Scientists return to Timor-Leste for reef monitoring mission

By Max Sudnovsky

In the early morning on Sept. 16, Molly Timmers, Charles Young, and Max Sudnovsky of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) departed Dili, Timor-Leste, on their way to Atauro Island to kick off the first day of a five-week field operation. Timmers, Young, and Sudnovsky, along with Michael Abbey from the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Rui Pinto of Conservation International (CI), and Lloyd Lee of Dive Timor Lorasae, spent the next four days in the district of Beloi processing a suite of instruments and installations that had been deployed two years ago by CRED staff to monitor biodiversity and ocean acidification in nearshore coral reef ecosystems of Timor-Leste and removed by Pinto and Lee.

Robert Crean of Compass Charters, Molly Timmers of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), Lloyd Lee of Dive Timor Lorasae, Rui Pinto of Conservation International, and Charles Young of CRED arrive on Sept. 16 at Atauro Island, Timor-Leste, on the Lancet, a charter vessel. NOAA photo

Robert Crean of Compass Charters, Molly Timmers of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), Lloyd Lee of Dive Timor Lorasae, Rui Pinto of Conservation International, and Charles Young of CRED arrive on Sept. 16 at Atauro Island, Timor-Leste, on the Lancet, a charter vessel. NOAA photo

Scientific equipment gets off-loaded from the Lancet for land-based operations. NOAA photo

Scientific equipment gets off-loaded from the Lancet for land-based operations. NOAA photo

The NOAA team is working with CI Timor-Leste staff, national and district fisheries officers of the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), staff from a local scuba dive shop, and local fishers to facilitate retrieval of the suite of monitoring instruments previously deployed in October 2012. The instrumentation includes subsurface temperature recorders (STRs), which are used to assess trends in water temperatures; calcification accretion units (CAUs), which are used to assess rates of reef calcification and accretion; and autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS), which are used to assess biodiversity of reef cryptobiota of coral reef ecosystems.

Later during this mission, the team will collect surface and bottom water samples, which can be used to monitor long-term trends in carbonate chemistry (i.e., ocean acidification) and conduct photoquadrat surveys along transects on the seafloor to capture the benthic composition around the site.

This field operation is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development Timor-Leste Mission, and the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, in collaboration with MAF and CI Timor-Leste. This collaboration will enable CI, MAF, local dive operators, and community members to build local, institutional, and organizational capacity to continue efforts in long-term coral reef monitoring so that future managers will have scientifically credible observations by which to make informed decisions. The field team is based out of Barry’s Place, a lodge with a business strategy based on the ethics and principles of ecotourism and permaculture.

Michael Abbey of the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs scrapes plates from autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) with a spatula; scrapings will be homogenized in a blender, and subsamples will be preserved in dimethyl sulfoxide for mass genetic sequencing. NOAA photo

Michael Abbey of the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs scrapes a plate that was part of an autonomous reef monitoring structure (ARMS) with a spatula. NOAA photo

Charles Young (middle) briefs Rui Pinto from Conservation International and Lloyd Lee from Dive Timor Lorasae on the protocol for taking still photographs (photoquadrats) to record the benthos at set intervals along two 25-m transect lines. NOAA photo

Charles Young (middle) briefs Rui Pinto from Conservation International and Lloyd Lee from Dive Timor Lorasae on the protocol for taking still photographs (photoquadrats) to record the benthos at set intervals along two 25-m transect lines. NOAA photo

Molly Timmers explains the processing of autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) to Barry Hinton, owner of the lodge Barry's Place, and his two sons Micky and Mardy Hinton. Barry’s Place served as the base of operations for the part of this mission at Atauro Island. NOAA photo

Molly Timmers explains the processing of ARMS to Barry Hinton, owner of Barry’s Place, and his sons. Barry’s Place served as the base of operations for the part of this mission at Atauro Island. NOAA photo

Rui Pinto of Conservation International sorts motile inverts that were found on ARMS. NOAA photo

Rui Pinto of Conservation International sorts motile inverts that were found inside ARMS recovered from a reef off Atauro Island. NOAA photo

Atauro Island is situated approximately 22 nautical miles (41 km) to the north of Dili, on the extinct Wetar segment of the volcanic Inner Banda Arc. This island is 25 km long, 9 km wide, and about 105 km2 in area with a mountainous spine and narrow coastal plains. Two deep straits, the Ombai (5000 m deep) and Wetar (3000 m deep), meet at both the northern and southern ends of the island. The mountains are mostly limestone with some volcanic rock foundations. The highest of them, Manucoco (with an elevation of 995 m) is considered sacred.

Charles Young of CRED processes water samples. NOAA photo

Charles Young of CRED processes water samples. NOAA photo

The Atauro community of approximately 8000 people, mostly subsistence fishers and farmers, live in five districts (or sucos). The main centers of Maquili, Vila, Beloi, and Bequeli sit along the eastern coast, and Macadade rests in the mountains. Small communities live in isolated hamlets along the coast and in the mountains.

The team from NOAA and Conservation International very much appreciates all the support that we have received so far from Barry Hinton and his staff at Barry’s Place, Compass Charters, Lloyd Lee, local fishers, and the community members of Beloi who have stopped by to check out what we have been up to. Obrigadu Barak!

Stay tuned for more updates as the team next heads to Beacou!

The field operations team poses for a photo in Atauro: (left to right): Michael Abbey of the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Rui Pinto of Conservation International, Lloyd Lee of Dive Timor Lorase), and Molly Timmers, Max Sudnovsky, and Charles Young of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division.  NOAA photo

The field operations team poses for a photo at Atauro Island: (left to right): Michael Abbey of the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Rui Pinto of Conservation International, Lloyd Lee of Dive Timor Lorase, and Molly Timmers, Max Sudnovsky, and Charles Young of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. NOAA photo

The fastest divers you’ve ever seen: installation of a climate monitoring station at Pagan Island

Text and video by Noah Pomeroy

I wish we could actually move as fast as we do in this video! In reality, this time-lapse video captures a scuba dive that took place on April 23 over about one hour in real time during a recent Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) research cruise in the Mariana Archipelago. This video shows the Climate and Ocean Change Team of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) establishing a 15-m-deep climate monitoring station at Pagan Island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

 

This site and other climate monitoring stations feature a variety of instrumentation, including subsurface temperature recorders (STRs), autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS), calcification accretion units (CAUs), and bioerosion monitoring units (BMUs). These instruments and monitoring installations provide oceanographic and ecological information about coral reef ecosystems. Seawater temperature is measured by STRs, calcification and bioerosion rates are determined by CAUs and BMUs, and cryptic biodiversity is evaluated by the analysis of invertebrate communities found living within ARMS.

The work at each station involves other activities in addition to the installation of instruments. During this dive, we completed a survey of rugosity, or habitat complexity, to document the physical relief of the reef structure. We also performed a photoquad survey, taking photographs along a transect to document the benthic reef community. Water samples were collected to assess the carbonate chemistry of water at the reef and at the surface above it.

Conducting this much work during one dive requires a lot of pre-dive planning and in-water choreography. Before beginning such a scuba dive, each diver identifies the tasks that he or she will complete and makes sure to have all the necessary tools and instruments. Although the team works to execute the dance as planned, unexpected challenges are common underwater. Heavy surge (the back and forth motion of water due to frequent waves) or a very hard substrate can make installing instruments and conducting a reef survey difficult.

Climate monitoring stations are one component of the broad National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan (NCRMP) of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). The NCRMP philosophy is to collect a standard suite of oceanographic and ecological information throughout each of NOAA’s jurisdictions to establish baselines and assess temporal and spatial variability in these coral reef ecosystems caused by global climate change and ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is the changing of the carbonate chemistry of Earth’s oceans due to absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2). This absorption changes their delicate chemical balance, making it difficult for calcifying organisms, such as corals, mollusks, and shellfishes, to produce their carbonate skeletons. Information gathered at climate monitoring stations will be used by CRED staff to examine how the temperature and chemistry of the waters surrounding reefs vary over time and space and how those changes effect the fishes, corals, algae, and other organisms of the coral reef ecosystems at those sites.

The CRED so far has established climate monitoring stations in the CNMI and Guam, at Wake Island, and throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago. In 2015, the CRED will establish stations in American Samoa and at islands and atolls that make up the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Support for these climate stations as part of NCRMP comes from the CRCP and the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program.

Four scuba divers from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division are featured in this video: Jeanette Clark, Russell Reardon, Charles Young, and Noah Pomeroy.

 

Researchers complete surveys of coral reef ecosystems around O`ahu

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel
Panoramic view of Kaneohe Bay, on the eastern coast of O`ahu, as seen from a small boat on Oct. 20 during a two-week mission (SB-13-20) to conduct monitoring surveys of coral reef ecosystems. NOAA photo by Brett Schumacher

Panoramic view of Kane`ohe Bay, on the eastern coast of O`ahu, as seen from a small boat on Oct. 20 during a two-week mission (SB-13-20) to conduct monitoring surveys of coral reef ecosystems. NOAA photo by Brett Schumacher

Members of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) recently concluded a two-week deployment on O`ahu, where they conducted surveys of coral reef ecosystems as part of the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) in the main Hawaiian Islands. These shore-based operations (PIFSC small-boat mission SB-13-20) augment the surveys undertaken during the PIFSC research cruise HA-13-04 aboard the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai, marking the completion of the fifth such research effort by PIFSC in the main Hawaiian Islands. Pacific RAMP, part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, 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.

Paula Ayotte, a member of the fish team at the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, conducts surveys for fish at a Rapid Ecological Assessment site implementing the stationary-point-count (SPC) method. NOAA photo

Paula Ayotte, a member of the fish team at the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, conducts surveys for fish at a Rapid Ecological Assessment site implementing the stationary-point-count (SPC) method. NOAA photo

During the SB-13-20 mission on Oct. 18–Nov. 6, scuba divers conducted Rapid Ecological Assessments (REAs), focusing on the acquisition of data to derive estimates of diversity, relative abundance, biomass, and size-class structure of reef fishes and corals. Divers from the CRED instrumentation team collected data on water temperature, salinity, carbonate chemistry, and other physical characteristics of the reef environment with an assortment of oceanographic monitoring instruments. They also collected water samples and deployed autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) to assess the taxonomic diversity of cryptic invertebrate species on coral reefs and arrays of calcification accretion units (CAUs) and bioerosion monitoring units (BMUs) to assess the effects of ocean acidification on rates of reef carbonate deposition.

Data collected by the scientific staff of this mission contribute to information that provides the scientific basis necessary for sound management of the marine resources of coral reef ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Dione Swanson, a member of the benthic team at the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, conducts surveys for corals at a Rapid Ecological Assessment site implementing the belt-transect method. NOAA photo

Dione Swanson, a member of the benthic team at the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, conducts surveys for corals at a Rapid Ecological Assessment site implementing the belt-transect method. NOAA photo

The final count: cruise for monitoring of effects of ocean and climate change in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands completed

By Chip Young

Scientists from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) recently completed a 17-day expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where they conducted coral reef monitoring surveys at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Lisianski Island, and French Frigate Shoals. These 3 locations are part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site, the third largest marine protected area on Earth and the largest conservation area in the United States.

This PIFSC research cruise (HA-13-05) aboard the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai implemented a standardized set of methods for the measurement of fluctuations in the region’s coral reef ecosystems caused by global climate change. NOAA’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan (NCRMP) outlines the importance of monitoring changes in temperature and the chemical composition of ocean waters within which the coral reef ecosystems of the United States are found. Coral reefs are fragile biological systems that have been observed to live best in specific ranges of water temperatures and composition parameters. Changes in either of these ranges can cause a coral reef system to malfunction, through problematic processes that are familiar to much of the general public. Such processes, including coral bleaching (a result of increased ocean temperatures) and ocean acidification (a result of a drop in the ocean’s pH), affect the ability of corals and other reef organisms to calcify or “build their houses.” Other potential effects can occur, as well, such as shifts in biogeochemical cycles, shifts in species diversity, and changes in the ocean’s food web.

Jamison Gove and Chip Young of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division deploy oceanographic instrumentation on Sept. 13 at Lisianski Island as part of the recent research cruise to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Jamison Gove and Chip Young of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division deploy oceanographic instrumentation on Sept. 13 at Lisianski Island as part of the recent research cruise to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

As part of the implementation of the NCRMP, CRED scientists on Sept. 3–19 deployed 16 arrays of temperature sensors along various reef systems, installing a total of 64 instruments at depths of 1–25 m. At its specific location on a reef, each sensor records the seawater temperature at the same time as other sensors, every 5 min, over a period of 3 years. The resulting product is a high-resolution picture of temperature variability of 16 different reef systems across space (across the archipelago and to a depth of 25 m) and time (3-year deployment of each sensor).

During the monitoring cruise earlier this month, 100 calcification accretion units (CAUs), like the one shown above, were installed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by staff of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. CAUs are used to measure not only net reef calcification rates but also species-specific recruitment rates and the percent cover of corals, crustose coralline algae, and fleshy algae. NOAA photo

During the monitoring cruise earlier this month, 100 calcification accretion units (CAUs), like the one shown above, were installed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by staff of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. CAUs are used to measure not only net reef calcification rates but also species-specific recruitment rates and the percent cover of corals, crustose coralline algae, and fleshy algae. NOAA photo

CRED scientists and partners also collected samples of seawater for chemical analysis, conducted hydrocasts with a conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) instrument, and deployed installations designed to measure specific biological activities that can be affected by changes in the pH of a reef’s waters. Settling plates, known as calcification accretion units (CAUs), are used to measure net reef calcification rates, species-specific recruitment rates, and the percent cover of corals, crustose coralline algae, and fleshy algae. Bioerosion monitoring units (BMUs) are made up of precisely measured pieces of calcium carbonate, the material that makes up the skeletal structure of corals, and will provide a value for how much biological removal of reef structure is naturally present along the reef. Autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) essentially act as “hotels” for cryptic biota living within the matrix of a reef ecosystem and provide a standard method for evaluation of the existing community of sessile and mobile organisms found on a reef.

Including work conducted during this cruise and the earlier PIFSC cruise SE-13-05 to Kure Atoll in July, CRED scientists have installed 100 CAUs, 50 BMUs, and 24 ARMS throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands this year. Because monitoring activities associated with NCRMP are conducted on a triennial basis, CRED will return to these islands in 2016. At that time, researchers will retrieve and replace all instruments. NCRMP is a long-term project, and the goal of this work is to measure change over time. The results from this ongoing project will be available to help the managers of these remote islands monitor, evaluate, and predict the ecological effects of global climate change on the reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Reef monitoring cruise in the main Hawaiian Islands completed: preliminary results from fish surveys

Last Friday afternoon, Aug. 23, the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai returned to Honolulu from a Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) cruise (HA-13-04) during which staff of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) and partners conducted surveys of reef fish assemblages and benthic communities at the islands of Hawai`i, Lāna`i, Kaua`i, Maui, Moloka`i, Ni`ihau, and O`ahu and deployed instruments and collected water samples to monitor effects of climate change and ocean acidification on the coral reef ecosystems of those islands.

Over the course of this expedition, which began on Aug. 1, CRED staff and partners accomplished the following field activities: 1031 dives, reef fish surveys at 237 Rapid Ecological Assessments (REA) sites, benthic surveys at 104 REA sites, collections of 30 water samples and 42 benthic samples for analysis of microbial communities, retrieval of 18 and deployment of 12 autonomous reef monitoring structures, installation of 120 calcification accretion units and 30 bioerosion monitoring units, recovery of 4 ecological acoustic recorders, retrieval of 18 and deployment of 32 subsurface temperature recorders, and completion of 71 shallow-water conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) casts and 69 deepwater (shipboard) CTD casts. Additional water samples were collected for analyses of dissolved inorganic carbon, total alkalinity, and salinity.

Preliminary results from the surveys of reef fishes conducted by scuba divers at depths of 0–30 m during the PIFSC cruise HA-13-04 are provided in the fish monitoring brief below.

Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program
Fish monitoring brief: main Hawaiian Islands 2013

By Adel Heenan

About this summary brief

The purpose of this document is to outline the most recent survey efforts conducted by the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center as part of the long-term monitoring program known as the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP). More detailed survey results will be available in a forthcoming status report.

Sampling effort

  • Ecological monitoring took place in main Hawaiian Islands from August 2 2013 to August 22 2013.
  • Data were collected at 237 Rapid Ecological Assessments (REA) sites. Surveys were conducted at Hawai`i (n=58), Kaua`i (n=37), Lāna`i (n=29), Maui (n=34), Moloka`i (n=39), Ni`ihau (n=26) and O`ahu (n=14).
  • At each REA site, the fish assemblage was surveyed by underwater visual census and the benthic community was assessed.

Overview of data collected

Figure 1. Mean total fish biomass (g m–2)  at sites surveyed.

Figure 1. Mean total fish biomass (g m–2) at sites surveyed.

Figure 2. Mean hard coral cover (%) at sites surveyed.

Figure 2. Mean hard coral cover (%) at sites surveyed.

Figure 3. Mean consumer group fish biomass (±1 standard error). Primary consumers are herbivores and detritivores, and secondary consumers are omnivores and invertivores.

Figure 4. Mean fish biomass per size class (±1 standard error). Fish measured by total length (TL) in centimeters (cm).

Primary consumers include herbivores (which eat plants) and detritivores (which bottom feed on detritus), and secondary consumers are largely omnivores (which mostly eat a variety of fishes and invertebrates) and invertivores (which eat invertebrates).

Spatial sample design

Locations of REA sites are randomly selected using a depth-stratified design. During cruise planning and the cruise itself, logistic and weather conditions factor into the allocation of monitoring effort around sectors of each island or atoll. The geographic coordinates of sample sites are then randomly drawn from a map of the area of target habitat per study area. The target habitat is hard-bottom reef, the study area is typically an island or atoll, or in the case of larger islands, sectors per island, and the depth strata are shallow (0-6 m), mid (6-18 m), and deep (18-30 m).

Sampling methods

A pair of divers surveys the fish assemblage at each site using a stationary-point-count method (Fig. 5). Each diver identifies, enumerates, and estimates the total length of fishes within a visually estimated, 15-m-diameter cylinder with the diver stationed in the center. These data are used to calculate fish biomass per unit area (g m-2) for each species. Mean biomass estimates per island are calculated by weighting averages by the area per strata. Island-scale estimates presented here represent only the areas surveyed during this cruise. For gaps or areas not surveyed during this cruise, data from this and other survey efforts will generally be pooled to improve island-scale estimates.

Each diver also conducts a rapid visual assessment of reef composition, by estimating the percentage cover of major benthic functional groups (encrusting algae, eshy macroalgae, hard corals, turf algae and soft corals) in each cylinder. Divers also estimate the complexity of the surface of the reef structure, and they take photos along a transect at each site that are archived to allow for future analysis.

Figure 5. Method used to monitor fish assemblage and benthic communities at the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites.

Figure 5. Method used to monitor fish assemblage and benthic communities at the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites.

About the monitoring program

Pacific RAMP forms a key part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), providing integrated, consistent, and comparable data across U.S. Pacific islands and atolls. CRCP monitoring efforts have these aims:

  • Document the status of reef species of ecological and economic importance
  • Track and assess changes in reef communities in response to environmental stressors or human activities
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of specific management strategies and identify actions for future and adaptive responses

In addition to the fish community surveys outlined here, Pacific RAMP efforts include interdisciplinary monitoring of oceanographic conditions, coral reef habitat assessments and mapping. Most data are available upon request.

For more information

Coral Reef Conservation Program: http://coralreef.noaa.gov

Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center: http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/

CRED publications: http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/pubs/credpub.php

CRED fish team: http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cred/fish.php

Fish team lead and fish survey data requests: ivor.williams@noaa.gov

Follow this link for a PDF version of this main Hawaiian Islands 2013 fish monitoring brief.

Mission at Kure Atoll focused on study of effects of climate change and ocean acidification

By Chip Young

To be working in Honolulu one day and then be scuba diving to conduct coral reef research in one of the world’s most remote atolls by the next morning is a surreal experience. Such a swift change of pace was the situation recently for 4 researchers from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED). On July 11, Jamison Gove, Noah Pomeroy, Kerry Reardon, and Chip Young joined the PIFSC cruise SE-13-05 aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette at Midway Atoll after an evening flight. That same night, the ship, which also supported deployment of monk seal camps for the PIFSC Protected Species Division during this cruise, transited to Kure Atoll, the northernmost atoll in the Pacific Ocean island chain known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Located more than 2000 km from Honolulu, Kure Atoll is an amazing natural environment and part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, established in 2006 and named a World Heritage Site in 2010.

Chip Young installs a subsurface temperature recorder at Kure Atoll on July 16 with an ulua, or giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis), in the foreground. NOAA photo by Noah Pomeroy

Chip Young installs a subsurface temperature recorder at Kure Atoll on July 16 with an ulua, or giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis), in the foreground. NOAA photo by Noah Pomeroy

Kure Atoll was formed roughly 35 million years ago when the seafloor beneath it was located over the same volcanic hotspot upon which the island of Hawai`i currently sits. A vestige of what was once a volcanic island, Kure Atoll now exists as a collection of very small, low-lying islands that make up less than 1 km2 of land and are encircled by an expansive fringing coral reef environment that includes 167 km2 of banks with depths less than 100 m. It was on these reefs that the CRED researchers conducted scuba dives on July 12–14 to establish long-term survey sites that will enable scientists to monitor the health of Kure Atoll’s reefs into the future.

The goal of this mission at Kure Atoll was to conduct the initial surveys of a broad, nationwide monitoring strategy that was established in 2012 by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and is known as the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan. This plan institutes survey methods that allow for the measurement of how the coral reef ecosystems of the United States change over time and incorporates most of the methods from CRED’s Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program that have been used to monitor the coral reef ecosystems of the U.S. Pacific islands and atolls since 2001.

During this expedition, the researchers focused on issues of global climate change through investigation of water chemistry, water temperature, reef calcification rates, and biodiversity of the small organisms living within reefs (cryptobiota). At Kure Atoll, scientists collected water samples for analysis of carbonate chemistry, including dissolved inorganic carbon, total alkalinity, salinity, and chlorophyll-a; retrieved and deployed oceanographic instruments, such as subsurface temperature recorders (STRs), and biological installations, such as calcification accretion units; and completed conductivity, temperature, and depth casts. The use of each method offers insight into the effects of global climate change and ocean acidification on the coral reefs of Kure Atoll, and after a long-term data set is compiled for these reefs, NOAA scientists will be able to identify the factors that influence ecosystem change and help managers of U.S. reef environments understand the processes that affect their areas of responsibility. Similar work is planned for other islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in September.

In addition to work at Kure Atoll during this cruise, scientists also retrieved and deployed STRs and retrieved other oceanographic instruments at Pearl and Hermes Atoll and retrieved STRs from Laysan Island.