By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel
The Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) cruise in the main Hawaiian Islands, led by the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, is in full swing. This expedition aboard the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai (PIFSC cruise HA-13-04) marks the fifth such research cruise in these islands by PIFSC staff and partner agencies. A long-term effort that is part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, Pacific RAMP is designed to provide a consistent, comparable flow of information to document and report the status and trends of the environmental conditions and living resources of the nation’s coral reef ecosystems in the Pacific. Up to 5 small boats with teams of divers are deployed daily from the Hi`ialakai to conduct fish, benthic, and oceanographic surveys and deploy biological monitoring installations and oceanographic instruments.
Different teams work on different parts of the research program. The benthic team focuses on the marine resources that live attached to the bottom of the seafloor, including corals, algae, and other sessile (or immobile) organisms. Their surveys pay special attention to the level of development of coral reefs around islands and document the proportion of live to dead corals and of bare substrate, the demographics and diversity of coral assemblages, and the health condition of different colonies. It is a real treat to dive on the coral reefs of the main Hawaiian Islands and to admire firsthand their natural beauty as we do the work required to document their status and condition.
The Hi`ialakai left Honolulu on the evening of Aug. 1, and CRED staff so far have conducted surveys and other field operations off West Maui and the northeastern, southwestern, and southeastern coastlines of the island of Hawai`i. The cruise is scheduled to conclude on Aug. 23 and will also visit the islands of Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau, and O‘ahu.