Scientists complete coral reef ecosystem monitoring work around the U.S. Phoenix Islands

By Kelvin Gorospe

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) recently completed the Phoenix Islands portion of their Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) research cruise. The areas they surveyed included: Johnston Atoll, Howland Island, and Baker Island. All three islands are part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which is co-managed by NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the USFWS. These areas are among the most remote locations under U.S. jurisdiction and offer a unique opportunity to study and better understand coral reef ecosystems removed from direct human impacts.

Figure 1: Launching and recovering teams of scientists from NOAA R/V Hi‘ialakai. Photo credit Kelvin Gorospe.

Figure 1: Launching and recovering teams of scientists from NOAA R/V Hi‘ialakai. Photo credit Kelvin Gorospe.

Figure 2: Group photo of scientific divers on the fantail of the ship. Photo credit Jim Bostick.

Figure 2: Group photo of scientific divers on the fantail of the ship. Photo credit Jim Bostick.

During the expedition, small boats were launched from NOAA ship Hi‘ialakai carrying teams of scientists to survey reef fishes, benthic and microbial communities, and study the effects of ocean acidification and warming on reef ecosystems (Fig 1). A total of 17 scientific divers, one data manager, and two terrestrial biologists participated in operations (Fig 2). For the U.S. Phoenix Islands portion of the cruise, fish data are highlighted below. Blog posts from the upcoming legs of this 103-day research expedition will highlight information from other reef assessment surveys.

Over the course of 13 diving days, the fish team surveyed a total of 102 rapid ecological assessment (REA) sites (31 at Johnston Atoll, 35 at Howland Island, and 36 at Baker Island). The team used a stratified random survey design, whereby the reefs around each island are divided into three depth zones (0-6 m; 6-18 m; and 18-30 m) and the total number of sites surveyed in each depth zone is proportionate to the total amount of reef area found in that depth zone. Site locations are then spatially randomized around the island. Click here for more details on the methodology of fish REA surveys.

Figure 3: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Howland Island.

Figure 3: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Howland Island.

Figure 4: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Baker Island.

Figure 4: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Baker Island.

At Howland and Baker Islands, the subsurface eastward-flowing Equatorial Undercurrent encounters the submerged portions of these undersea mountains to create areas of intense upwelling of nutrient-rich waters that help sustain high biomasses of reef fishes. This is clearly shown in the bubble plots above (Fig 3 and Fig 4), depicting high levels of fish biomass around both islands. Each circle on the graph is centered on a dive site.

Figure 5: Manta rays swimming through a fish survey at Howland Island. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Figure 5: Manta rays swimming through a fish survey at Howland Island. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Figure 6: Fish REA diver collecting data on fish species ID, sizes, and abundance at Johnston Atoll. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Figure 6: Fish REA diver collecting data on fish species ID, sizes, and abundance at Johnston Atoll. Photo credit Louise Giuseffi.

Among other large-bodied species, schools of manta rays were frequently reported around both Howland and Baker Islands (Fig 5). At each site, two fish divers collected replicate data on the sizes and numbers of fish species that swam through their survey area over the course of five minutes (Fig 6). The size of the circle is proportionate to the calculated total biomass of fish (g per m2) at each site. These graphs demonstrate the high reef fish biomasses in these upwelling areas of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Figure 7: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Johnston Atoll.

Figure 7: Total fish biomass (all species) at all sites surveyed around Johnston Atoll.

In contrast, Johnston Atoll, which doesn’t experience this strong upwelling of nutrients (Fig 7), sustains lower levels of reef fish biomass than Howland and Baker. However, its importance is highlighted by the fact that it is known to be an important genetic stepping stone between the central Pacific and the Hawaiian Islands, maintaining evolutionary connectivity between these areas. During our time at Johnston on this cruise, CRED scientists spotted three coral species (Acropora speciosa, Acropora retusa, and Pavona diffluens) recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, CRED scientists reported frequent sightings of overturned Acropora table corals and observed that much of the coral on the northwest side of the atoll experienced recent damage, likely as a result of the large ocean swell from the northwest that came through as we were leaving Oahu at the end of January. Protection of these areas from the degrading effects of fishing and extraction is important to ensuring that the reef can recover from natural environmental impacts such as these large ocean swell events.

The CRED team will remain at sea until May 3, 2015, continuing to conduct coral reef ecosystem monitoring surveys throughout American Samoa (Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega, Ta‘u, and Swains Islands and Rose Atoll) as well as the U.S. Line Islands (Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef). Stay tuned for more updates from the field.

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

Hawaii small boat socioeconomic survey receives high response from fishing community

The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Socioeconomics Program conducted a study of Hawaii’s small-boat commercial fishing fleet in the summer of 2014. The survey was designed to examine economic and cultural aspects of small-boat fishing and to estimate the ways in which the small-boat fleet contributes to Hawaii’s economy.  This study is particularly important because it will provide resource managers with the kind of information that is needed for management to ensure a healthy future for marine fisheries around the Hawaiian Islands.

The study was carried out by PIFSC economist Minling Pan and JIMAR researcher Michel Hing Ling Chan. The survey was mailed to 1800 State of Hawaii commercial marine license (CML) holders and an online survey option was also available.  A total of 828 responses were received, of which 94 (11%) were completed online. We appreciate the overwhelming participation and support from the small boat fishing community. Currently, we are processing the data and working on the summary and analysis.

We will keep you posted on the results and preliminary findings should be posted on the PIFSC website by the end of 2015. Fishermen who indicated interest in a copy of the results will receive the final report by mail. For questions about the study, or to request results from this project contact Dr. Minling Pan at (808-725-5349) or by email (Minling.Pan@noaa.gov).

To keep up with this and other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts

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

Economic and social science engagement at Pier 38 – An ear to the ground

Economic researcher Kolter Kalberg (JIMAR) and Social Science researcher Dawn Kotowicz (JIMAR) visit the Honolulu Fish Auction weekly. They check in with fish dealers, auction staff, and longline fishermen during their early mornings at Pier 38. They check to see how much fish is being sold that day and which boats landed their catch the night before. Dealers discuss the prices for the day and whether they can fill their orders. Longline fishermen who landed that morning are likely to be nearby and are often willing to discuss how the fishing was on their most recent trip.

   

Continued engagement with these stakeholder groups associated with the Hawaii longline fishery has provided the opportunity to monitor changes in various aspects of the fishery overtime, such as when the Hawaii longline fleet reached its quota in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in November 2013

When issues of interest arise for managers or stakeholders of the fishery, changes can be investigated using regularly collected data along with observations. This approach to research with the Hawaii longline fleet has led to several research projects including:

  • Social and economic effects of the first extended closure of Hawaii Longline Fishery. This research is detailed in a previous blog post and on the PIFSC website.
  • Describing distribution channels for longline-caught fish in Hawaii using observations to create a typology of dealers at the auction and then maintaining close observation of dealers representing each category. Check out a research summary and download a research brochure
  • An exploration of imported tuna and its interactions with Hawaii’s locally landed tuna market.

To keep up with this and other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website

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Reefs for the future: Resilience of coral reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands

By Brett Schumacher
Antler Coral (Pocillopora eydouxi) provides habitat for a number of fish, crabs and other animals but is susceptible to bleaching.

Antler Coral (Pocillopora eydouxi) provides habitat for a number of fish, crabs and other animals but is susceptible to bleaching.

Declining health of coral reef ecosystems led scientists to search for factors that support reef resilience: the ability of reefs to resist and recover from environmental disturbance. Scientists recently identified 11 measurable factors that affect the resilience of coral reefs (Table 1) (McClanahan et al. 2012). Reef resilience factors include characteristics of the coral assemblage, populations of fish that live on the reef, land use practices, and water temperature variability. These factors were used to conduct a quantitative assessment of the resilience potential of reefs across the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI).

Table 1. List of resilience factors, measures used for evaluation, and sources of data.  (Boldface indicates factors that can be directly influenced by local management.)

Table 1. List of resilience factors, measures used for evaluation, and sources of data.
(Boldface indicates factors that can be directly influenced by local management.)

Locations of Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) surveys conducted by the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) from 2010 to 2013 were used to designate study units called “georegions” (Figure 1). Watersheds upstream of georegions were then grouped to delineate the area that could affect adjacent reefs through pollution, runoff, and sedimentation. REA surveys provided data to evaluate biological/ecological resilience factors, and external data sources were used to inform physical and environmental factors not directly measured by CRED (Table 1). Data for each factor was compiled, normalized, and averaged to produce a composite resilience score for each georegion.

Figure 1. Composite resilience scores: Colors indicate the score for each georegion and encompass watersheds which drain onto the reef. Dots indicate locations of NOAA CRED in-water rapid ecological assessment surveys.

Figure 1. Composite resilience scores: Colors indicate the score for each georegion and encompass watersheds which drain onto the reef. Dots indicate locations of NOAA CRED in-water rapid ecological assessment surveys.

Twenty-nine georegions were analyzed across the MHI. Lowest composite resilience scores were earned by reefs near densely populated areas on O‘ahu, while highest scores were earned near relatively sparsely populated areas of other islands (Figure 1).

A key aspect of the reef resilience framework is that it can empower local action to improve resilience of coral reefs because some drivers of resilience are heavily influenced by large-scale climatic forces, while others can be directly affected by local management (Table 1). For example, land use practices and marine resource stewardship will affect watershed health and herbivorous fish biomass, respectively.

Figure 2. Comparison of resilience factors that can be influenced by local action vs. those that cannot.

Figure 2. Comparison of resilience factors that can be influenced by local action vs. those that cannot.

Herbivorous fish such as uhu (parrotfish) support resilient reefs by reducing macroalgae abundance. Uhu species shown are Bullethead Parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) above and Palenose Parrotfish (Scarus psittacus) below.

Herbivorous fish such as uhu (parrotfish) support resilient reefs by reducing macroalgae abundance. Uhu species shown are Bullethead Parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) above and Palenose Parrotfish (Scarus psittacus) below.

Figure 2 compares the mean score of locally manageable factors to other factors for each georegion. If a region falls below the comparison line, locally managed scores are low relative to other scores, and resilience could be improved through targeted management action. Factors influenced by local management often scored relatively low, so most georegions in the MHI are below this line. However, each island has areas which fall near the comparison line.

The range in scores affords local management different avenues to address reef resilience. For example, georegions near or above the line could be prioritized to maintain reef resilience, or efforts could be focused on georegions below the line to improve their resilience.

Diseases such as the Black Band Disease afflicting this Rice Coral (Montipora capitata) undermine the resilience of coral reefs.

Diseases such as the Black Band Disease afflicting this Rice Coral (Montipora capitata) undermine the resilience of coral reefs.

Acknowledgement: This work was funded through a grant from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

For additional information on resilience scores or citations, please contact: nmfs.pic.credinfo@noaa.gov

This publication may be referenced as: PIFSC. 2014. Reefs for the future: Resilience of coral reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands. NOAA Fisheries Pacific Science Center, PIFSC Special Publication, SP-15-001, 2p.
Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PIFSC researchers publish paper on social and economic effects of the first extended closure of Hawaii Longline Fishing Fleet

by Dawn Kotowicz

“Hawai’i expected to have less local ‘ahi at year end”

- Honolulu Star-Advertiser headline, 10/7/10

Fisheries closures affect more than just fishermen. It is important for researchers and managers to take into account impacts of their decisions on fish dealers, processors, retailers, consumers and associated industries connected to a fishery since each stakeholder group can experience different impacts from management actions.

Social Science researchers Laurie Richmond (Humboldt State University) and Dawn Kotowicz (JIMAR), along with PIFSC economist Justin Hospital recently published a paper in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management on the effects of the first extended closure of the western and central Pacific Ocean bigeye tuna fishery to Hawaii longliners at the end of 2010. In this paper, they examined the effects of the closure to fishermen, the Honolulu Fish Auction, dealers, processors, retailers, and consumers with a rapid assessment of the socioeconomic conditions surrounding the closure.

The paper uses interviews and observations from frequent visits to the Honolulu Fish Auction along with regularly collected fisheries data to report on the impacts of the closure. Sustained participant observation and follow-up interviews provided details, nuance, and information important to complement analysis of fishery statistics.

The main findings of the research are:

  • The closure delivered important socioeconomic impacts to a variety of stakeholders connected to the bigeye tuna fishery including fishermen, dealers, auction staff, support industries and consumers.
  • Bigeye tuna dealers were among those most affected by the closure. Auction dealers were not able to fill some orders during the holiday season, normally a time of high demand and prices, due to low supply of higher quality tuna as a result of the closure. Dealers reported an overall decrease in fish quality.
  • Many fishery and market statistics for the month of the closure fell outside the range of December values of previous years:
    • The number of trips and the amount of bigeye landed were substantially lower
    • Average trip length and the average price of bigeye were substantially higher
    • Fishermen traveled further distances to fish
  • Overall impacts to the bigeye community were not as severe as what had been anticipated at the outset. Several mitigating factors meant this was not a true closure, as US boats could continue to fish for bigeye in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and foreign and dual permitted vessels could still fish in the western and central Pacific Ocean.
  • In response to the closure, regulations have been established which are likely to prevent future closures, although some worry that these regulations may not support conservation of bigeye tuna, domestically or globally.

The abstract of the paper can be viewed here

Richmond L, Kotowicz D, Hospital J. 2015. Monitoring socioeconomic impacts of Hawai’i’s 2010 bigeye tuna closure: Complexities of local management in a global fishery. Ocean & Coastal Management 106: 87-96.

To learn more about the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program please see our website

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PIFSC Young Scientist Opportunity (PYSO) program accepting applications this February for 2015 summer internships

PIFSC Young Scientist Opportunity flyer 2015

PIFSC Young Scientist Opportunity flyer 2015

The 2015 PIFSC Young Scientist Opportunity (PYSO) program website has been updated with the four new projects available this summer.

http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/pyso/index.php

Since 2009, PIFSC has hosted between one and four summer interns as part of the PYSO program.  These interns have worked on projects ranging from the economic uncertainties of the Honolulu fish auction, to calcium carbonate deposition rates on coral reefs.  During the summer internship, the interns will be mentored by a staff scientist and have the opportunity to interact with other interns that are being hosted by other NOAA offices.

Please share the link with any eligible undergraduate students, or institutions, that you think may be interested.

We are accepting applications from prospective interns during the month of February.

For more information please see the link listed above.

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), Ecosystems and Oceanography Division (EOD), Fisheries Research and Monitoring Division (FRMD), From PIFSC Director's Office, Protected Species Division (PSD), Scientific Operations | Tagged , , , , , , ,