Socioeconomic Monitoring for The Micronesia Challenge: Measuring Progress in Effective Conservation

By Supin Wongbusarakum

Traditional home in Yap, Micronesia.

The importance of socioeconomic monitoring for coastal management and conservation is becoming increasingly acknowledged around the world. Without understanding the impacts on people and communities that depend on natural resources, the effectiveness of conservation programs can easily be questioned. In the past decades, different tools and methods have been developed to help guide monitoring efforts.

Since its launch in 2007, by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme, the Socioeconomic Monitoring Guidelines for Coastal Managers in Pacific Island Countries (SEM-Pasifika) has been used to help develop capacity in designing and conducting SEM-Pasifika_coversocioeconomic assessments in many countries throughout the Pacific Islands. In Micronesia, NOAA social scientists have worked with multiple jurisdictional and regional partners to establish and strengthen socioeconomic monitoring efforts among the Micronesia Challenge countries: Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It is important to connect social, economic, and biological monitoring to accurately assess the progress of the Micronesia Challenge’s goal to effectively conserve at least 30% of the near-shore marine resources and 20% of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020.

Sarigan Island in the Northern Marianas.

The Micronesia Challenge’s 2nd Socioeconomic Measures Workshop took place in Guam from June 10 to 12, 2015. Brooke Nevitt of the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, Michael Lameier of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Habitat Conservation Division, Berna Gorong of The Nature Conservancy, and Supin Wongbusarakum from the NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division served as co-facilitators and resource experts. The workshop brought together representatives from national, regional, and local government agencies with non-governmental organizations and potential funding agencies.

Participants in the Micronesia Challenge’s 2nd Socioeconomic Measures Workshop.

Participants in the Micronesia Challenge’s 2nd Socioeconomic Measures Workshop.

Workshop participants reviewed previous and current socioeconomic monitoring efforts in the region and then identified gaps and steps to improve and sustain monitoring at all levels in Micronesia. They also initiated a discussion on how to integrate socioeconomic and biological monitoring to better understand the impacts of conservation and natural resource management. To support their unanimous agreement on the importance of socioeconomic monitoring in the region, they established a “Core Micronesia Socioeconomic Monitoring Team” with representatives from all jurisdictions. The team will reconvene from September 21 to October 3, 2015 to further build the group’s social science knowledge and training skills and to initiate development of socioeconomic monitoring plans for selected sites in Micronesia.

Sulu-Sulawesi: A Seascape in the Heart of the Coral Triangle

By Supin Wongbusarakum
Bunaken National Marine Park is located near the center of the Coral Triangle region, north of Sulawesi island, Indonesia.

Bunaken National Marine Park is located near the center of the Coral Triangle region, north of Sulawesi island, Indonesia.

Map of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape.  Image: Marine Conservation Institute (2014), MPAtlas [On-line]. Seattle, WA. Available at: www.mpatlas.org [Accessed (03/08/2015)].

Map of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape.
Image: Marine Conservation Institute (2014), MPAtlas [On-line]. Seattle, WA. Available at: http://www.mpatlas.org [Accessed (03/08/2015)].

It is an interesting challenge to contemplate future plans for a vast blue seascape, bright with corals and teeming with fish, under florescent lights in a carpeted hotel meeting room in Manado, Indonesia. The Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape is a complex marine region in the heart of the Coral Triangle—one of the most biologically diverse and most threatened marine environments in the world. In high demand for fisheries and coastal resources, this region is complicated by the intersection of political and cultural boundaries between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. A clear plan for sustainable fisheries management is needed more than ever.

In early June, a multi-national team, brought together by the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF), convened to formulate an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) plan for the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape that balances ecological health and human well-being through good governance.

Participants in the 2015 CTI-CFF Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape EAFM Implementation Planning Meeting.

Participants in the 2015 CTI-CFF Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape EAFM Implementation Planning Meeting.

Rusty Brainard and Supin Wongbusarakum from the NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), Angelina Stella and Paige Casey from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, and Bob Pomeroy from the University of Connecticut Sea Grant Program, served as facilitators and resource experts at the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape EAFM Implementation Planning Meeting from June 2-5, 2015.

Rusty Brainard provides an overview of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM).

Rusty Brainard provides an overview of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM).

Working with senior fisheries officers, monitoring, control, and surveillance leads from the Philippines and Indonesia, EAFM experts, representatives from a regional project funded by the Asian Development Bank, World Wildlife Fund, and other Coral Triangle partners, the team agreed on a vision for the future of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape: By 2035, the Sulu-Sulawesi is a marine eco-region that is ecologically healthy and delivers ecosystem services that provide equitable socio-economic and cultural benefits through generations, by collaborative and sustainable fisheries management across all political and cultural boundaries.

To tackle the key issues on unsustainable exploitation of fisheries, largely due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and habitat loss, the participants identified specific goals for each of the three components of an EAFM: Human Well-being (Socioeconomic), Ecological Well-being, and Good Governance.

Supin Wongbusarakum leads a discussion on linking ecological, socioeconomic, and governance goals.

Supin Wongbusarakum facilitates discussions on objectives, indicators, and management activities to meet the Human Well-being (Socioeconomic) Goal.

Human Well-being (Socioeconomic) Goal:
– Resilient and self-reliant coastal communities through sustainable livelihoods and equitable access to resources and basic social services.

Ecological Well-being Goals:
– Sustainable fisheries and other living marine resources, starting with small pelagic fisheries and expanding to other fisheries at a later time.
– Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape marine waters and habitats are healthy for fishery resources especially in the face of global climate change.

Good Governance Goal:
– Improved ecosystem approach to managing fishery resources through effective governance mechanisms and operational implementation (including capacity building) and enforcement of regulations, national and transboundary, including prosecution.

By following the EAFM planning process, the group established clear objectives, indicators, and management actions as well as identified opportunities, constraints, and key stakeholders for each of the above goals. In closing, the international participants agreed to bring the draft EAFM plan to their country’s stakeholders for internal review.

The workshop concluded with a positive outlook and willingness from all the parties to continue actively working together. The group will reconvene in the fall to complete the draft EAFM plan and begin implementation—helping to ensure sustainable fisheries in a complex and ecologically important marine region.

Bubbles or not, here we come!

By Andrew Gray
Andrew Gray pre-breathes to prepare his rebreather for five minutes prior to entering the water for a Stationary Point Count fish survey dive.

Andrew Gray pre-breathes to prepare his rebreather for five minutes prior to entering the water for a Stationary Point Count (SPC) fish survey dive.

Something was different on the recent PIFSC Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey cruise led by the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED). In addition to the usual scuba surveys conducted by scientists, the small boats also deployed scientific divers that resembled a species of bionic frogmen. Instead of scuba, these divers used closed circuit rebreathers (CCR), and while it may look like they were a bit overdressed for the occasion, there was a good reason for it.

When conventional open circuit scuba divers take a breath of air from the tanks on their backs, they exhale it into the surrounding water and create a burst of bubbles containing CO2, residual oxygen not metabolized by the body, and nitrogen, an inert gas. Closed circuit rebreathers (or just rebreathers) are a specialized type of dive equipment that removes the CO2 and re-uses the exhaled oxygen. The diver breathes from a “loop” of gas where CO2 is removed from the exhaled gas by a chemical filter called a “scrubber.” Three oxygen sensors analyze the gas and a computer-controlled solenoid adds additional oxygen to replenish oxygen metabolized by the diver or add more oxygen when specified by the diver. Rebreathers include two small tanks of gas, one of pure oxygen and a second of a gas to dilute the oxygen called the diluent, usually air for depths less than 130 feet.

Closed circuit rebreather (CCR) diver Ray Boland poses with open circuit diver Kristin Golman despite her loud and annoying exhales.

Closed circuit rebreather (CCR) diver Ray Boland poses with open circuit diver Kristin Golman despite her loud and annoying exhales.

This equipment has a number of benefits over conventional scuba. The efficient use (and re-use) of gas allows divers to stay underwater much longer without having to bring an excessive number of tanks. Since the rebreather is mixing an ideal nitrox gas mix for whatever depth the diver is at, rebreather divers can have much longer no-decompression dive times when compared with conventional scuba divers at the same depth. Also, because no air is released into surrounding water, there are no bubbles or noisy exhalations—and that is exactly why we are using them.

It’s understood that visual fish surveys may be prone to certain biases. One of which is that fish behavior may be altered by the presence of a diver in the water. Some fish species may be attracted to the diver, others afraid. In areas where spearfishing is common, targeted fishes likely react to divers very differently than in areas where fishing does not occur. The CRED fish team specializes in conducting Stationary Point Count (SPC) visual fish surveys, which have always been conducted on open circuit scuba. But what effect do the noisy, conspicuous bubbles produced by scientific divers using scuba have on our fish counts and biomass estimates? By using closed circuit rebreathers we can replace the blaring bubble machines with silent divers.

Diving on closed circuit rebreather, Kosta Stamoulis encounters a manta ray (Manta birostris) while conducting a Stationary Point Count visual fish surveys

Diving on closed circuit rebreather, Kosta Stamoulis encounters a manta ray (Manta birostris) during a SPC visual fish survey.

So that’s where the “bionic frogmen” come in. On the recently completed research cruise, CRED and partners conducted stationary point count visual fish surveys throughout the main Hawaiian Islands using both open circuit scuba and closed circuit rebreathers to compare results. Would we record more fish when using the less obtrusive rebreathers? Would we see more of the fish species targeted by fisheries when using rebreathers and the same amount of other smaller non-fished species like butterflyfish and damselfish? Surely we’d see the same number of hawkfish, those small wary fish perched on top of coral heads. Right? Well, we are only about halfway through our comparison study so it’s too early to say just yet, but preliminary results suggest that we are seeing some differences when using rebreathers and not always what we expected. We hope to work up the results in a scientific paper later this year.

Ray Boland meticulously preps his Inspiration rebreather prior to conducting an SPC survey.

Ray Boland meticulously preps his Inspiration rebreather prior to conducting an SPC survey.

If open circuit diving is so obtrusive, why don’t all scientific divers switch to using rebreathers? Because there are some disadvantages to diving with rebreathers which can make life difficult when conducting hundreds or thousands of surveys each year. For one, rebreathers are heavy and bulky, even for me, a 190-pound 6’2” guy. After coercing your body into the 65-pound rebreather and clipping on another 15-pound bailout tank, regular scuba gear feels like floating on a fistful of helium balloons. You also have to deal with much longer setup and breakdown times, more pre-dive preparation and buddy checks, and significantly more expensive gear and consumables. Rather than have everyone switch to rebreather, we are more interested in understanding any differences in fish biomass between open circuit scuba surveys and rebreather surveys. For now, rebreathers are another interesting tool we can use to help monitor and assess reef fish populations around the Hawaiian Islands and U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean.

Counting Fish: Bubbles or Not? Expedition underway to assess reef fish populations in the Main Hawaiian Islands

From June 14 to July 3, 2015, the NOAA Ship Hi‘ialakai will be the platform for a research cruise to gather data and improve assessments of the status of coral reef fish populations in the main Hawaiian Islands. Led by project leader, Kevin Lino, and lead scientist, Ivor Williams, of the NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), the cruise is a multi-agency effort, involving participants from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources, and the University of Hawai‘i.

A school of unicornfish (Naso unicornis) swarm in the coral reefs off the coast of Maui. NOAA photo by Kevin Lino.

A school of unicornfish (Naso unicornis) swarm in the coral reefs off the coast of Maui. NOAA photo by Kevin Lino.

During the 20-day expedition, scientists plan to conduct approximately 300 underwater visual surveys of reef fishes and habitat, with sites spread widely across coral reef areas in all of the populated Hawaiian Islands, from the Big Island of Hawai‘i to Ni‘ihau. The survey methods and sampling design used for the cruise are consistent with those implemented for NOAA’s existing long-term coral reef monitoring program in the U.S. Pacific, which allows multiple data sets to be readily combined and easily compared.

Scientists survey fish populations using the "Stationary Point Count" method, in which pairs of divers record the number, size, and species of all fishes observed within adjacent visually estimated cylinders 15 meters in diameter. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.

Scientists survey fish populations using the “Stationary Point Count” method, in which pairs of divers record the number, size, and species of all fishes observed within adjacent visually estimated cylinders 15 meters in diameter. NOAA photo by Paula Ayotte.

These survey efforts are primarily designed to improve the ability of PIFSC and partners to generate an accurate picture of the status and trends of coral reef fishes around the Hawaiian Islands, but because the overall dataset is highly consistent and widely representative of reef areas across the region, it is suitable for multiple purposes and is being increasingly used for large-scale scientific research by NOAA and external researchers.

Divers conduct surveys from small boats launched from the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai.

Divers conduct surveys from small boats launched from the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai.

One project that will be investigated during the cruise will be to compare fish counts gathered by divers on closed-circuit rebreather (CCR) with fish counts by divers using SCUBA. Because divers on CCR do not produce bubbles, they are much quieter and a less intrusive presence in the marine environment. Therefore, it is possible that use of CCR may enable divers to get better information on marine species that are wary of divers.

As with all data collected by NOAA, any information gathered during the cruise will be available on request. All coral reef survey data sets, compiled and analyzed by CRED staff and project partners, are routinely reported in post-cruise monitoring briefs and annual data reports.

Seafloor Mapping Mission Part 2: Hawai‘i Island

By John Rooney
A coral reef typical of those we found off West Hawai‘i.

A coral reef typical of those we found off West Hawai‘i.

A coral reef with the long thin branches of Porities compressa coral that often host numerous reef fish. Note the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) near the bottom of the photo.

A coral reef with the long thin branches of Porities compressa coral that often host numerous reef fish. Note the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) near the bottom of the photo.

Our seafloor mapping mission began in early May with underwater video and photographic surveys of coral reef habitats along the shores of West Maui, as documented in Seafloor Mapping Mission: Maui. The second part of this mission, led by a team of scientists from the NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), was to conduct these underwater mapping surveys along the coast of West Hawai‘i.

This specific region off the coast of Hawai‘i Island has been identified as priority site for research and management by the State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources, and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), and is within the boundaries of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. It is also a NOAA Habitat Blueprint focus area and funding for this work was provided by both the Habitat Blueprint program and CRCP.

M/V Koholā outbound from south basin, Kawaihae Harbor for a day of seafloor surveying off West Hawai‘i.

M/V Koholā outbound from south basin, Kawaihae Harbor for a day of seafloor surveying off West Hawai‘i.

The original plan was to transit directly from Maui to Hawai‘i Island, however, rough and dangerous conditions in the Alenuihaha Channel between the two islands made it impossible. Once weather conditions improved, the team returned to the Big Island to continue the mission. The Hawai‘i Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation graciously provided a slip for us in Kawaihae Harbor on the northwest side of Hawai‘i Island.

The first day, CRED team members John Rooney, Rhonda Suka, and LTJG Kristin Golmon set up and tested gear to prepare for an early start the next day. The following morning, we started towing the underwater camera sled system to survey coral reef ecosystems along the approximately 18 miles of coastline stretching from Kawaihae to the southwest. The photographs and videos revealed reefs growing on basalt (volcanic rock) often with dense and diverse coral communities. Toward the northern end of the survey area, we discovered reefs with an abundance of Porities compressa or “finger coral” forming reefs that are more porous than most in the Hawaiian Archipelago. The Porities compressa reefs appear to be a preferred habitat for numerous reef fish that shelter within their branches.

The whale shark inspecting the TOAD camera sled cable and pot hauler used to deploy it.

The whale shark inspecting the TOAD camera sled cable and pot hauler used to deploy it.

The whale shark and Dr. Rooney exchange a close look.

The whale shark and Dr. Rooney exchange a close look.

One highlight of our trip was an unexpected visit from a juvenile whale shark that swam up to side of the ship while we were towing the camera sled. We estimated that she was about 11 feet long and, apparently, very curious. She circled around the boat, checking out our camera set-up and the people onboard. She also enjoyed hanging out behind the starboard engine to bask in the wash of water coming off the propeller. We were concerned that she might swim into it, but the winds and seas were calm and she never got too close.

Despite being a shark, whale sharks are actually filter feeders like whales, gulping in water and filtering it out, to feed on plankton, macro-algae, larvae, small squids, and fishes. We assume that, being a filter feeder, she was positioning herself in areas of strong current, in this case created by the propeller wash, to draw in the most seawater for feeding. Never having seen a whale shark in the wild before, those of us on the M/V Koholā felt lucky to be aboard that day.

The TNC workskiff M/V Kākū.

The TNC workskiff M/V Kākū.

The next portion of our mission continued aboard a smaller vessel, the M/V Kākū, a 21 ft workskiff that was generously provided by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Hawai‘i. This aluminum vessel is well-designed for coastal work and suited our needs admirably. TNC was also kind enough to provide expert captains Hank Lynch and Chad Wiggins, who not only operated the boat, but helped maintain our logbooks and assisted throughout each survey day.

Because the Kākū lacked the enclosed cabin space required to protect topside electronics, we were unable to use our standard Towed Optical Assessment Device (“TOAD”) camera sled. Fortunately, colleagues from NOAA PIFSC were kind enough to loan us another camera system. Rhonda Suka rigged together a Deep Blue SplashCam system with a GoPro camera in a waterproof housing, two LED lights in their own housings, and a pair of lasers mounted in parallel to provide scaling information.

The SpashCam/GoPro camera system.

The SpashCam/GoPro camera system.

The SplashCam provided a real-time video feed from the seafloor and the GoPro collected still photos that will be used to classify the different types of seafloor and variety organisms growing on it. Although lacking many of the capabilities of the larger TOAD camera sled system, the SpashCam/GoPro combination allowed us to continue to operate and the use of the smaller M/V Kākū enabled us to work closer to shore.

We would like to extend our thanks to the numerous partners who assisted with the survey or provided existing seafloor imagery, as well as the survey team and boat captains. This two-part mapping mission resulted in two excellent datasets that will produce maps of coral reefs and other seafloor features. These maps will help resource managers plan and monitor results of mitigation activities they undertake to improve the health of coral reef ecosystems.

Seafloor Mapping Mission: Maui

By Kell Bliss

On 1 May 2015, four members of the EcoSpatial Information Team (ESI) in the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, traveled to Maui to begin the first part of a two-part field mission. The mission involves mapping seafloor composition and coral cover, first on the west side of Maui between Ka‘anapali and Honolua Bay, and second, on the west side of Hawai‘i Island south of Kawaihae Harbor, depending on weather conditions. Both sites are priority areas designated by the State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and within the waters of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The West Hawai‘i site is also a NOAA Habitat Blueprint focus area.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s M/V Koholā.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s M/V Koholā.

Dr. John Rooney, Rhonda Suka, and NOAA Corps LTJGs Kell Bliss and Kristin Golmon met up with ENS Carmen DeFazio to load gear onto the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s M/V Koholā. ENS DeFazio is the current operator in charge of the vessel for the Sanctuary and she familiarized the team with the vessel and in the first few days trained and qualified members of the ESI team to run the vessel.

The Koholā is an 11.6 meter AMBAR with twin 200 horsepower outboard engines capable of being operated from either the flying bridge or inside the sheltered cabin. A pot-hauler is attached to a davit to facilitate deploying the Towed Optical Assessment Device (“TOAD”) over the side.

Towed Optical Assessment Device (TOAD) sled and her cable. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

Towed Optical Assessment Device (TOAD) sled and her cable. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

The TOAD is an underwater camera sled designed to take photographs and video imagery of the seafloor. Ideally, the vessel drifts at a speed of about one knot to acquire high quality photos. The photos are used for mapping the distribution of key benthic organisms, such as hard corals, as well as providing ground-truthing data to integrate with acoustic multi-beam, bathymetric LiDAR (a remote sensing method), and other data for habitat mapping. Numerous partner agencies have provided additional ground-truthing data for this project, including the Division of Aquatic Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology, the NOAA Biogeography Program, and other teams within the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division.

On arrival day, after offloading some gear from the boat, ENS DeFazio, Dr. Rooney, and LTJG Bliss moved the Koholā from her home port in Ma‘alaea to a pier in Lahaina for the duration of the first part of the mission. Lahaina Harbor is closest to the working grounds on the west side of the Maui. Day two was spent testing the TOAD, setting up the scientific gear, and conducting one tow survey.

LTJG Bliss and LTJG Golmon hand-hauling the TOAD and her cable back aboard when the pot hauler died. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

LTJG Bliss and LTJG Golmon hand-hauling the TOAD and her cable back aboard when the pot hauler died. Photo credit: LTJG Golmon

The remainder of the Maui portion of the project involved selecting locations to launch the TOAD each day depending on water depth and weather conditions. As with any field project, there were numerous operational challenges to overcome. The team dealt with a pot-hauler that stopped working and had to pull the TOAD up by hand, not an easy task, but successfully retrieved the sled and then installed the spare pot-hauler for the next day’s surveys.

Can you spot the flying gurnard in this seafloor image taken by the TOAD?

Can you spot the flying gurnard in this seafloor image taken by the TOAD?

The data collected on the survey, as well as data previously collected by the ESI team and partners, will be used to create seafloor maps that will depict areas covered by sediment and rock as well as the major structural features such as pavement, aggregate reef, patch reef, and reef rubble. Major types of biological cover will be identified as well, such as coral, macroalgae, and coralline algae. The maps will be available online and will provide important information for watershed and marine resource managers to enable them to plan effective actions to improve the health and resilience of Maui’s coral reef ecosystems. Plans are being developed to improve the health of coral reef ecosystems off West Maui by reducing the flow of terrestrial sediments into the coastal ocean. Locating existing or potential coral reef areas will help managers plan effective mitigation efforts, or any other management activity that includes a spatial component, for example, delineating marine protected areas and anchorages.