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You are here: /main/research expeditions/July 2007/Erik Franklin Interview

Interview with Erik Franklin

by Keeley Belva

Erik Franklin
Erik Franklin. Credit: Paul Jokiel

Erik Franklin
Erik Franklin. Credit: Paul Jokiel

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1. What is your affiliation, and where are you from?

I am a research specialist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), which is a research institute within the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii. I moved to Hawaii in 2005, and before that I worked for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami where I also earned a graduate degree in Marine Biology and Fisheries.

I was born and raised in California and currently reside in Kailua with my wife Giselle and daughter Eliza.

2. How did you become interested in your particular field/profession?

Like many people, I’ve always had a strong attraction to the ocean. It didn’t really strike me that I could make a career working on or near the sea until I was an undergraduate. At that time, I had several influential teachers such as Mike Mullin, Paul Dayton, and Mike Gilpin that planted the seed for a career in ecology and marine science. Their enthusiasm for the field was contagious and propelled me on my journey. As I’ve continued down this path, I’ve found that the diversity of projects, intellectual stimulation of exploration and discovery, and outdoor aspects of field research have kept me engaged and motivated in my work.

3. Have you worked in the Hawaiian Archipelago before? Or the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands?

I’ve participated in field research off of Molokai and Oahu and a multibeam mapping cruise off the coasts of Niihau and Molokai. This is my second cruise to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Last year, I was a member of the collection team for invertebrate genetic studies and the cruise data manager. We worked at Nihoa Island, Gardner Pinnacles, French Frigate Shoals, and Johnston Atoll.

4. Have you worked on a ship at sea before, such as this one?

This is my third cruise on the Hi’ialakai and I truly enjoy my time out to sea on this vessel. The experienced crew, small boat fleet, and diving facilities make this an excellent platform for operations of this type. We are very lucky to have access to these resources as they make our jobs that much easier.

Before moving to Hawaii, my work involved mostly shore-based operations from small boats in South Florida and the Florida Keys. I would occasionally participate on longer research cruises such as this one for several weeks at a time.

5. What are your areas of interest, or your expertise?

My area of interest is the intersection between applied marine ecology and resource management. The majority of my experience is in the sampling design, data collection, and analysis of reef ecosystem and coral restoration monitoring programs as well as population and stock assessments. My expertise is in spatial aspects of the design and analysis of these projects using geographic information system, statistical analysis, and modeling software. I moved to Hawaii to work for HIMB on a research partnership that supports the science needs of the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument. I’m on this cruise as a member of the habitat characterization team because of my prior experiences in Florida with benthic habitat mapping and characterization. Our task is to ground truth existing satellite derived habitat maps, record quantitative metrics with transects surveys, and describe through narratives and site photographs the geomorphology and biology of each site we visit. This will both allow us to validate map accuracy and improve the existing habitat classification system. This work is vital because these maps provide the foundation for an ecosystem-based approach to monitoring the marine populations of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

6. What excites you about working with these organisms?

The habitat characterization work involves taking in the entire environment and the associated animals at each site so I don’t focus on a particular group of organisms but rather how they all compose the scene. I rather enjoy the task because we get to visit many sites to discover the unique attributes and describe the characteristics of each location. I have also found that the abundance of large organisms such as monk seals, sharks, and ulua (jacks) is what truly makes the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands unique and exceptional. It is thrilling to be in the water with these beautiful animals.

7. Any favorite stories about a particularly unique organism from your field of interest, such as a unique story of working with them, their ecology or unique adaptation the organism may have?

A few days ago, we were working a site in the Midway Atoll lagoon when the largest ulua of the trip paid us a visit. We estimated the fish’s length as 125 cm – an impressive size. What struck me as memorable was the nonchalance of this particular fish which would circle around us lazily and occasionally nip at our field equipment. It swam slowly within an arms reach, just keeping us company and checking us out throughout the dive.

Giant Trevally. Credit: Erik Franklin

8. Why were you interested in coming on this expedition?

I participated in this expedition to collect information to increase the understanding of the ecosystem and contribute to the protection of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

9. What do you hope to find during this research trip?

We have a goal of characterizing 100 sites during the trip. We would like to be able to validate the use of the habitat maps for future monitoring activities by demonstrating their accuracy. We are also interested in examining trends of spatial heterogeneity that may occur within a particular habitat type.

10. What do you think is the benefit of this work to conservation in the Monument?
The project meets a fundamental need of the Monument in that the surveys will validate and improve the habitat maps that will then be used to monitor the marine populations of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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Coral bleaching

Galapagos shark

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