Maintaining historic connections to waters of the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

Mariana Islands map with approximate Islands Unit waters denoted (Adapted from Allen and Amesbury 2011, credited to Barry Smith)

Mariana Islands map with approximate Islands Unit waters denoted (Adapted from Allen and Amesbury 2011, credited to Barry Smith)

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) is a large-scale MPA established by US President George W. Bush by presidential proclamation in 2009. The MTMNM encompasses 61 million acres of ocean and although the nearest human communities are over 300 miles away, its designation has effects on the residents of Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) and Guam.

Social Science researchers Laurie Richmond (Humboldt State University) and Dawn Kotowicz (JIMAR) recently published a paper in Applied Geography examining how the designation of the MTMNM may affect nearby communities. The paper draws on a review of historical records and conversations with 40 residents of CNMI and Guam who had visited or lived in the area that is now known as the Islands Unit of the MTMNM.

A CNMI resident shows the researchers some of his recent catch

The study documented 129 trips to visit the Islands Unit in living memory. The purpose of these trips varied from commercial fishing to scientific research but fishing was part of almost all of them, and returning with fish for family and friends who couldn’t be on the trip was important for food security and to maintain ties to the northern islands of the Mariana Island Chain. The researchers found that trips to the area were rare but important events providing residents of CNMI and Guam with a sense of connection to these distant islands where indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians fished and lived in the past.

Information gathered about fishing in these historical and cultural significant waters was used to inform subsequent regulations on ‘traditional indigenous fishing’, a new category of fishing to be regulated in the Islands Unit of the MTMNM. The authors discuss the implications of these regulations upon residents of CNMI and Guam.

Read the abstract of the paper here.

Richmond L, Kotowicz D. 2015. Equity and access in marine protected areas: The history and future of ‘traditional indigenous fishing’ in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Applied Geography 2014: 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2014.11.007

To see some of the study participants telling their own stories, check out the short documentary, Stories of the Islands Unit from the PIFSC Human Dimensions group.

Download a brochure of research results.

Click here to read a PIFSC Administrative Report describing the project in more detail.

For more information about other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts.

Posted in Socioeconomics and Planning Group, Socioeconomics Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seafloor Mapping Mission: Maui

By Kell Bliss

On 1 May 2015, four members of the EcoSpatial Information Team (ESI) in the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, traveled to Maui to begin the first part of a two-part field mission. The mission involves mapping seafloor composition and coral cover, first on the west side of Maui between Ka‘anapali and Honolua Bay, and second, on the west side of Hawai‘i Island south of Kawaihae Harbor, depending on weather conditions. Both sites are priority areas designated by the State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and within the waters of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The West Hawai‘i site is also a NOAA Habitat Blueprint focus area.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s M/V Koholā.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s M/V Koholā.

Dr. John Rooney, Rhonda Suka, and NOAA Corps LTJGs Kell Bliss and Kristin Golmon met up with ENS Carmen DeFazio to load gear onto the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s M/V Koholā. ENS DeFazio is the current operator in charge of the vessel for the Sanctuary and she familiarized the team with the vessel and in the first few days trained and qualified members of the ESI team to run the vessel.

The Koholā is an 11.6 meter AMBAR with twin 200 horsepower outboard engines capable of being operated from either the flying bridge or inside the sheltered cabin. A pot-hauler is attached to a davit to facilitate deploying the Towed Optical Assessment Device (“TOAD”) over the side.

Towed Optical Assessment Device (TOAD) sled and her cable. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

Towed Optical Assessment Device (TOAD) sled and her cable. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

The TOAD is an underwater camera sled designed to take photographs and video imagery of the seafloor. Ideally, the vessel drifts at a speed of about one knot to acquire high quality photos. The photos are used for mapping the distribution of key benthic organisms, such as hard corals, as well as providing ground-truthing data to integrate with acoustic multi-beam, bathymetric LiDAR (a remote sensing method), and other data for habitat mapping. Numerous partner agencies have provided additional ground-truthing data for this project, including the Division of Aquatic Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology, the NOAA Biogeography Program, and other teams within the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division.

On arrival day, after offloading some gear from the boat, ENS DeFazio, Dr. Rooney, and LTJG Bliss moved the Koholā from her home port in Ma‘alaea to a pier in Lahaina for the duration of the first part of the mission. Lahaina Harbor is closest to the working grounds on the west side of the Maui. Day two was spent testing the TOAD, setting up the scientific gear, and conducting one tow survey.

LTJG Bliss and LTJG Golmon hand-hauling the TOAD and her cable back aboard when the pot hauler died. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

LTJG Bliss and LTJG Golmon hand-hauling the TOAD and her cable back aboard when the pot hauler died. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

The remainder of the Maui portion of the project involved selecting locations to launch the TOAD each day depending on water depth and weather conditions. As with any field project, there were numerous operational challenges to overcome. The team dealt with a pot-hauler that stopped working and had to pull the TOAD up by hand, not an easy task, but successfully retrieved the sled and then installed the spare pot-hauler for the next day’s surveys.

Can you spot the flying gurnard in this seafloor image taken by the TOAD?

Can you spot the flying gurnard in this seafloor image taken by the TOAD?

The data collected on the survey, as well as data previously collected by the ESI team and partners, will be used to create seafloor maps that will depict areas covered by sediment and rock as well as the major structural features such as pavement, aggregate reef, patch reef, and reef rubble. Major types of biological cover will be identified as well, such as coral, macroalgae, and coralline algae. The maps will be available online and will provide important information for watershed and marine resource managers to enable them to plan effective actions to improve the health and resilience of Maui’s coral reef ecosystems. Plans are being developed to improve the health of coral reef ecosystems off West Maui by reducing the flow of terrestrial sediments into the coastal ocean. Locating existing or potential coral reef areas will help managers plan effective mitigation efforts, or any other management activity that includes a spatial component, for example, delineating marine protected areas and anchorages.

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dolphin Storms and Whales and Dolphins

By Eric Mooney

If you’ve happened to be paying attention to the weather in the western Pacific near Guam and the Marianas Archipelago this week, Typhoon Dolphin might sound familiar. Remarkably, the storm just so happens to coincide with the Cetacean Research Program’s (CRP) cruise SE15-02 Leg II aboard the Oscar Elton Sette. The main mission of the cruise is to study the distribution and abundance of whales and dolphins throughout the Mariana Archipelago by using a passive acoustic array and visual observers. The objective is to sight, identify, photograph, tag and biopsy whales and dolphins throughout the Mariana Archipelago. The observers, stationed on the fly bridge use high powered mounted binoculars called Big Eyes to scan the sea surface looking for the presence of cetaceans. In addition to visual observation, an acoustic array containing 6 in-line hydrophones is towed approximately 300 meters behind the ship. At a sampling frequency of 192 kHz, the acousticians listen for whistles and clicks of the whales and dolphins. The acousticians are able to determine the mammals location in relation to the ship by using the time delay of the vocalization between hydrophones. Unfortunately, dolphin storms don’t make finding dolphins and whales any easier and the observer team has their work cut out for them. Sighting cetaceans is difficult in high winds and choppy seas, but despite the conditions the observers have sighted a Bryde’s whale mother and calf, Melon-head whales, Blainville’s beaked whales, and a lone sperm whale just yesterday.

Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni) Mother and calf  -   photo by: Andrea Bendlin

Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni) Mother and calf – photo by: Andrea Bendlin

Melon-headed Whales (Peponocephala electra)  -  photo by: Andrea Bendlin

Melon-headed Whales (Peponocephala electra) – photo by: Andrea Bendlin

In addition to sighting and identifying Cetaceans we are also recovering and deploying a series of High-Frequency Acoustic Recording Packages, known as HARPs. HARPs are deployed to the ocean floor to record whale and dolphin sounds, as well as any other ocean noise for a year.

Chief Boatswain—Chris Ka'ana'ana and deck crew deploying the HARP

Chief Boatswain—Chris Ka’ana’ana and deck crew deploying the HARP

 

Observer Andrea Bendlin on watch, scanning the ocean for Cetaceans through the Big-Eyes. - Photo by: Ernesto Vasquez

Observer Andrea Bendlin on watch, scanning the ocean for Cetaceans through the Big-Eyes. – Photo by: Ernesto Vasquez

The 30 day cruise has been out to see for 7 days so far and with a typhoon strengthening to the south west we have changed course,  heading to the northern islands ahead of schedule and away from the storm in hopes of getting some calmer waters. The Sette arrived at the beautiful island of Maug this morning, but we have not escaped the rough seas.  So, we continued to move north, now beyond our study area and will be waiting to see what Typhoon Dolphin does next.

Posted in Protected Species Division (PSD), Scientific Operations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Whale & dolphin research outreach in Saipan

By Marie Hill and Andrea Bendlin

We represented the PIFSC Cetacean Research Program (CRP) when we visited Saipan 4-6 May, 2015 for education and outreach. We gave presentations at Saipan Southern High, William S. Reyes, Garapan Elementary, and Saipan International Schools.   Students ranged from grades 2 – 12. We talked about the research that the CRP has been conducting in the Marianas since 2010 including some of the results from the research.

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Marie talks about past and current PIFSC CRP research in the Marianas.

The students also participated in hands-on activities to learn about the tools that we use in order to study cetaceans.   One of these activities involved matching the nicks and notches on the dorsal fins of short-finned pilot whales to identify individuals. They also had a chance to practice taking identification photos. Additionally, students learned about passive acoustics and using software to visualize sound.

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Andrea demonstrates how to identify individual pilot whales.

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Students at Saipan Southern High School see their own voices on a spectrogram.

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Students at Saipan International School practice matching fins.

Overall we considered this a great trip. After visiting 13 classes that included over 400 students, we have developed a new appreciation for our teachers and the long days they put in! We look forward to visiting the Islands again soon!

 

Posted in Protected Species Division (PSD) | Tagged , , , , , ,

Night Trawlers and Crawlers — SE 1501 Blog from Team Trawl!

By PIFSC EOD guest blogger Laura Lilly, guest scientist acoustician aboard SE1501, under Chief Scientist Phoebe Woodworth-Jefcoats.

One important aspect of our SE1501 cruise was the nighttime shallow-water (20-150 meter) trawls that we conducted to determine the composition of the mesopelagic layer (small fishes, squids, crustaceans, jellies and other creatures) across the Transition Zone Chlorophyll Front and the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. During the cruise, our trawl team sorted through eight net tows, and highlighted some of the more unusual organisms they found.

Don Kobayashi – Spiny eel (Notacanthid leptocephalus)

My favorite trawl catch organism on this project is the very large leptocephalus we caught on the first trawl of this project. Leptocephalus is the general name for the larval stages of eels and a few other normal-looking fish such as tarpon, ladyfish, and bonefish. They are usually entirely clear but large and leaf-shaped. The odd thing about this leptocephalus was its size. It was so long (well over a meter) that it would not fit in any of our catch processing trays! It was clear, like most leptocephalus I have seen, but it also had a row of uniformly spaced black pigment spots extending down the length of its body. At first glance I thought this was the larval form of an unknown giant sea-serpent-like eel! After looking through the identification books that colleague Bruce Mundy from PIFSC had compiled I saw that there was another taxa of fish that is known to have large leptocephalus larvae. These are called notacanthid fishes, or spiny eels. The ID was also confirmed with a quick email to Bruce back at IRC. The notacanthids are not true eels, but deep-sea fishes with a long tapered body. Amazingly, the larval forms can get much larger (~2m) than the adult size (~20cm-1.2m), meaning that when the larvae settle down to the adult habitat they somehow shrink considerably. The other reason I like this larval form is that it is about the closest thing to a shore fish larvae that we caught on this entire project. I’m interested in connectivity in shore fishes via their pelagic egg and larval stages, but we have not been catching many of those species due to our distance from land. The adults of this spiny eel do not live close to shore, but they do live near or on the sea floor, so their larvae are still quite a ways away from where they normally would live as adults. On a side note, it was a great pleasure working as Trawl Team Lead on this research project and I thank all the members of the night-shift who contributed to the effort. I also have a handful of ideas to make our Cobb trawl cod-ends cookie cutter shark-proof.

This is the notacanthid leptocephalus we caught.spinyeel2

This is what an adult notacanthid looks like.

spinyeel

Melanie Abecassis – “Bob the Blob” Squid (Cranchia scabra)
On our second night of trawling we caught an interesting – and new to us – squid, shaped like a blob. He was still alive and kicking, I mean inking, out of shear indignation at our intrusion in his life. Quickly named Bob the Blob, he was placed in a big tub of sea water, in the hope that he would remain alive for a few days, while we tried to identify him to species level. A Google search for “blob squid” yielded no satisfying result. After learning from trawl lead Don K. that he might be from the “cranchiidae” family, another Google search yielded amazing pictures (try it) of specimens from that family of translucent squids. None resembled Bob very closely though.  After a couple of days, Bob unfortunately died. A picture of Bob was sent to PIFSC director Mike Seki, who is also a cephalopod expert, and Dick Young, retired squid expert professor from UHM. Based on the picture, the best guess is that Bob is a Cranchia scabra. Most importantly, in the words of Kristen G., UH grad student, the main thing to know is that “Bob was a good squid. He inked a lot.”

squid

Jesse Abdul – Cookie cutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis)

I visited the Honolulu fish auction for the first time earlier this year and saw firsthand the damage that the parasitic cookie cutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis) can do to large fish; many fish had deep circular cuts in their bodies caused by this parasitic animal. I was surprised by the amount of damage this small shark could inflict on fishes that were many times bigger than it.

ccshark1

During our SE1501 cruise, we caught multiple cookie cutter sharks in the mid-water trawls. It was exciting to see a live specimen, although the excitement was short-lived because on three occasions sharks bit a perfectly round hole through the trawl cod-end (the bag at the end of our trawl net that collects the organisms), causing the majority of our trawl catch to be lost. Despite that problem, we did catch and preserve five cookie cutter sharks, which can be studied further after the cruise. The catches were particularly exciting for me because I work in data applications development at NOAA, so I don’t usually participate in field work. I feel fortunate to have had several sightings of this relatively rare species.

The mouth of a cookie cutter shark (Photo courtesy of Jesse Abdul)ccshark2

The perforated cod-end of our Cobb trawl, caused by a cookie cutter shark.

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Erin Kawamoto – Ocean sunfish (Mola mola and Ranzania laevis)

During our trawls on SE1501, we caught juveniles of two species of sunfish, Mola mola and Ranzania laevis. They were so cute! These fish have odd body proportions, which made me think that they were slow swimmers, but they are actually very speedy! Molas are the heaviest of all bony fish and can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. They can be seen basking in the sun near the surface of the ocean, and can even breach out of the water in an attempt to rid themselves of parasites. That would be amazing to see in person!

Juvenile ocean sunfish, Mola mola

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Juvenile slender mola, Ranzania laevis

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Phoebe Woodworth-Jefcoats – Phronima

Phronima are small (roughly one inch long) marine amphipods, but they look pretty fierce. Check out the pincers! Their transparency gives them some protection in the ocean because predators can’t see them, and prey can’t see them coming. On top of that, Phronima often hijack other organisms called salps for protection. Phronima crawl inside these barrel-like animals, eat their guts, and then use the body as protection for their own eggs.

A Phromina captured during one of the nighttime Sette trawls (Photo courtesy of Jesse Abdul)

phronima

 

PIFSC Science Operations technician Eric Mooney and UH graduate student Kristen Gloeker also contributed to nighttime trawl collection and processing on SE1501. IMG_2306

Posted in Ecosystems and Oceanography Division (EOD), Scientific Operations

How can an ecosystem approach be used to address climate change?

By Adel Heenan and Amanda Dillon
Figure 1. Potential pathways for climate driven impacts on fisheries systems. Projected changes in climate and ocean properties (top tier) in response to increased CO2 emissions will directly affect human and natural capital (bottom tier). Changes in these aspects of the ocean will affect fishes and their related ecosystems (second tier) which will amplify through the fishery system, affecting aspects of fishing catch and effort (third tier). This will in turn have national level societal and economic repercussions (forth tier), in addition to influencing the natural and physical capital of individuals and fishing related communities (bottom tier).

Figure 1. Potential pathways for climate driven impacts on fisheries systems. Projected changes in climate and ocean properties (top tier) in response to increased CO2 emissions will directly affect human and natural capital (bottom tier). Changes in these aspects of the ocean will affect fishes and their related ecosystems (second tier) which will amplify through the fishery system, affecting aspects of fishing catch and effort (third tier). This will in turn have national level societal and economic repercussions (forth tier), in addition to influencing the natural and physical capital of individuals and fishing related communities (bottom tier).

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), in collaboration with scientists from 16 international institutions, recently published a paper in the journal Marine Policy that discusses how coastal fisheries management can incorporate considerations of climate change.

The projected impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on fishes and fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region are being documented with increasing frequency. In turn, these impacts will directly and indirectly effect both natural and human capital (Figure 1). The risks posed by climate change need to be assessed in concert with efforts to address pre-existing threats to tropical fisheries—such as overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution, eutrophication, and invasive species. What is needed is an approach to management that can more effectively deal with these pre-existing stresses, while reducing the vulnerability to longer-term climate impacts. The challenges inherent in achieving this management approach is demanding, particularly in the Asia-Pacific, where coastal fisheries are characterized by a lack of data, limited human capacity for effective management, and weak governance.

This paper focuses on an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM), which is now widely accepted as a potential solution to the current deficiencies in existing management efforts. The activities required to harness the full potential of an EAFM as an adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification include:

  • provision of the necessary expertise to inform all stakeholders about the risks to fish habitats, fish stocks and catches due to climate change,
  • promotion of trans-disciplinary collaboration,
  • facilitating the participation of all key stakeholders,
  • monitoring the wider fisheries system for climate impacts,
  • and enhancing resources and capacity to implement an EAFM.

By using an “ecosystem approach” to address climate and ocean change, developing countries will build resilience to the ecological and fisheries effects of climate change, and will also address the habitat degradation and overfishing that damages the productivity of coastal fisheries.

For more detail, the full paper is available for download here.

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,