Mission Blog: October 15, 2009
Never Forget Why We Do, What We Do
By Kevin Lino, Research Biologist
This has been one of my most enjoyable research efforts into the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Starting with the large scale marine debris removal effort in 2005, I've had the opportunity to return to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands every year since conducting marine debris removal, oceanographic monitoring or coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP).
Honu at Midway. (Photo: NOAA)
During this cruise the fish team primarily conducted fish surveys assessing the diversity and abundance of species (mostly at locations never surveyed before) and also helped in the maintenance of several oceanographic monitoring devices. The teams assembled for this cruise are all amazing divers and well skilled in their disciplines and as demonstrated daily were excited and eager to conduct this research.
Whiskered Armorhead. (Photo: NOAA)
As the weather was quite favorable with several calm days allowing for magnificent visibility myself and the independent fish team looked forward to conducting surveys at four or five sites a day off HI-2. Personally the diving was most amazing and memorable at Kure Atoll as several rarer species in the main islands were common. My favorite species were the curious Hawaiian morwongs (Goniistius vittatus) and the masked angelfish (Genicanthus personatus) that were seen on most dives. Overall the abundance of species including large predators was remarkable. Many of us enjoyed the presence of the small reef sharks and investigative nature of species that typically are unseen or very weary of divers elsewhere. On one spectacular dive we noted several hapu'u (Epinephelus quernus), barred knife jaws (Oplegnathus fasciatus) and a very rare whiskered armorhead (Evistias acutirostris). At the end of the day we know our hard work will go towards a better understanding and management of these organisms of this unspoiled ecosystem.
Hawaiian Morwong. (Photo: NOAA)
During the cruise we were also able to retrieve and replace several different long term oceanographic instruments used to monitor the near pristine ecosystem of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. One is known as an Ecological Acoustic Recorder or EAR. It is a passive acoustic device developed specifically for monitoring fish, invertebrates, and human activity in marine habitats. Deployment of these passive acoustic devices in coral reef habitats is an effective method to monitor coral reef ecosystems and to collect information about many animals associated with coral reefs. Various fish and invertebrate species are soniferous - that is, they produce sound. Marine mammals that interact with the coral reef environment are also quite vocal. Tracking the acoustic activity of these animals with passive monitoring instruments is a promising way to assess patterns of change, stability, and seasonality in biological processes over time. Passive acoustic methods are also well suited for monitoring human activities on the reef. The noise produced by boat engines, anchor chains, and other anthropogenic sources are readily detectible and identifiable along with naturally occurring sounds which can help to identify activity within the monument. To learn more about the EAR and passive acoustic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems go to http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cred/ear.php
Pennantfish following diver Jonatha Giddens. (Photo: NOAA)
One more unforgettable experience had my three other dive buddies smiling ecstatically as we finished our safety stop on our first dive off of Laysan Island. The four of us were conducting fish surveys at a new deep water (60-99 feet) site when we descended upon an amazing benthic topography with overhangs and drop offs housing a unique experience. The four of us were circled by many ulua (Caranx ignobilis) and rainbow runners (Elagatis bipinnulata) before ever getting to the sea floor. Shortly after starting our surveys many other unique and interesting species began appearing including a large school of pennant fish (Heniochus diphreutes) and some brightly colored anthias (Pseudanthias thompsoni). After the survey we investigated a half moon ridge where a large cave with several white tip reef sharks were resting on the sandy bottom (Trianodon obesus) and numerous large squirrelfish (Sargocentron spiniferum) congregated amongst the downward stretching fronds of black coral. Several other inquisitive species swum around and into us as we left this memorable site including a 17ft manta ray (Manta birostris) and more frisky ulua. My dive buddies and I smiled for the five minute safety stop just waiting to talk about what we were just lucky enough to have come across. The photographs and stories will remind us of the beauty we are so fortunate to study and will never let us forget why we do what we do.