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.

 

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.

Scientists, students monitor effects of climate change on coral reefs of Verde Island Passage, Philippines

By Max Sudnovsky

About a year ago, in March 2012, a team from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) in partnership with researchers at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) initiated an effort to monitor long-term trends associated with climate and ocean change around coral reefs in the Philippines. More recently, in early February, CRED scientists and UP-MSI students returned to sites that were established the previous year as part of this monitoring effort.

Across 10 sites in the municipalities of Mabini and Tingloy in the Verde Island Passage, monitoring stations were established last March with the following suite of instruments deployed: subsurface temperature recorders (STRs) to monitor long-term trends in the water temperatures around coral reefs, calcification accretion units (CAUs) to assess and monitor long-term trends in rates of calcification and reef accretion, and autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) to assess and monitor long-term trends in reef cryptobiota. Surface and bottom water samples also were collected to monitor long-term trends in carbonate chemistry and, thus, ocean acidification.

This year, on Feb. 1–4, CRED scientists Adel Heenan and Max Sudnovsky—along with Rhia Gonzales, Aya Cariño, and Diovanie De Jesus, students from the UP-MSI—returned to the 10 monitoring stations in Verde Island Passage to collect surface and bottom water samples that will be analyzed for dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity. With permission from local government officials, the work was undertaken with the escort of the municipal Bantay Dagat. The Bantay Dagat, or guardians of the ocean, is an enforcement group of community volunteers concerned with fisheries-related activities and coastal patrol.

After a day of checking instruments and collecting water samples at monitoring stations in the Verde Island Passage, Philippines, (left to right) Joury of the Bantay Dagat, Max Sudnovsky of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), Aya Cariño and Diovanie De Jesus of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, and Adel Heenan of CRED stand outside of Planet Dive on Feb. 3. NOAA photo

After a day of checking instruments and collecting water samples at monitoring stations in the Verde Island Passage, Philippines, (left to right) Joury of the Bantay Dagat, Max Sudnovsky of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), Aya Cariño and Diovanie De Jesus of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, and Adel Heenan of CRED stand outside of Planet Dive on Feb. 3. NOAA photo

CRED’s role in this ongoing work is to assist the Philippines government, academic institutions, and municipalities in establishment of a long-term monitoring effort to detect trends in water temperature and pH associated with climate change and ocean acidification around this nation’s coral reefs. Through this process, we hope to strengthen local institutional and organizational capacity to continue these observations over the long-term so that future managers will have the necessary scientific information to assess and inform adaptation options for coral reef management measures.

This work was funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Development Mission Asia as part of the U.S. Coral Triangle Initiative, with additional support from the Coral Triangle Support Partnership and USAID Philippines. We’d like to sincerely thank the staff and crew of Planet Dive Resort and UP-MSI and community members of Anilao, with special recognition extended to members of the Bantay Dagat for safeguarding the monitoring instruments throughout the year.