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You are here: /main/research expeditions/September/October 2007/Scientists

Scientist interviews aboard the NOAA Ship Hi‘ialakai

by Darla White

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There are several different expeditions each year that bring the Hi‘ialakai to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, now established as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.  The data the scientists collect give us perspective on what is here, how it is distributed spatially, and answer questions that give managers the tools they need to conserve and protect the precious ecosystems within the Monument.  One of the greatest challenges facing researchers is the immense size of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This expansive system of islands, pinnacles, atolls, reefs, and shoals spans more than 1200 miles.  Assessing the biota living here is no small feat. 

The scientists on board are an ensemble of dedicated researchers from multiple agencies and institutions, including representatives from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument office, National Marine Fisheries Service – Coral Reef Ecosystems Division (NMFS – CRED), Mokupāpapa, Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), Hawai‘i State Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH), and Leeward Community College.  This group of 17 scientists embarks daily to collect their data on various organisms in order to paint the most accurate picture of this extensive ecosystem.  All of the participating scientists, with the exception of the data manager/Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist, are divers that work in teams which include: two coral teams, a microbial team, a mobile invertebrate and substrate (whatever is on the bottom, including limu) team, and the fish team.  Their research, and what questions they are out to answer, will be featured in upcoming articles with interviews of each of the teams.

Fish Team:
Brian Zgliczynski, Marc Nadon, Paula Ayotte, Kara Osada, Frank Stanton, Yumi Yasutake, & Darla White

Fish team in the dry lab
The fish team in the dry lab.

In the words of Brian Zgliczynski:
Thought for the day (and for the millennium): What is acceptable?
Most of us in Hawai‘i today, residents and visitors alike, snorkel or dive over the beautiful coral reefs and think how amazing they are…and this is what we have come to accept as a normal, healthy, coral reef ecosystem.  But when you come up here and see the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, you realize what the reefs in the Main Hawaiian Islands used to look like, and how it should be.  If everyone could come up here and see what we see, there would be a renewed incentive to make strides toward restoring the natural balance. 

The Science:
The goals of the fish team are twofold on this voyage.  The primary objective is to make an assessment the fish assemblages by collecting data that will describe: 1) the population density of the different fish species in numbers per unit area; and 2) the biomass (weight) of fish species per unit area.  These values are then analyzed in further detail and individual species are grouped into their respective trophic groups (what they eat).  We can then construct a trophic pyramid for each site.  Take for example the familiar food pyramid: the apex predator, like a lion or a shark, would be at the top point.  Below it would be a wider selection of prey and below them an even broader selection of prey, and so on.  Imagine if you will, a new concept: an inverted pyramid where the apex predators are the most prevalent species in ‘biomass’, and the reverse is true for its prey assemblages, and so on.  Data collected and analyzed for other Pacific islands have demonstrated this type of assembly.  This may provide us with a baseline of what reefs used to look like.  Data we are collecting provide a baseline and help us determine the structure of the ecosystem and determine how it changes over time.

Brian Zgliczynski goes over some of the new survey sites.

The second purpose of this cruise is to test a new survey method and compare it to the methods used in the past.  That is, data being collected using the new protocol will be analyzed and compared to years of past data to see if they have similar results.  In addition to the permanent sites that are monitored here annually, we are testing a random stratified sampling design, wherein additional sites are randomly selected for different select habitats.  The habitats are stratified by lagoon, backreef (inside), and forereef (outside), and each has three depth strata (layers): shallow, moderate, and deep.  To increase the capacity to detect changes over time, it is imperative to increase the number of sample sites and replicates (surveys).  Ideally the new method will save time, increase the number of survey sites, and increase the amount of data collected on a mission to give a better overall snapshot of the health of the reef. 

Fish team on the zodiac.
The fish team getting ready to deploy.

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