Philippines-U.S. Exchange Knowledge in Marine Resource Management

by Megan Moews-Asher
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A school of sardines above a coral reef in Cebu, Philippines (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Megan Moews-Asher).

What makes a successful exchange span from across an agency to across nations? The people! Recently, a group of high-level and expert scientists, managers, policymakers, and law enforcement officials from the Philippines and U.S. came together in a government-to-government peer exchange in Honolulu. They discussed fisheries and marine resource management, science, and enforcement between the two countries.

This effort—supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and several offices within NOAA Fisheries—was a success because of each and every individual (and there were many) who played a part. According to both PIFSC Director Mike Seki and Regional Administrator Mike Tosatto from the Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), the exchange exceeded their expectations. Administrator Tosatto, Director Seki, and Office of Law Enforcement’s (OLE) Assistant Director Bill Pickering stated that they and many of their staff learned a lot through the exchange and were thankful to all who participated and made it such a success. In addition, Director Seki said that, “it was pretty impressive how it rolled out and that’s only through the engagement [of all parties], so I appreciate that.”

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Group picture of particpants on June 26 (Day 1) of the Peer Exchange, including Philippines Undersecretary for Fisheries and Director of DA-BFAR Eduardo Gongona, Philippines Director of DENR-BMB Mundita Lim, and NOAA PIRO Regional Administrator Mike Tosatto, PIFSC Director Mike Seki, and Office of Law Enforcement Assistant Director Bill Pickering (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

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Sunset at Moalboal, Philippines (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Megan Moews-Asher).

It all started a few years ago with a vision. USAID’s Rebecca Guieb and Dr. Rusty Brainard of NOAA discussed the need for a scientific exchange between fisheries scientists from the Philippines and United States. Over time, the concept evolved into a much broader sharing of expertise and information that brought together the Philippines Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), several NOAA Fisheries offices (PIFSC, PIRO, OLE, and General Counsel), as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, and other partners.

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Inspection of longline fishing vessel. Tour and discussion led by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s Joe Scarpa at Pier 38 (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

In an open and honest sharing of information, participants gave their valuable time as part of the “Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management and Conservation: A Partnership in Governance, Management, Science and Enforcement” Peer Exchange that included what the different countries and agencies are currently doing to manage fisheries and conserve biodiversity, the challenges they face, and some of the key lessons-learned over the years. As stated by DENR-BMB Director Dr. Mundita Lim, “the exchange provided an insight of interconnectivity among disciplines.”

As a result of everyone’s candidness and genuine desire to make the exchange a success, the dialogue led to thoughtful and engaging presentations and discussions, new partnerships, improved collaborations, and future plans. The surprise? On Friday, June 30, the Philippines Undersecretary for Fisheries and DA-BFAR Director Commodore Eduardo Gongona and DENR-BMB Director Lim signed a “Declaration of Commitment and Action Plan for the Management of Shared Resources.” The declaration is an unprecedented effort between their two agencies to increase collaboration in the management and protection of their shared marine resources and ocean ecosystems!

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Declaration signing between the Philippines Director of DENR-BMB Mundita Lim and Philippines Undersecretary for Fisheries and Director of DA-BFAR Eduardo Gongona (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

Throughout the exchange, Undersecretary Gongona and Director Lim discussed ways in which their bureaus can work together in the future. It is anticipated that this signing will lead to a memorandum of understanding between the two bureaus in the coming months. This is an exciting prospect for the Philippines, where marine resources are some of the most highly diverse in the world, where vast fisheries and marine resources face a multitude of threats, and of utmost importance, where people depend on these resources for their food security and livelihoods.

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Inspection of longline fishing vessel. Tour and discussion led by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s Joe Scarpa at Pier 38 (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

Director Seki explained, “many of the Pacific Rim countries have very similar problems.  The sense of food security and conservation is pretty much ubiquitous throughout all of our countries that rely on marine resources and it is on us as scientists and managers to make sure that the resources are there tomorrow.” To add to this, Regional Administrator Tosatto stated, “it really was striking to see how we’re dealing with common problems coming from very different ground truths and yet we’re still solving problems in much the same way, and I think we can help each other.”

Special thanks to ALL involved, but in particular, to DA-BFAR Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona, DENR-BMB Director Mundita Lim, Mike Tosatto, Mike Seki, and Bill Pickering for their time, support and leadership. In addition, to sum up the significance of the exchange and the importance of working together toward sustainability and protection of our fisheries and marine resources, a few words from Bill Pickering, “It’s a trifecta, you have to have all three sides of the triangle [science, management, enforcement] in order to make it work. I don’t think any side is more important than the other because if one of them is missing, whether it be the science, the regulations, or the enforcement part, the whole thing falls apart.” Further addressing the Peer Exchange participants, he stated, “you’re proof of that, from listening to everything you all said.”

For more information:

“Data do not speak for themselves” – Analyzing social science data in Micronesia

by Supin Wongbusarakum
Coral reef along the coastline of the Rock Islands, Palau.

Coral reef along the coastline of the Rock Islands, Palau.

Data do not speak for themselves; there is always an interpreter, or a translator (Ratcliffe 1983[1]).

While nature conservation and natural resource management efforts are increasing throughout the Pacific Islands, the importance of balancing ecological health with human well-being is also increasingly recognized. In Micronesia, the ocean spans nearly three million square miles and is home to approximately 500 species of corals and 1,300 species of fish. But it is also home to more than half a million people living in communities with a close relationship with both land and sea.

These relationships are now being profoundly challenged by external factors such as the global economy and the impacts of a changing climate. In the vast region of Micronesia, effective conservation means ensuring sustainable livelihoods through subsistence and earned income, maintaining cultural integrity, engaging in good natural resource governance, and promoting environmental education[2]. We know these different aspects of conservation are all important, but how do we know if they are actually being carried out consistently and sustainably in the region? How do we know if conservation and natural resource management have contributed to positive changes in the region without adverse human impacts?

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Woodcarving detail that depicts a famous story of a magical breadfruit tree (from the Etpison Museum, Palau).

In 2010, we launched socioeconomic monitoring in Micronesia based on SEM-Pasifika (Socioeconomic Monitoring Guidelines for Coastal Managers in Pacific Island Countries). This community-based monitoring effort aims to better understand the conditions of communities in areas with active resource management. In the past few years, we offered several socioeconomic assessment training sessions based on SEM-Pasifika in Micronesia and also provided technical assistance to local teams who collect qualitative and quantitative data in the field. Last year, I conducted a capacity needs assessment to identify further gaps in knowledge and information. The results showed an immediate need for analysis of social science data.

To address this issue, I worked with a network of partner organizations to hold a socioeconomic data analysis workshop in Koror, Palau from September 12-17, 2016. The workshop was funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, with support from many partners—including the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Office, Pacific Islands Managed and Protected Areas Community, Micronesia Conservation Trust, Palau International Coral Reef Center, and several other organizations and agencies involved in marine conservation and resource management in Micronesia. Participants attended from Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap), Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Hawai‘i.

Matt Gorstein, Social Scientist and Natural Resource Economist from NOAA’s Hollings Marine Laboratory, joined me as a co-trainer. Combining his experience and expertise in analyzing socioeconomic data from the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program—and using preliminary data collected from the NOAA Habitat Blueprint site in Manell-Geus, Guam as well as other sites in Micronesia and Hawai‘i—we had a fully packed and productive training covering a wide range of topics. We started with data entry, created a code-book, and documented work-flow, while also addressing differences among qualitative (e.g. from interviews) and quantitative data (from surveys). We discussed the use of best practices in data entry, management, and analysis. Matt and I provided a comprehensive overview of how to use IBM’s Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) to run descriptive and inferential statistics. The training was regularly reinforced by hands-on exercises and summarized with quizzes.

In the course evaluation, the majority of participants rated the overall training as being extremely useful. One of the participants said, I feel much more confident in examining social survey data more critically. I have stronger ability in designing future assessment with stronger understanding in how data is analyzed.” Another participant stated, “I actually learned more in this workshop than the stats class. Also SPSS is such a useful tool and I am glad I know how to use it now.” With the skills and knowledge gained in this workshop, we hope that the participants will be able to analyze and interpret socioeconomic data more effectively. Their new skills will support efforts to improve coastal and marine resource management and conservation—while balancing ecological health with social well-being.

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Trainers and participants of Socioeconomic Data Analysis Training Workshop. Back row, left to right: Angel Jonathan (Conservation Society of Pohnpei), Kailikea Shayler (Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Aquatic Resources), Matt Gorstein (NOAA Hollings Marine Laboratory), Bond Segal (Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization), Jane Dia (Guam Department of Agriculture, Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources), Mochieg Reyuw (Yap Community Action Program), Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong (Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance), Rachael Nash (Micronesia Challenge Regional Office) Front row, left to right: Noelle Oldiais (independent researcher, formerly Palau International Coral Reef Center), Erin Zanre (Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Aquatic Resources), Supin Wongbusarakum (PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program), Marybelle Quinata (NOAA Guam Field Office), Lincy Marino (Palau International Coral Reef Center), Alicia Edwards (Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority)

[1] Ratcliffe, J. W. 1983. Notions of validity in qualitative research methodology. Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization 5(2), 147-167.
[2] Based on results of Micronesia Challenge 1st (2012) and 2nd (2015) Socioeconomic Measures Workshops and Micronesia Challenge Measures Working Group Scorecards Workshop (2016).

Five million fish and counting!

By Kelvin Gorospe

After 15 years of surveying coral reef fishes across the Pacific, the Fish Team at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) has amassed one of the world’s largest datasets of reef fishes. This dataset has been instrumental in contributing to a better understanding of the health of coral reef ecosystems. The CRED team, currently conducting surveys in the Line Islands (a series of remote atolls and low islands in the central Pacific), recently surpassed a major benchmark: five million fish sized and counted!

A school of anthias (Pseudanthias bartlettorum) at Jarvis Island. Photo by Kelvin Gorospe

A school of anthias (Pseudanthias bartlettorum) at Jarvis Island. Photo by Kelvin Gorospe

It seems appropriate that the five millionth fish was a Pseudanthias bartelttorum, a tiny anthias, commonly numbering in the thousands within our surveys, and thus, the most numerically abundant fish we encounter. Even more appropriate is that the benchmark was reached at Jarvis Island, one of the Line Islands, and one of the most fish-abundant islands surveyed by CRED in the entire U.S. Pacific Islands region.

<em>Pseudanthias bartlettorum</em>. Photo by Kevin Lino

Pseudanthias bartlettorum. Photo by Kevin Lino

In commemoration of this benchmark, here is a conversation between the lucky anthias (PSBA) that so honorably received the distinction of being the five millionth fish and the fish team member, Kaylyn McCoy (KM), who counted it.

PSBA: When I first learned that I was the five millionth fish to be counted by the legendary CRED Fish Team, I had no idea they were anywhere close to surveying that many fishes. No offense, but who cares how many of us anthiases are living here on the reef? Is that seriously your job? Get a life.

KM: Well, Ms. Anthias… You are a “Ms.” right? I sized you as a 4cm Pseudanthias bartlettorum, so you’re probably a female, and I also saw that you’re part of a giant harem of anthiases, with just a few male anthiases. Don’t give me snarkiness just because your options are thin.

PSBA: Ok ok, sorry. But seriously, why count anthiases like me?

KM: Our job isn’t to just count anthiases. Our job is to monitor whole assemblages of reef fishes across the U.S. Pacific Islands, everything from the gray reef sharks that patrol around Jarvis Island to tiny anthiases like you. You’re all part of the reef fish community, which itself is part of the larger reef ecosystem that we monitor.

PSBA: Ok, but what is the point of surveying fish communities? What does that tell us?

KM: We are part of the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, so we are interested in monitoring long-term trends. By coming here to Jarvis Island every three years, we hope to get a better sense of how reef fish communities like yours are changing. It’s too soon to give you a definitive answer on fish community trends through time but we’re working on that…

PSBA: Wait! I knew I’ve seen you guys before! You were here three years ago and you’re pretty much the only people that we ever see around here. Well, I guess your job is pretty cool. It lets you dive in some of the most remote coral reefs in the world. But why do you care so much about diving where there are no other people?

KM: While we’re still working on building up our time series data, the immense spatial extent of our dataset also allows us to study how coral reefs around the Pacific vary across both human and environmental gradients. In other words, the reefs we study span the whole range of human impacts (from virtually no human impacts to reefs facing intense human pressures, like fishing and runoff caused by land-use and development) and changing environmental conditions (e.g., different temperatures, nutrients, carbonate chemistry, and wave energy). We study reefs in just about every condition imaginable, allowing us to tease apart the effects of environmental and human influences on reefs. Thanks to these data we now have a better understanding of the level of reef fish stocks we can expect around pristine reefs (recent paper by Fish Team published in PLOS ONE).

PSBA: So little anthiases like me really are important to you guys?

KM: Of course! We are a division of NOAA that specifically monitors coral reef ecosystems and you are part of the ecosystem. We not only monitor the fish populations, but the benthic communities, cryptic biodiversity, and oceanographic conditions around all of the reefs we study. All of this information is provided to fisheries management agencies in Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam, and the Mariana Islands, as well as our management partners at the Pacific Islands Regional Office, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (CRED monitoring publications). And the more data we collect, the better we will be able to report on how reefs are responding to local threats of human fishing as well as to global threats like ocean acidification and warming (NOAA Ocean Acidification Program), and more importantly, how management can help mitigate these impacts.

PSBA: Well, I’m glad the honor of the five millionth fish didn’t go to one of those big charismatic fish like a shark or a manta, or worse, some little clown fish, those guys are always stealing the limelight. And at least you didn’t mistake me for a Luzonichthys whitleyi or a Lepidozygus tapeinosoma. Those unoriginal posers are always mimicking us in our aggregations. Thanks Kaylyn and CRED for watching out for us and hope to see you in the water next time around!

The final count: team removes 14 metric tons of marine debris from Midway Atoll

By Kevin O’Brien
James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kg pile of derelict fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 21-day mission at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kg pile of derelict fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 21-day mission at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

Members of the marine debris team of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) returned to Honolulu on April 19 from a 21-day marine debris survey and removal effort at Midway Atoll. Since the last blog update on April 15, the 9-member team conducted an additional 6 days of operations, bringing the grand total for the entire mission to nearly 14 metric tons (13,795 kg) of derelict fishing gear and plastic debris removed from the reefs and shorelines of this remote atoll in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site.

Russell Reardon on March 31 removes a large derelict fishing net from the reef at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by James Morioka

Russell Reardon on March 31 removes a large derelict fishing net from the reef at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by James Morioka

In addition to the removal of debris, the team also conducted a pilot study of accumulation rates of marine debris in nearshore waters and along shorelines at Midway Atoll, continued to test protocols for assessment of benthic injuries related to marine debris, and surveyed for debris items potentially related to the Japan tsunami event of March 2011. Results from these secondary projects are not yet available at this early date.

Tomoko Acoba, Russell Reardon, Kerrie Krosky, and Joao Garriques remove a large, buried derelict fishing net from the shoreline of Eastern Island on April 6. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

Tomoko Acoba, Russell Reardon, Kerrie Krosky, and Joao Garriques remove a large, buried derelict fishing net from the beach at Eastern Island on April 6. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

What can be reported is the success of the main mission to survey and remove marine debris. In total, the team surveyed 43% of the shallow-reef areas of Midway Atoll that historically have been shown to contain high densities of marine debris. All derelict fishing gear found during in-water surveys was removed to mitigate entanglement of the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), which are listed as endangered and threatened, respectively, under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the marine debris removed from shallow-water reefs was composed entirely of derelict fishing gear, the shorelines of Midway Atoll yielded a diverse range of debris types and items. Derelict fishing gear and plastics ≥10 cm in size were removed from the totality of the shoreline areas of Eastern Island and Spit Island and from portions of Sand Island. Debris was then transported by boat to the seaplane tarmac on Sand Island. Once there, shoreline debris was sorted and tallied by category. This tally of debris makes for an interesting look at the breakdown of the types of debris that accumulate at Midway. The table below shows the top 20 debris types, by quantity, that were removed from the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this mission.

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In addition to the debris listed in the table at right, many random oddities were collected during shoreline work: toilet seats, golf clubs, plastic swords, umbrella handles, soccer balls, truck tires, a snowboard boot, a bowling ball, a fireman’s helmet, a 15-m plastic pipe, a traffic barrier, and, of course, the 23.5-ft fishing boat that was confirmed as lost in the 2011 Japan tsunami event, among other things.

“Just about anything you can imagine that humans use in their day-to-day lives, you can find it washed up on the beaches,” says Joao Garriques, a member of the CRED marine debris team, in reference to shoreline surveys at Midway Atoll. “You just can’t predict what you might find up there, 1200 miles from the nearest city.”

Kevin O’Brien disentangles a Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) chick from a piece of derelict fishing net on April 10 on Eastern Island. NOAA photo

Kevin O’Brien disentangles a Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) chick from a piece of derelict fishing net on April 10 on Eastern Island. NOAA photo

Management of all the small plastics during removal operations can be a challenge. This season, the team used large “bulk bags” that were 1.2 by 1.2 m and could be lifted easily by crane—the kind of bags used for transportation of gravel and sand—to facilitate the movement of small plastic debris between islands via inflatable boat. The bags worked well for management of the thousands of small debris items collected during shoreline surveys. The importance of the removal of these smaller plastic items is evident at Midway Atoll, because Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) and Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) chicks frequently can be seen chewing curiously on debris or becoming entangled in small net pieces.

Edmund Coccagna on April 18 holds up a slipper and stands behind the other 885 slippers and rubber-soled shoes collected from the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this marine debris mission. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

Edmund Coccagna on April 18 holds up a slipper and stands behind the other 885 slippers and rubber-soled shoes collected from the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this marine debris mission. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

“The amount of plastics in the environment up here is pretty alarming,” says James Morioka, a member of the CRED marine debris team, after witnessing the amount of debris present on the shoreline of Eastern Island after only 9 months of accumulation since the last marine debris mission at Midway Atoll ended in July 2012. “Just trying to keep up with it is kind of overwhelming.”

Now back in Honolulu, the marine debris team is demobilizing and processing data. The success of this mission was due in great part to the assistance of the partners of the PIFSC-CRED Marine Debris Project: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program, NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

This photo, taken at the end of this mission on April 18, shows some of the 4781 bottle caps collected from Midway Atoll shorelines by a 9-member team from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

This photo, taken at the end of this mission on April 18, shows some of the 4781 bottle caps collected from Midway Atoll shorelines by a 9-member team from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

The contents of this plastic crate make up just a portion of the 1249 cigarette lighters found on the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this mission. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

The contents of the plastic crate in this photo make up just a portion of the 1249 cigarette lighters found on the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this mission. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

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

Study reveals differences in coral development within Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Analyses of quantitative data from surveys conducted last year in American Samoa corroborate anecdotal patterns of differences in coral cover and demographics between the northern areas and the southern and central areas of Faga`alu Bay. Here, we provide a summary of our analyses and the project activities conducted by scientists from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) and partner organizations in this bay between March and August 2012 as part of a project funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Entitled “Inter-disciplinary study of flow dynamics and sedimentation effects on coral colonies in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa,” this CRED-led project provides information necessary to better understand the effects of land-based sources of pollution (runoff and sedimentation) on the coral reef community in Faga`alu Bay. This information supports the development, implementation, and effectiveness of local, reef-to-ridge watershed conservation and management action plans. Benthic percent cover and coral demographic data were collected at 37 study sites along the shallow backreef and deep forereef in Faga`alu Bay. These quantitative data support the notion of patterns that previously had been observed only casually in the field: coral development is conspicuously prominent along the central and southern portions of the reef in Faga`alu Bay (Fig. 1a, b), compared to the northern areas, where coral growth is quite limited and depauperate (Fig. 1c, d).

Figure 1. Visual, spatial comparison of coral growth, development, and appearance of shallow habitats of the (a) south, (b) central and (c, d) northern areas of the backreef in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa. NOAA photos by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Figure 1. Visual, spatial comparison of coral growth, development, and appearance of shallow habitats of the (a) south, (b) central and (c, d) northern areas of the backreef in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa. NOAA photos by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Figure 2. Spatial comparison of mean cover (%) values for (a) live hard corals, (b) crustose coralline algae (CCA), (c) turf algae and spatial comparison of (d) values of the reef-builder ratio (ratio of mean cover for corals and crustose coralline algae combined to cover for nonaccreting organisms) from line-point-intercept surveys conducted in March–August 2012 in Faga`alu Bay off the island of Tutuila in American Samoa.

Figure 2. Spatial comparison of mean cover (%) values for (a) live hard corals, (b) crustose coralline algae (CCA), (c) turf algae and spatial comparison of (d) values of the reef-builder ratio (ratio of mean cover for corals and crustose coralline algae combined to cover for nonaccreting organisms) from line-point-intercept surveys conducted in March–August 2012 in Faga`alu Bay off the island of Tutuila in American Samoa. (Click on image above for a large version.)

Results from these quantitative surveys also indicate that, on average, percent live-coral cover was nearly twice as high along the southern area of the reef compared to the northern sector (Fig. 2a). Levels of crustose coralline algae were not distinctly different between the northern and southern sectors of the reef (Fig. 2b), but percent cover of turf algae was much greater along the northern forereef and backreef than along the other sampled portions of this bay (Fig. 2c). The northern areas of the reef in Faga`alu Bay are directly affected by terrigenous siltation and runoff. Surveys corroborate this appraisal, as exemplified by the reef-builder ratio, which is the ratio of corals and crustose coralline algae to nonaccreting organisms (macroalgae and turfalgae) calculated with values of mean percent cover. The reef-builder ratio was greater along the southern backreef and forereef than along the coral-impoverished northern reefs (Fig. 2d). In actively growing coral reefs, calcifying organisms—corals, crustose coralline algae, and other calcifying plants—typically dominate coral communities. In contrast, communities dominated by noncalcifiers, such as turf algae, cyanobacteria, and other macroalgae, are common in areas with suboptimal conditions for coral growth, including areas with elevated levels of nutrient inputs, pollution, turbidity, and sedimentation.

Figure 3. Multidimensional scaling ordination plot that illustrates the ecological grouping of study sites based on ecological composition, reef zone, and cardinal placement on reefs in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa.

Figure 3. Multidimensional scaling ordination plot that illustrates the ecological grouping of study sites based on ecological composition, reef zone, and cardinal placement on reefs in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa.  (Click on image above for a large version.)

We assembled an ordination (multidimensional scaling) plot on the basis of the benthic percent cover data. Illustrated in Figure 3, this plot indicates that overall benthic composition was distinct between reef zones (forereef vs. backreef) and cardinal position (north vs. south). A similarity profile (SIMPROFF) analysis supported a clear segregation between most forereef and backreef sites; and, within the backreef subdivision, the SIMPROFF analysis also showed the segregation between most of the northern and southern sites, corroborating the visual observations discussed above (Fig. 2). The separation between the northern and southern forereef sites was not strongly supported by the SIMPROFF analysis. These analyses provide quantitative evidence that the ecological communities of the northern and southern backreef in Faga`alu Bay are ecologically distinct from each other. This variation is driven most likely by the differences in levels of water quality, clarity, and terrigenous sedimentation.

Figure 4. Spatial comparison of (a) coral-colony density (colonies/m2) and (b) total coral generic richness from belt-transect surveys conducted in March–August 2012 in Faga`alu Bay. The color-coded pie charts indicate densities of selected dominant coral genera, and pie-chart size is proportional to total colony density.

Figure 4. Spatial comparison of (a) coral-colony density (colonies/m2) and (b) total coral generic richness from belt-transect surveys conducted in March–August 2012 in Faga`alu Bay. The color-coded pie charts indicate densities of selected dominant coral genera, and pie-chart size is proportional to total colony density. (Click on image above for a large version.)

Figure 4a illustrates estimates of coral-colony density of 4 important reef-building coral genera in Faga`alu Bay. Overall colony densities were relatively higher along the southern backreef and forereef (10.1 colonies/m2, standard error of the mean [SE] 0.90) than along the northern sector of the reef (6.01 colonies/m2, SE 0.81), and these differences were statistically significant (P=0.012, Student’s t-test). Differences in coral generic composition and density also were evident: corals of the genus Porites were heavily dominant along the shallow northern and southern backreef and corals of the genus Montipora occurred primarily along the deeper forereef. Additional notable spatial and structural differences indicated a preponderance of encrusting and foliose corals of the genera Montipora and Pavona, respectively, along the shallow northern backreef and, in contrast, the presence of branching corals of the genera Pocillopora and Acropora throughout the southern backreef. Fast-growing branching corals, such as Pocillopora and Acropora, are better adapted to the shallow, well-lit habitats of the southern backreef, compared to encrusting and foliose species that appeared to tolerate the lower levels of light and conditions of higher turbidity prevalent on the northern backreef (see Rodgers 1990; Crabbe and Smith 2005).

Differences among habitats also were observed in values of coral generic richness (Fig. 4b), with a greater mean number of genera occurring along the deeper forereef (10.95, SE 0.67) compared to the shallow backreef (6.29, SE 0.25), and these differences also were statistically significant (P=0.001, Student’s t-test). Such variation is expected given the disparate range of environmental conditions (for example, light, depth, water circulation) and of available microhabitats present on the forereef compared to the shallow, relatively homogeneous backreef.

Figure 5. Spatial comparison of prevalence (%) of (a) bleaching and (b) disease from belt-transect surveys conducted in March–August 2012 in Faga`alu Bay.

Figure 5. Spatial comparison of prevalence (%) of (a) bleaching and (b) disease from belt-transect surveys conducted in March–August 2012 in Faga`alu Bay. (Click on image above for a large version.)

Except for one site on the southern backreef, low levels of bleaching were commonplace across habitats and depths in Faga`alu Bay (Fig. 5a). Similarly, mean prevalence of coral disease (Fig. 5b) was low (0.56%, SE 0.16) overall; however, observed levels of disease were greater at north-facing backreef and forereef sites (0.82%, SE 0.35) than at south-facing sites (0.52%, SE 0.19). Although they were small, these differences could be associated with the elevated, chronic terrigenous runoff and sedimentation that affects these areas.

For another aspect of this project, in addition to the 37 study sites, 3 permanent coral reef monitoring stations were installed along the shallow backreef and channel of Faga`alu in March 2012 to evaluate long-term changes in community structure and composition. These stations are periodically monitored by students of the American Samoa Community College and staff of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources. Also, oceanographic instrumentation, including wave-and-tide recorders, current meters, and salinity and temperature recorders, 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. Project activities will continue throughout 2013. CRED plans to conduct additional demographic surveys in 2013 to expand and complement the benthic assessments conducted thus far. CRED scientists plan to gather supplementary information on coral-colony sizes, density of juvenile corals, and coral bleaching and disease. After activities have concluded, results of the biological and oceanographic surveys will be made available to all relevant parties.

Many partners have provided instrumental support to this project. Partner organizations include the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office (Fatima Sauafea-Leau), American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (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.

References

Rodgers CS. 1990. Responses of coral reefs and reef organisms to sedimentation. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 64:185–202.

Crabbe MJC, Smith DJ. 2005. Sediment impacts on growth rates of Acropora and Porites corals from fringing reefs of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Coral Reefs 24:437–441.