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.

 

Coral reef monitoring in the Mariana Archipelago: preliminary results from visual surveys of fishes and benthic habitats

By Kathryn Dennis and Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

The PIFSC cruise HA-14-01 officially concluded yesterday, Monday, June 2, when the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai arrived back at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, from Saipan. During this expedition, which began on March 5, scientists from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) and partners conducted ecological surveys, collected water samples, and deployed monitoring instruments and platforms at Wake Island and in the Mariana Archipelago as part of the CRED-led Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP). As a part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA’s Coral Reef Monitoring Program, researchers established climate monitoring stations at 4 islands in the Mariana Archipelago and at Wake Island, where integrated activities provide for long-term collection of data on ocean temperature, chemical composition, benthic cover, calcification, bioerosion, and biodiversity to monitor the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

The volcano on the island of Pagan emits plumes of gas and steam on the evening of April 20, as seen in this photo taken during the PIFSC cruise HA-14-01. NOAA photo

The volcano on the island of Pagan emits plumes of gas and steam on the evening of April 20, as seen in this photo taken during the PIFSC cruise HA-14-01. NOAA photo

From March 25 to May 6, during Legs II and III and part of Leg I of this latest research cruise at Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), CRED scientists and partners completed 100 broad-scale towed-diver surveys, covering more than 220 km of coastline and, at Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites, conducted 329 fish surveys and 158 benthic surveys. Members of the CRED Climate and Ocean Change Team installed 15 climate monitoring stations around Guam, Saipan, Pagan, and Maug, deploying 15 subsurface temperature recorders (STRs), 55 calcification accretion units (CAUs), 45 autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS), and 75 bioersion monitoring units (BMUs)—in addition to installations of 70 CAUs at supplementary monitoring sites and 55 STRs at strategic locales associated with climate monitoring stations and long-term (>9 years) time series. For a summary of activities conducted and preliminary results from REA surveys at Wake Island during Leg I, go to the previous blog post published on April 10.

A cursory review (prior to the data being fully analyzed) did not reveal any observations of notable changes in the structure of the fish and benthic communities, in comparison with survey results from the previous Pacific RAMP cruise in the Mariana Archipelago in 2011, at Rota, Aguijan, Tinian, Saipan, Sarigan, Guguan, Alamagan, Pagan, Asuncion, Maug, and Farallon de Pajaros in the CNMI or at Guam are reported at this time. However, unusual cold-water temperatures (~17°C) were experienced at Asuncion, Maug, and Farallon de Pajaros, as was volcanic activity that originated mainly from Ahyi Seamount located nearly 18 km southeast of Farallon de Pajaros.

Preliminary results from the surveys at REA sites of fishes and benthic habitat conducted at depths of 0–30 m by scuba divers from the CRED Fish Ecology Team during the PIFSC cruise HA-14-01 are provided in the fish monitoring brief below. The islands on the Mariana Arc can be divided into 2 groups: the old southern islands and the young, volcanic northern islands. The summary below also was published on May 23 (and is available for download) as 2 separate 2-page PIFSC Data Reports, one for the southern islands of this archipelago and the other for the northern islands.

Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program
Fish monitoring brief: Mariana Archipelago 2014

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 annual status report.

Sampling effort in the southern islands

  • Ecological monitoring took place in the southern Mariana Archipelago from March 25 2014 to May 07 2014.
  • Data were collected at 178 sites. Surveys were con- ducted at Saipan (n=11), Tinian (n=19), Aguijan (n=10), Rota (n=28), and Guam (n=73).
  • At each site, the fish assemblage was surveyed by underwater visual census and the benthic community was assessed.

Sampling effort in the northern islands

  • Ecological monitoring took place in the northern Mariana Archipelago from April 19 2014 to May 06 2014.
  • Data were collected at 148 sites. Surveys were conducted at Farallon de Pajaros (FDP) (n=11), Maug (n=40), Asuncion (n=21), Pagan (n=43), Alamagan (n=11), Guguan (n=11), and Sarigan (n=11).
  • At each 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 at sites surveyed in the southern islands.

Figure 1. Mean total fish biomass at sites surveyed in the southern islands.

Figure 2. Mean total fish biomass at sites surveyed in the northern islands.

Figure 2. Mean total fish biomass at sites surveyed in the northern islands.

Figure 3. Mean hard coral cover at sites surveyed in the southern islands.

Figure 3. Mean hard coral cover at sites surveyed in the southern islands.

Figure 4. Mean hard coral cover at sites surveyed in the northern islands.

Figure 4. Mean hard coral cover at sites surveyed in the northern islands.

Preliminary results for fish biomass also are presented by consumer group and size class. 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).

Figure 5. Mean consumer group fish biomass (± standard error) at sites surveyed in the southern islands. Primary consumers are herbivores and detritivores, and secondary consumers are omnivores and invertivores.

Figure 5. Mean fish biomass (± standard error) by consumer group at sites surveyed in the southern islands. Primary consumers are herbivores and detritivores, and secondary consumers are omnivores and invertivores.

Figure 6. Mean consumer group fish biomass (± standard error) at sites surveyed in the northern islands. Primary consumers are herbivores and detritivores, and secondary consumers are omnivores and invertivores.

Figure 6. Mean fish biomass (± standard error) by consumer group at sites surveyed in the northern islands. Primary consumers are herbivores and detritivores, and secondary consumers are omnivores and invertivores.

Figure 7. Mean fish biomass per size class (± standard error) at sites surveyed in the southern islands. Fish measured by total length (TL) in centimeters (cm).

Figure 7. Mean fish biomass per size class (± standard error) at sites surveyed in the southern islands. Fish measured by total length (TL) in centimeters (cm).

Figure 8. Mean fish biomass per size class (± standard error) at sites surveyed in the northern islands. Fish measured by total length (TL) in centimeters (cm).

Figure 8. Mean fish biomass per size class (± standard error) at sites surveyed in the northern islands. Fish measured by total length (TL) in centimeters (cm).

Spatial sample design

Survey site locations 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. 9). 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 generally will be pooled to improve island-scale estimates.

Each diver also conducts a rapid visual assessment of reef composition, by estimating the percent cover of major benthic functional groups (encrusting algae, fleshy 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 line at each site that are archived to allow for future analysis.

Figure 9. Method used to monitor fish assemblage and benthic communities at the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites.

Figure 9. Method used to monitor fish assemblage and benthic communities at Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites.

About the monitoring program

Pacific RAMP forms a key part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan 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

 

To download a PDF file of PIFSC Data Report DR-14-009, the fish monitoring brief for the southern islands of the Mariana Archipelago, click here.

To download a PDF file of PIFSC Data Report DR-14-010, the fish monitoring brief for the northern islands of the Mariana Archipelago, click here.

 

Update from the Mariana Archipelago: monitoring cruise completes work in the southern islands

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel
The NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai, seen off the coast of Anatahan, a northern island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, during a previous monitoring cruise in the Mariana Archipelago in May 2009. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

The NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai, seen off the coast of Anatahan, a northern island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, from a small boat during a previous monitoring cruise in the Mariana Archipelago in May 2009. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

On April 17, the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai departed Saipan Harbor and began Leg III of the PIFSC cruise HA-14-01 with a few more days of monitoring operations around Saipan before transiting to the island of Sarigan. With work essentially complete in the southern islands of the Mariana Archipelago, the Hi`ialakai had been in port in Saipan Harbor for a short, 3-day pause between legs of this Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) expedition. Activities to monitor coral reef ecosystems of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) began on April 5 during Leg II of this cruise and work around Guam took place on March 25–April 4, primarily during Leg I. Led by the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), this mission marks the 6th monitoring cruise in Guam and the CNMI by staff from PIFSC and partner agencies since 2003.

Around Guam, Rota, Aguijan, Tinian, and Saipan Islands, CRED scientists on March 25–April 18 conducted ecosystem surveys of fishes, benthic and coral communities, and microbes and deployed oceanographic instruments and biological installations. During Leg III, which is expected to conclude on May 6, CRED staff will conduct small-boat operations for coral reef ecosystem monitoring at the following northern islands and banks: Sarigan, Zealandia Bank, Guguan, Alamagan, Pagan, Agrihan, Asuncion, Maug, Supply Reef, and Farallon de Pajaros (or Uracas).

On a reef off the coast of Rota Island, divers conduct belt-transect surveys of the benthos on April 8. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

On a reef off the coast of Rota Island, divers conduct a belt-transect survey of the benthos on April 8 during the PIFSC cruise HA-14-01, the 6th expedition in the Marina Archipelago since 2003 for the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, which is led by the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

A diver on April 13 collects digital images of reef benthos along a transect at a Climate Monitoring Station off the cost of Saipan. NOAA photo

A diver on April 13 collects digital still photographs of the reef benthos along a transect at a Climate Monitoring Station off the cost of Saipan. Such benthic images can be analyzed to characterize benthic habitat and estimate percent cover of key functional groups. NOAA photo

At Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) sites, surveys for reef fishes document species richness, abundance, and sizes, and surveys of benthic and coral communities study the percent composition of bottom-dwelling organisms in addition to the densities, sizes, and health conditions of coral colonies. During broad-scale towed-diver surveys, divers record observational data on large-bodied fishes (>50 cm total length), percent composition of the seafloor, coral stress, and conspicuous invertebrates. Studies of microbial communities document the diversity and abundance of bacteria and viruses and their interactions with coral reefs.

This mission also includes studies of the diversity of cryptic invertebrates; collection of data on water temperature, salinity, carbonate chemistry, and other physical characteristics of coral reef environments; and assessment of the potential early effects of ocean acidification on cryptobiota (e.g., small, hidden organisms) and the rates of reef carbonate deposition and coral calcification.

Researchers of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division use trays, like the one in this photo taken on April 13, to sort the cryptic reef invertebrates that they collect from autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) retrieved during this current cruise from the nearshore locations where they had been deployed in 2011 during the previous Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program expedition in the Mariana Archipelago. NOAA photo

Researchers of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division on April 13 use this tray and others to sort the cryptic reef invertebrates that they collect from the autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) retrieved during this current cruise from the nearshore locations where they had been deployed in 2011 during the previous Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program expedition in the Mariana Archipelago. NOAA photo

Thus far across the 5 southern Mariana Islands, including work on April 17, CRED researchers during this cruise have completed 66 towed-diver surveys along a combined 130 km of coastline and, at REA sites, 153 fish surveys and 62 benthic surveys. The instrumentation team deployed 4 Climate Monitoring Stations around Guam and 3 stations around Saipan, with each station containing arrays of subsurface temperature recorders (STRs), calcification accretion units (CAUs), autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS), and bioersion monitoring units (BMUs). Overall, no notable changes in the structure of the fish and benthic communities can be reported at this time for the areas surveyed at Guam or in the southern CNMI, in comparison to survey results from the previous cruise in this region in 2011. Additionally, no widespread coral bleaching or outbreaks of coral diseases or corallivorous crown-of-thorns seastars (Acanthaster planci) were observed.

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.