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You are here: /main/research expeditions/May 2006/Days 3-4 FFS

Days 3-4, Arriving at French Frigate Shoals
May 22-23, 2006
by Dr. Malia Rivera

Green sea turtles mating at French Frigate Shoals
Green sea turtles mating at French Frigate Shoals - 90% of all green sea turtles in Hawai'i nest at the atoll. See article from 2002 expedition.

At last, the seas are calm and everyone’s stomachs are starting to settle down. After a rough start in Nihoa, we spent the past 24 hours or so in transit, some 210 nautical miles northwest towards French Frigate Shoals. The night’s journey on NOAA Ship Hi‘ialakai ran smoothly through these comparatively peaceful waters, and the scientists onboard, most not used to life on a ship, got a decent nights sleep for the first time since we set off on May 18th.

This morning the boatswain and crew successfully launched all three day-boats, which they call “HI-1”, “HI-2”, and the new 19-foot skiff from the NWHICRER Office, which they refer to as “The Whaler”. It’s first time in the NWHI and first deployment from Hi‘ialakai, “The Whaler” had a perilous start, slightly overloaded at first, but after a few minor adjustments, the team of four researchers monitoring coral diseases set off for the reefs of French Frigate Shoals.

Jennifer Salerno sampling a lobe coral colony at French Frigate Shoals
Jennifer Salerno sampling a lobe coral colony at French Frigate Shoals

Today I had the opportunity to accompany the coral reef and invert genetics team to three different sites of the atoll, assisting graduate student Jennifer Salerno in collecting, photographing and measuring two species of corals common in the Hawaiian archipelago, Porites lobata and Pocillopora meadrina, also known as the lobe coral and cauliflower coral respectively. (Activity: test out your Hawai'i coral ID skills here)

Jennifer is working with her advisor back at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, Dr. Mike Rappé, on characterizing the bacterial communities that live in the tissues of corals, as well as in the water column above the coral reefs. Why, one might ask? As with most organisms, corals harbor a bacterial flora within the tissues of the polyps, much like the microbial communities that we ourselves have in our own guts that help with various physiological processes. The research Jennifer and Dr. Rappé are doing, along with other graduate students back at HIMB, is an attempt to characterize the baseline bacterial flora present in healthy coral tissues as well as in health-compromised coral tissues. Whether there is a difference in the community profiles between these two states may offer a predictive tool for what may cause a disease outbreak and when or where such an outbreak could occur.

processing coral samplesMuch of this work involves the use of DNA technology, whereby indicator genetic signatures will be obtained from the microbes that can elucidate which species or types of bacteria are found in corals. By comparing the microbial DNA sequences from Hawaiian corals to a worldwide database on already identified microbial types, Jennifer will be able to figure out just what kinds of bacteria, and how much of it, is present in healthy and diseased corals and in the surrounding water.

Dr. Iliana Baums and Erik Franklin are processing the days coral samples to take back to the laboratory at HIMB.

Together with the coral algal symbiont team and the disease monitoring team onboard Hi‘ialakai, this work on coral microbes will provide extremely valuable information on how to better manage our precious reef resources.


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