran a practice survey transect, they were ready to get in the water. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and the scientists spent the next three days diving off the DMWR boat in the waters around Tutuila. By the third day of diving the new survey divers felt comfortable and confident with the survey method and also practiced in-water emergency dive rescue skills.

On the final day, the divers returned to the classroom to practice entering their data into the database, review photos they had taken during the dives, and take one last fish identification test… which they all passed with flying colors! All three of these trainees will now join the CREP fish team on the Oscar Elton Sette to collect data for the NMFS reef fish survey cruise.

Training blog (11)

Scientists taking a fish identification test.

The CREP fish rapid ecological assessment training materials used during the training are now available online at: http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cred/survey_methods/fish_surveys/rapid_ecological_assessment_of_fish-survey_method_training.php.

Training blog (12)

Motu Vaeoso, Paula Ayotte, Brittney Honisch, and Alice Lawrence with coxswain Hanipale Hanipale (DMWR Enforcement).

 

Posted in coral reef ecosystem | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SE16-01: Samoa Researchers Join the NOAA Samoa Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise

The final leg of SE16-01, the Samoa Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise, took place around the islands of Upolu, Manono, and Savai’i, Samoa.  During this leg, researchers from 2 Samoa agencies, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) joined the cruise.  Both agencies brought their own research agendas to the cruise but also assisted the NOAA researchers in their mission.

Figure 1. NOAA and MNRE researchers conduct coral bleaching survey using snorkel.

Figure 1. NOAA and MNRE researchers conduct coral bleaching survey using snorkel.

MNRE assigned 2 researchers to conduct coral bleaching and seagrass surveys.  Coral bleaching surveys by MAF and NOAA researchers took place via snorkel at 23 sites around Savai’i and Upolu (Fig 1).  Preliminary findings indicate:

  • the reef slope is not as affected by bleaching as the reef flat:
    • reef slope = 10% bleached with 10% severity and primarily Pocillopora species
    • reef flat – 20% bleached with 25% severity and primarily Acropora (Fig. 2)
  • the 2015 bleaching event was more severe (60-70% bleached corals) then the current event.
  • in general, Samoa does not appear to be experiencing bleaching as severe as other places in the South Pacific (e.g. GBR) however, it is important to note that there is minor bleaching related to increased water temperature.
Figure 2. Bleaching of Acropora on the east side of Savai’i. Notice the bleaching of the branch tips.

Figure 2. Bleaching of Acropora on the east side of Savai’i. Notice the bleaching of the branch tips.

MNRE also conducted a seagrass snorkel survey around Manono tai Island.  The entire island was surveyed in one day (Maria Satoa is an extreme seagrass snorkel surveyor) (Fig. 3)!  Preliminary findings indicate:

  • confirmed 2 species of seagrass around the island (Halophila ovalis and Syringodium isoetifolium)
  • both species were found in shallower water but Syringodium isoetifolium was less abundant in deeper water
  • the SW side of the island had the greatest seagrass density (90% coverage) and the SE had the lowest density(2%)
  • both species on the western-most point of the island had cyanobacteria growing on the leaves (Fig.4)
Figure 3. MNRE staff surveying the seagrass beds and collect samples around Manono tai Island.

Figure 3. MNRE staff surveying the seagrass beds and collect samples around Manono tai Island.

Figure 4. NOAA and MNRE researchers consult about cyanobacteria growing on seagrass leaves.

Figure 4. NOAA and MNRE researchers consult about cyanobacteria growing on seagrass leaves.

MAF supplied a large amount of fishing ‘local knowledge’ and provided many staff members for NOAA operations.  They participated in bottomfishing operations from small boats, spearfishing, and the 2 MNRE surveys (Fig. 5).  At the end of each day they jumped in and assisted with the tedious and sometimes messy fish processing.  They also took the opportunity to search for many of the nearshore and offshore fish aggregating devices (FADs).  Unfortunately, only 1 of the nearshore FADs and none of the offshore FADs were still in place.

Figure 5. MAF staff participating in the various SE16-01 operations.

Figure 5. MAF staff participating in the various SE16-01 operations.

Over the last 10 days the ship’s complement was exposed to many aspects of Samoan culture.  We learned how to shred coconuts, the names of Samoan fish and fishing techniques and our vocabulary greatly expanded😉.  It’s been an honor and privilege to work with the Samoa researchers (Fig. 6) and we look forward to many more collaborative efforts.  For more on this collaborative effort, check out:

http://www.samoaobserver.ws/en/13_04_2016/local/4882/Local-scientists-benefit-from-international-project.htm

Fa’afetai.

Figure 6. MAF staff, keeping things safe!

Figure 6. MAF staff, keeping things safe!

For a cruise overview, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 1 – Outreach event with American Samoa Community College Students, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 2 – Secretary of the Office of Samoan Affairs, District Governor of Manu’a, and District Governor of American Samoa East District visit the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette in Pago Pago, American Samoa, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 3 – Nightlight fishing for atule in American Samoa, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 4 – Bottomfishing for samples, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 5 – Spearfishing for samples, click here.

 

 

Posted in Fisheries Research and Monitoring, Scientific Operations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SE16-01: Spearfishing for samples

Coral reef fishes represent a highly diverse and economically important component of tropical marine fauna globally. Coral reef fisheries support coastal communities and island nations across the Indo-Pacific, including US jurisdictions in the Central, Western and South Pacific. Species on coral reefs live in the shallow coastal environment and have a wide range of body sizes, color patterns, life spans and reproductive strategies. Understanding the life history strategies of harvested species is very important for enhancing our ability to sustainably manage coral reef fisheries. Several decades ago, it was commonly believed that most coral reef fish species were short-lived (lifespans of only a few years) because there were so many conspicuous species competing for similar resources. However, once scientists started using otoliths to age tropical fishes, we learned that many families lived unexpectedly long lives, up to 30 years or more. Even more surprising has been the more recent investigation of changes in lifespan and maximum body size across different areas. Investigating spatial variation in life history traits of harvested coral reef fishes is a major objective of the Samoa Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise.

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Diver with spear

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Diver with speared fish around belt

Fish life history strategies change across space as a response to changes in the environment (for example: ocean temperature, primary productivity, habitat distribution and availability, level of competition with other species for resources). Hence, fish from low latitudes with warm ocean temperatures will often be short-lived and smaller-bodied on average, whereas the same species from a slightly higher latitude (colder ocean temperatures generally) will be longer-lived and reach a larger body size. These metabolic changes to growth rate and life span are important to fisheries yields, and scientists onboard the Samoan Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise are working to better understand these changes.

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Terminal male bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus)

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Spearfishing operations on the small boats

During this research cruise aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette, we are targeting several species of coral reef fish for life history research. Among these is the bullethead parrotfish Chlorurus spilurus. This species, with its similar sister species Chlorurus sordidus, spans from the Northern Red Sea to the Hawaiian Islands to French Polynesia to southern Africa and is among of the most common parrotfish species in the world. Collections of these species have been undertaken at 30 locations across their entire range spanning from highly populated areas to remote uninhabited islands (for example, Rose Atoll) to better understand the magnitude and influence of certain environmental drivers of life history variation. So far we’ve learned that maximum age and maximum body size can more than double from one location to another. That means that a particular species might reach over twice as big and twice as old as the same species in a different location!

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Spearfisher looking for fish

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Bumphead parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) awaiting processing

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PIFSC Scientist, Brett Taylor (left) removed otiliths from fish while Cassie Pardee records data

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

PIFSC Scientist, Brett Taylor (left) removed otoliths from fish while Cassie Pardee (middle) assists and Louise Giuseffi (right) records data

For a cruise overview, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 1 – Outreach event with American Samoa Community College Students, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 2 – Secretary of the Office of Samoan Affairs, District Governor of Manu’a, and District Governor of American Samoa East District visit the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette in Pago Pago, American Samoa, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 3 – Nightlight fishing for atule in American Samoa, click here.

To read about the SE16-01 Blog 4 – Bottomfishing for samples, click here.

 

Posted in Fisheries Research and Monitoring, Scientific Operations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PIFSC Web-Based GIS Mapping Tools Go Live

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) has launched a series of new web-based geographic information system (GIS) mapping tools for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM). To access the tools, click on the following link: MTMNM ArcGIS Online Mapping Tools

MTMNM mapping tool screenshot 1

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Pilot Mapping Project team consists of Risa Oram (Project Lead), Bryan Dieter (Lead GIS Specialist), Annette DesRochers (Data Manager) and Tomoko Acoba (GIS Specialist). Our regional contacts for the tool include Michael Trianni in Saipan and Eric Cruz in Guam. The project is supported with NMFS Marine National Monument funding.

Phase 1 of this pilot project began in January 2015 with a goal to improve access to PIFSC data collected in the Mariana Archipelago through the use of online mapping tools. The need for this project was identified during a 2013 PIFSC Monuments Science research planning workshop in Saipan. The long-term goal for these tools is to serve as a repository and data dissemination portal for PIFSC geospatial data collected within the Marine National Monuments. As a pilot project, this effort focuses on building a framework that includes the appropriate technology and data management workflows. The result of phase 1 is a collection of thematic online mapping tools highlighting various PIFSC objectives, including fisheries research, cetacean surveys, coral reef monitoring, benthic habitat mapping, oceanographic information and PIFSC research cruises. These data are distributed using a combination of ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Server technologies. In addition to providing the online platform for viewing these data, the tools also include the ability to download data, access InPort metadata, perform data queries, and create printable maps and figures.

MTMNM mapping tool screenshot 2

In 2016, as we transition into Phase 2 of the project, we have recently partnered with NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) Monuments and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to customize the application by consolidating the individual thematic maps into a single interface that allows the user to choose which data types to display. We are also expanding the tool to additional regions within the U.S. Pacific Islands, adding new data for the existing Marianas region, expanding the capabilities of the tool, and improving the data management workflow. We are currently seeking additional partnering opportunities. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating.

For more information about PIFSC: http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/

Project Contacts

Honolulu:
Risa Oram, Project Lead
Phone: (808) 725-5348
Email: risa.oram@noaa.gov

Bryan Dieter, Lead GIS Specialist
Phone: (808) 725-5536
Email: bryan.dieter@noaa.gov

Saipan:
Michael Trianni, CNMI Liaison
Phone: (670) 285-0014
Email: michael.trianni@noaa.gov

Guam:
Eric Cruz, Guam Liaison
Phone: (671) 797-0801
Email: eric.cruz@noaa.gov

Posted in coral reef ecosystem, Ecosystems and Oceanography, Fisheries Research and Monitoring, Protected Species, Scientific Operations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2016 Marianas Humpback Whales – She’s Baaaack!

by Marie C. Hill, Amanda L. Bradford, Allan D. Ligon, and Adam C. Ü

During 29 February – 14 March 2016, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Cetacean Research Program (CRP) was on Saipan to expand our surveys from last year searching for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).  Two cetacean researchers who study humpback whales in other parts of the world joined us this year for most of the survey period.  Robert Brownell (Southwest Fisheries Science Center) led an effort to conduct shore-based scans for humpback whales, and Sarah Mallette (Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center) assisted with both the shore- and boat- based surveys.

We were on the water nine days from 2-13 March and encountered humpback whales during four of those days.  Unlike last year, when the majority of our humpback whale sightings were over Chalan Kanoa (CK) Reef (3-5 nmi west of Saipan), this year all but one of our humpback whale sightings were on Marpi Reef (7-10 nmi north of Saipan) despite our repeated searches over CK Reef (Figure 1).

Figure 1_Marianas 2016-winter tracks and sightings (1)

Figure 1: Survey tracklines (grey lines) and cetacean sightings during our 2016 (2-13 March) small-boat surveys.

We had six encounters with five humpback whale mom-calf pairs.  We collected biopsy samples from all of the moms.  We took fluke photos of one of the moms and discovered something very exciting!  She matches an individual that was photographed in 2007 on Marpi Reef during a shipboard survey called the Mariana Islands Sea Turtle and Cetacean Survey (MISTCS) (Fulling et al. 2011) (Figure 2).

Figure 2_2007-2016 fluke match

Figure 2: She’s baaaack! A female humpback whale matched between sightings in 2007 and 2016. She was accompanied by a young-of-the-year calf in 2016 (Photo credit: Adam Ü-2007 and Marie Hill-2016).

In addition to our small-boat surveys, we attempted to survey from shore on several days, including when the conditions were too rough for us to go out on the water (Figure 3).  On 8 March, Allan and Adam flew to Tinian to look from shore while Bob, Sarah, Amanda, and Marie broke up into two teams and surveyed from the Saipan shore.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any humpback whales during our shore surveys.

Figure 3_Marianas 2016-winter shore stations

Figure 3: Shore survey locations (black triangle) around Saipan and Tinian (Photo credit: Amanda Bradford, Marie Hill, and Allan Ligon).

In addition to humpback whales, we encountered two other species during our surveys.  We had two encounters with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). During the first encounter we saw three individuals, two of which are in our photo-id catalog.  We collected a biopsy sample from one individual that we first saw in April 2014 off Aguijan (Goat Island), then off Tinian in June 2014, but had not biopsied before (Figure 4).  The second bottlenose dolphin encounter was with 10 individuals that only stayed near the boat for a couple minutes before vanishing in the rough seas.  Unfortunately, the quickness of the encounter meant we were unable to obtain any photos or biopsy samples.

Figure 4_bottlenose dolphin match

Figure 4: Bottlenose dolphin (catalog ID: TtMI-46) re-sighted for the third time and biopsy sampled for the first time in 2016 (Photo credit: Daniel Webster-April 2014 and Marie Hill-June 2014, March 2016).

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) were the third species we encountered (Figure 5).  We saw one group off the east side of Tinian and had six sightings off Saipan, including two on Marpi Reef where we see them regularly during our summer surveys (Figure 1).  One spinner dolphin group was observed during a shore survey on the west side Saipan.

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Figure 5: Spinner dolphins encountered near the boat channel off the west side of Saipan (Photo credit: Marie Hill).

Have you seen humpback whales in the Marianas?  We are interested in hearing about it.  Add your observations to our iNaturalist project of Humpback Whales of the Mariana Islands.

This research was conducted under NMFS permit 15240 and CNMI DFW license no. 03292-2016 issued to PIFSC CRP. Funding was provided by Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, PIFSC, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.  We would like to thank those individuals and organizations that provided us logistical support, including Mike Trianni (PIFSC CNMI), Steve McKagan (PIRO CNMI), the CNMI DFW, Sam Markos, Benigno Sablan, Ymanuel Sablan, Aesha Sablan, and Claire Sablan (owner, captains, and crew of the Sea Hunter), and the Hyatt Regency. We would also like to thank Robert Brownell and Sarah Mallette for participating in the surveys.

Posted in Protected Species | Tagged , , , , , ,