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 main Hawaiian Islands underway

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel
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A coral reef off the eastern coast of Lāna`i, as seen in this photo taken during the last Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program cruise conducted in the main Hawaiian Islands in 2010. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

The Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) cruise in the main Hawaiian Islands, led by the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, is in full swing. This expedition aboard the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai (PIFSC cruise HA-13-04) marks the fifth such research cruise in these islands by PIFSC staff and partner agencies. A long-term effort that is part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, Pacific RAMP is designed to provide a consistent, comparable flow of information to document and report the status and trends of the environmental conditions and living resources of the nation’s coral reef ecosystems in the Pacific. Up to 5 small boats with teams of divers are deployed daily from the Hi`ialakai to conduct fish, benthic, and oceanographic surveys and deploy biological monitoring installations and oceanographic instruments.

Different teams work on different parts of the research program. The benthic team focuses on the marine resources that live attached to the bottom of the seafloor, including corals, algae, and other sessile (or immobile) organisms. Their surveys pay special attention to the level of development of coral reefs around islands and document the proportion of live to dead corals and of bare substrate, the demographics and diversity of coral assemblages, and the health condition of different colonies. It is a real treat to dive on the coral reefs of the main Hawaiian Islands and to admire firsthand their natural beauty as we do the work required to document their status and condition.

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A diver conducts a belt-transect survey of the benthos on a reef off the eastern coast of Maui during the main Hawaiian Islands Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program cruise in 2008. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

The Hi`ialakai left Honolulu on the evening of Aug. 1, and CRED staff so far have conducted surveys and other field operations off West Maui and the northeastern, southwestern, and southeastern coastlines of the island of Hawai`i. The cruise is scheduled to conclude on Aug. 23 and will also visit the islands of Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau, and O‘ahu.

Researchers complete surveys of coral disease off the north shore of Kaua`i

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Members of the benthic team of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) returned to Honolulu on May 8 from a week-long deployment on Kaua`i, where they conducted surveys as part of a project funded by PISFC and NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) to better understand the prevalence and spatial distribution of an outbreak of bacterial coral disease that was reported in 2012 for areas off the north shore of Kaua`i.

Benthic team member and NOAA diver Hatsue Bailey conducts coral disease surveys using the belt-transect method on May 4 in Hanalei Bay, Kaua`i. NOAA photo Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Benthic team member and NOAA diver Hatsue Bailey conducts coral disease surveys using the belt-transect method on May 4 in Hanalei Bay, Kaua`i. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

A 4-member team of CRED scientists—Hatsue Bailey, Matt Dunlap, Brett Schumacher, and Bernardo Vargas-Ángel—conducted surveys on April 30–May 7 at 36 sites in Hanalei Bay, Wainiha Bay, and `Anini Reef to acquire detailed data on demographics and health conditions of coral communities in these areas. This survey effort expanded and complemented the investigations already undertaken by Thierry Work, PhD, of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and Greta Aeby, PhD, of the Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. The team completed belt-transect surveys at predetermined reef locales and sites, which were selected in consultation with scientists from partner agencies, the USGS and HIMB, as well as with other local experts. The data from these surveys will be used to provide the basis for quantitative estimates of disease prevalence. These surveys and their data are congruent with current, historical, and future coral reef monitoring activities conducted and data collected by CRED in the main Hawaiian Islands and Pacific-wide under the auspices of the CRCP’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Program.

Semicircular areas of rapid tissue loss, infected with filamentous bacteria on a colony of the rice coral Montipora patula, as seen in this photo taken on May 6 on `Anini Reef, Kaua`i. These areas are characteristic of the disease outbreak event currently developing on coral reefs along the north shore of Kaua`i. NOAA photo Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Semicircular areas of rapid tissue loss, infected with filamentous bacteria on a colony of the rice coral Montipora patula, as seen in this photo taken on May 6 on `Anini Reef, Kaua`i. These areas are characteristic of the disease outbreak event currently developing on coral reefs along the north shore of Kaua`i. NOAA photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Preliminary findings from these surveys corroborate the occurrence of disease “hotspots” within each of the reef systems surveyed and confirm the unique nature of this event. We’d like to extend special thanks to Thierry Work, Greta Aeby, and Eyes of the Reef volunteer Terry Lilley for sharing their knowledge regarding this outbreak and making our mission a complete success. We look forward to fostering these and other collaborations as we continue to work together for the betterment of reefs in Hawai`i and the larger Pacific Islands region.

Scientists continue surveys of a marine protected area in Maui

By Kevin Lino
Schools of fish swim over a healthy reef off Ka`anapali, Maui, on April 23 during a mission in the Kahekili Herbivore Fishery Management Area. Photo by Darla White, Hawaii Division of Land and Natural Resources

Schools of fish swim over a healthy reef off Ka`anapali, Maui, on April 23 during a mission in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area. Photo by Darla White, Hawai`i Division of Land and Natural Resources

To help assess the effectiveness of an unusual approach to management of marine resources in Hawaii, our team spent the week of April 22 conducting underwater surveys of fishes and benthic habitat along the coastline of West Maui in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA). This diving effort, funded in part by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, continued a partnership between the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) and the Maui office of the Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

During this mission, we completed 99 surveys in the nearshore (depths <18 m) reef habitats of the KHFMA in just 4 days of diving. CRED divers Ivor Williams and I paired with staff and volunteers from the DLNR to conduct surveys. Each team consisted of one diver focused on fish surveys and one diver focused on benthic surveys. Divers donned thick wetsuits for the long dives necessary to swim along multiple transects and identify, size, and count fish species, identify and count sea urchins, and collect benthic imagery for later analyses. With several sea turtle cleaning stations, a passing manta ray, and sections of gorgeous reef before us and the songs of humpback whale in the background during our surveys, it was inconceivable to not want to collect data needed to monitor marine life in areas like this one in our beautiful state.

The stunning color and spines of the red slate pencil urchin (Heterocentrotus mammillatus) stand out on a reef off West Maui. Sea urchins are protected in the Kahekili Herbivore Fishery Management Area. NOAA photo by Kevin Lino

The stunning color and spines of the red slate pencil urchin (Heterocentrotus mammillatus) stand out on a reef off West Maui. Sea urchins are protected in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area. NOAA photo by Kevin Lino

The state of Hawai`i created the KHFMA along a stretch of coastline approximately 3 km long in Ka`anapali, West Maui. The KHFMA, which was established in July 2009, involves a form of management that is unique in Hawai’i, namely protection of coral reef herbivores (e.g., surgeonfishes, parrotfishes, chubs, and sea urchins), which may not be killed, injured, or harvested within the boundaries of this fisheries management area. The purpose of the KHFMA is to restore natural grazing processes and ultimately increase the local reef’s ability to resist and recover from excessive algal growth that is detrimental to corals. To further promote grazing by local fish stocks, feeding of fishes, other than for legal fishing, also is banned within the KHFMA. The KHFMA does not in any way restrict fishing of other types of fishes or invertebrates.

The yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), as seen in the photo above taken on a reef off West Maui, is an example of the fishes protected in the Kahekili Herbivore Fishery Management Area. NOAA photo by Kevin Lino

The yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), as seen in the photo above taken on a reef off West Maui, is an example of the fishes protected in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area. NOAA photo by Kevin Lino

Although uncommon, this dynamic, targeted management approach appears to be much more acceptable to the public compared to measures of full closure. Therefore, if proven effective as a means of restoring herbivorous fish populations and preventing coral-to-algal phase shifts, this approach has great potential for management of other areas in Hawai`i and beyond.

Another positive part of this project is the hard work and cheerfulness of our DLNR partners, especially Darla White, who always impresses us with her dedication, organization, and enthusiastic outreach efforts. As visitors snorkeled above (and sometimes within) our shallower surveys, I hoped they enjoyed their time in the water, whether or not they knew how our long days and tough work monitoring the area might have been enhancing their experience. After participating for several years in this biannual survey, I find it rewarding to know that the research we conduct there contributes to the evaluation of the effectiveness of this marine protected area.

Researchers continue studies of effects of water circulation and sedimentation on benthic communities at Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Members of the benthic and oceanography teams of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) are on a 2-week deployment on Tutuila, American Samoa, as part of 2 projects funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. Both projects aim to establish much needed baselines to better understand and mitigate the effects of land-based sources of pollution, such as runoff and sedimentation, on the coral reef communities in Faga`alu Bay.

NOAA diver Marie Ferguson on April 5 conducts a survey of corals, using the belt-transect method, in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

NOAA diver Marie Ferguson on April 5 conducts a survey of corals, using the belt-transect method, in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

Close-up of a coral community of the shallow backreef in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa, as seen in this photo taken on April 5. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

Close-up of a coral community of the shallow backreef in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa, as seen in this photo taken on April 5. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

The primary goal of this mission, which concludes on April 11, is twofold:  (1) retrieve oceanographic instruments, including wave-and-tide recorders, current meters, and salinity and temperature recorders, that were deployed in March and April 2012 at strategic sites inside and outside of Faga`alu Bay to better profile water flow patterns and sediment residence times and (2) conduct surveys at nearly 40 sites to acquire detailed data on coral community demographics (size class) and health condition to expand and complement the benthic assessments conducted on March and August 2012 for one of the projects.

Jeff Anderson and Matt Dunlap of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division finish a benthic survey, which they conducted by snorkeling, in Faga`alu Bay on April 4. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Jeff Anderson and Matt Dunlap of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division finish a benthic survey, which they conducted by snorkeling, in Faga`alu Bay on April 4. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

A team of 5 CRED researchers is conducting the surveys and retrieving the instruments: Oliver Vetter, Marie Ferguson, Matt Dunlap, Jeff Anderson, and Bernardo Vargas-Ángel. The two projects are “Inter-disciplinary study of flow dynamics and sedimentation effects on coral colonies in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa” and “Comprehensive baseline assessment and development of performance measures for Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa.”

These projects support the development, implementation, and effectiveness of local action plans for reef-to-ridge watershed conservation and management. They have received instrumental support from partner agencies, including the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (Fatima Sauafea-Le`au), NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (Michelle Johnston and Wendy Cover), American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) (Domingo Ochivallo), San Diego State University (Trent Biggs and Alex Messina), American Samoa Community College (Kelley Anderson Tagarino), and the Faga`alu watershed community working group.

We’d like to extend special thanks to the American Samoa office of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries for the use of their boat, the R/V Manuma, and to the DMWR for the use of their secure dock for this mission. The use of intergovernmental resources has been a huge help in making this mission go smoothly, safely, and within budget. We look forward to fostering these and other collaborations as we continue to work together for the betterment of reefs in American Samoa.

Matt Dunlap, Jeff Anderson, and Marie Ferguson of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division contemplate the day’s plan aboard the R/V Manuma, dockside at the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources in Pago Pago Harbor on April 2. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Matt Dunlap, Jeff Anderson, and Marie Ferguson of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division contemplate the day’s plan aboard the R/V Manuma, dockside at the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources in Pago Pago Harbor on April 2. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Researchers continue study of pollution effects on coral health off West Maui

By Erin Looney

Erin Looney of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) recently worked with Darla White of the Division of Aquatic Resources of the Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources to collect water samples off West Maui. This effort continued a study that began last fall: “Environmental investigation into impacts of land-based sources of pollution on coral health in West Maui, HI.” This research is funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and led by Cheryl Woodley, PhD, of Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, S.C.

Water samples were collected on Jan. 26–Feb. 4 at 15 sites from La Perouse to Kapalua Bay. The samples were taken to a temporary lab where Looney filtered samples onto selective media to isolate fecal coliforms, Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, and Serratia marcescens. Water samples also were shipped on dry ice to Hollings Marine Laboratory for further toxicological processing.

Examples of the dilution of water samples used to assess the level and identity of fecal-associated bacteria in waters off West Maui. (a) Duplicate plates with filtered samples from a site called Sand Channel on the following media (top to bottom): mannitol salt agar (MSA), a medium that encourages the growth of Staphylococcus, 1 mL; MSA, 10 mL; membrane-Enterococcus Indoxyl-β-D- glucoside (mEI), which is used to culture Enterococcus; deoxyribonuclease-toluidine blue-cephalothin (DTC), which is used to grow Serratia marcescens, and membrane filtration fecal coliform (mFC), which is used to grow fecal coliforms. (b) A set of duplicate plates with a 10-mL dilution on MSA. Each dot represents a colony, and the average number of colonies on these plates is ~140. Thus, in 10 mL of water taken at Sand Channel, there were 140 colonies of Staphylococcus. (c) A set of duplicate plates of filtered samples on mFC media. NOAA photos by Erin Looney

Examples of the dilution of water samples used to assess the level and identity of fecal-associated bacteria in waters off West Maui.     (a) Duplicate plates with filtered samples from a site called Sand Channel on the following media (top to bottom): mannitol salt agar (MSA), a medium that encourages the growth of Staphylococcus, 1 mL; MSA, 10 mL; membrane-Enterococcus Indoxyl-β-D- glucoside (mEI), which is used to culture Enterococcus; deoxyribonuclease-toluidine blue-cephalothin (DTC), which is used to grow Serratia marcescens, and membrane filtration fecal coliform (mFC), which is used to grow fecal coliforms. (b) A set of duplicate plates with a 10-mL dilution on MSA. Each dot represents a colony, and the average number of colonies on these plates is ~140. Thus, in 10 mL of water taken at Sand Channel, there were 140 colonies of Staphylococcus. (c) A set of duplicate plates of filtered samples on mFC media.    NOAA photos by Erin Looney