The Insular Reef Fish and Bottomfish Bio-Sampling Cruise SE 14-04 Leg I is currently within the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Scientists have visited Uracas and Maug, and are currently at Asuncion. Project participants include the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Department of Lands and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Office of the Governor’s Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality (BECQ). The DFW and BECQ teams depart daily from the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette on small boats to the nearshore environment to collect data for their research projects.
The DFW Fisheries Research Section (Todd Miller, Mike Tenorio, and Trey Dunn) are collecting samples on reef fish and bottomfish along the Marianas Archipelago to examine genetic connectivity and to look at latitudinal differences in fish growth and age at maturity and food web structure by use of stable isotope analysis. Tissues for genetics are focusing on several important reef and bottomfish food species to answer the question of where recruitment is coming from. Specifically, the question is “Are islands from the north or south seeding each other, or are islands contributing to their own recruitment?” For growth and age at first reproduction, DFW is interested in variation in growth and reproduction that may be due to regional differences in environmental conditions. Finally, the trophic aspect of DFW’s research is to use stable isotope analysis to examine the shifts in the trophic position of reef fishes, and how they change position with size/age. This will help reef ecologists better understand how environmental change may shape energy flow through coral reef ecosystems.
The BECQ is a reef monitoring and water quality agency run by the CNMI. BECQ monitors 30 permanent sites in Saipan, 5 sites in Tinian, and 10 sites in Rota. The data collected from this cruise will be compared to the 14 years of baseline data collected from Saipan in hopes to better understand the differences and similarities between the Northern Islands in the archipelago and Saipan. The BECQ team (Ryan Okano, John Iguel, Steven Johnson, and Denise Perez) are collecting water samples to be analyzed for bacteria, sodium, pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature variation. Additionally, they are performing transect surveys to collect a biological catalog of algae, coral, invertebrates, and fish within the 10-15 foot depth range using snorkel equipment.