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HEALTH AND NEW FINDS CONTINUE TO REVEAL THE UNIQUE NATURE
OF THE NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS
Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands-September 23, 2002)-Halfway
through their 30-day research expedition, scientists from
NOWRAMP 2002 (the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Reef Assessment
and Monitoring Program) continue to report health, abundance
and new observations during their 10-stop tour of the remote
portion of the Hawaiian archipelago.
the core of the research mission, Rapid Ecological Assessment
(REA) teams continue to survey diverse habitat areas at each
of the islands and atolls of the leeward chain. So far, the
teams have completed surveys at 75 new sites, bringing the
total number of sites surveyed since NOWRAMP began in 2000
to 276. The purpose of these surveys is to identify and rapidly
evaluate and various habitat types within the relatively shallow
coral reef habitats (typically between 0 and 60 feet) of the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).
addition, 24 towed diver and 7 TOAD (tethered optical assessment
device) surveys have been completed to obtain quick assessments
of habitat over large areas. These surveys serve to complement
the detailed look that the REA teams provide, enabling scientists
to apply the habitat characteristics across similar areas.
Using TOAD surveys with an acoustic seabed classification
system enable scientists to take photographs and video of
deeper reef habitats too deep to study using REA or towed
diver habitat surveys on the windward side of the barrier
reef at French Frigate Shoals reported moderate abundances
of crown-of-thorns sea stars that were not found during the
NOWRAMP 2000 or 2001 surveys. According to Rusty Brainard,
Ph.D., chief scientist aboard the Townsend Cromwell, while
a natural component of coral reef ecosystems, coral-eating
crown-of-thorns sea stars can have devastating effects on
coral reef communities when their populations increase to
infestation levels. During towboard surveys on NOWRAMP 2000,
moderate abundances of crown-of-thorns sea stars were observed
only at Pearl and Hermes and Kure Atolls.
New components of this years NOWRAMP expedition including
quantitative algae sampling, inter-tidal REA surveys, and
maritime archaeology, have yielded new finds that have added
value to the mission. For example, quantitative sampling of
marine algae is being conducted for the first time in the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by REA teams on both the Rapture
and the R/V Townsend Cromwell. Most significant is
the fact that algal experts have not found alien algae at
the reefs surveyed so far. This is in contrast to the main
Hawaiian Islands where alien algae dominate many reef habitats
at places like Kane`ohe Bay and Waikiki Beach.
sampling is important to allow scientists and resource managers
an improved understanding of how reefs are built and is useful
as an indicator of overall ecosystem health," said Peter
Vroom, Ph.D., algal expert aboard the Townsend Cromwell. "So
far on this trip, the algal biologists have been somewhat
surprised by the amount of calcium carbonate-producing algae
found. These algae are critical sand producers in healthy
coral reef ecosystems."
through the expedition, algal scientists are already observing
changes in species composition between islands. "As we
travel up the archipelago, team members are clearly seeing
the differences between islands in terms of the balance between
fish, coral and seaweed," said Dr. Karla McDermid, one
of the Rapid Ecological Assessment team leaders. McDermid
continued, saying that it's been "interesting to document
that different pristine reefs reach different states of balance
among species depending on the unique physical and biological
conditions at each place."
the coral and invertebrate researchers, McDermid and other
team members have found several species of algae that are
rare to the main Hawaiian Islands. One of these is Sporochnus,
a brown, twiggy seaweed they observed at Maro Reef. They have
also found many red, blade-like seaweeds-some star-shaped,
some with little 'feet' for attachment to rocks-whose identification
will have to wait until the vessel returns.
research divers ascend to the surface from their work, they
come up with questions about their observations. Populations
of Liagora at Pearl and Hermes Atoll and Ganonema at French
Frigate Shoals showed patchy localized distributions, causing
team members to begin hypothesizing about the causes of these
unusual patterns. "I am so pleased to hear people on
the expedition asking questions about what they've seen, posing
hypotheses, and thinking about the next steps for future research
in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," said McDermid.
Another new component of the NOWRAMP mission is an inter-tidal
and shallow water rapid ecological assessment (REA) of algae
and invertebrates. In 2000 and 2001, REA teams focused on
areas between 25 and 60 feet in depth. This year, a two-person
team has been braving the wave-washed rocky shorelines in
search of limu (algae), `opihi (limpets), urchins, sea cucumbers,
slugs, crabs and other invertebrates. This inter-tidal component
was included this year to begin to develop a baseline of information
for areas that, to date, have not been surveyed.
the inter-tidal team has collected and recorded several new
species distributions at each island or atoll and have been
intrigued by a number of observations they've made, for Larry
Basch, intertidal REA team leader, Laysan Island has held
the most surprises so far. "The geology at Laysan is
very complex, with ancient limestone reefs that are now exposed,
interlaced with sand beaches, arches, and shallow offshore
lagoons and reefs. These exposed reefs hold many-leveled terraces
of tide pools that cascade from one to another with each large
ocean swell that sweeps through. Laysan is unique among the
NWHI. One benthic (sea floor) expert, Donald Potts, Ph.D.,
noted that it is unlike anything else he has seen in the Pacific
in terms of geology. Also, just offshore in knee-deep water
are thick schools of anchovy, apparently drawn by shallow
high nutrient conditions," commented Basch.
nutrient conditions have also created a rich and diverse assemblage
of limu, showing the highest biomass (density) of any intertidal
zone in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands so far. The scientists
also found the highest diversity of invertebrate animals in
the shallows at Laysan seen so far. "There are several
crabs, lobster, snails and other animals -- many that feed
on limu -- that we've added to our species lists, and a sea
anemone (Heteractis malu) and crabs that has not previously
been seen at Laysan.." Typically, the sub-tropical Pacific
Ocean is low in nutrients but the area around Laysan appears
to be quite rich. "One could say that the reason is the
high number of seabirds present on Laysan," said Basch,
"But, in my opinion, there's more to investigate. Maro
Reef also contained limu species that typically exist only
under high nutrient conditions. This may be due to oceanographic
conditions that bring deep, nutrient-rich water to the surface.
For the fish scientists, abundance and size continue to be
the theme of their observations. One of the most unique sightings
so far has been the spotting of a blue chub or nenue (Sectator
ocyurus) that is typically oceanic (not found near reefs),
has only rarely been reported in the main Hawaiian Islands,
and has never been reported in the NWHI before. The chub is
normally found in Japan, the Society Islands and from California
fish scientists also observed large schools of juvenile `aweoweo
(Hawaiian bigeye, Priacanthus meeki) at a number of locations
which they surmise is a good sign for the longevity of this
species. They also reported the observation of large numbers
of sharks and large ulua or jackfish were in nearly all REA
dives. According to the scientists, the abundance of these
important predators appears to be as healthy, if not healthier,
than observed in previous years.
its more northerly location, the reefs at Pearl and Hermes
Atoll had some of the greatest diversity of fish seen so far
on the trip. This includes a number of angelfish species that
are rarely seen in the populated main Hawaiian islands.
observed a greater number of large male uhu (parrotfish) than
we typically see in the the main Hawaiian islands. These larger
males are typically targeted by spearfishers which may account
for their relatively smaller numbers in the populated islands
compared to the NWHI," said Alan Friedlander, Ph.D, one
of the REA team leaders. "Our overall impression so far
is that at each place we visit, we see an ecosystem that is
in balance -- with all the necessary animal and plants, functioning
in as natural a state as possible," Friedlander summarized.
"This is in stark contrast to the main Hawaiian islands
where we have either damaged or discarded important parts
- either specific species or habitat, or both -- causing the
ecosystem to malfunction.
that we have had the opportunity to survey a much broader
area and a wider variety of habitats, we see distinct differences
in the fishes between basalt islands, coral atolls and coralline
islands," Friedlander concluded.
Dwayne Minton, Ph.D, invertebrate biologist from the National
Parks Service, commented on the progress that he and his colleagues
have made on this trip, saying that "in combination with
the results from NOWRAMP 2000, we have hundreds of new invertebrate
records never seen before at each of the islands we've surveyed
so far. NOWRAMP 2000 increased known invertebrates at French
Frigate Shoals from approximately 150 species to over 600
species. NOWRAMP 2002 has added many more new records, but
the exact number will not be known for a while."
most specimens will not be identified until returning to Honolulu,
half a dozen crab species and many of the nudibranch (sea
slug) species that have been found may be new records for
the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Some of these may be entirely
new to science (never described by scientists anywhere on
the globe before). The invertebrate researchers have also
made observations that highlight the difference between reef
ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands and those of the Northwestern
Hawaiian Islands. "Unlike the main Hawaiian islands,
few alien invertebrate species have been observed on the reefs
in the Northwestern islands, and of those we've seen, none
appear to be very abundant," said Minton. "With
this said, however, the presence of any of these potentially
invasive species, even in their current benign state, illustrates
the fact that these pristine reefs can be invaded. Unless
vigilantly guarded, these reefs could become home to future
populations of unwanted species."
In addition to the work of coral scientists who are part of
the REA teams, a coral monitoring team was added to NOWRAMP
2002's agenda. The team has been working to establish permanent
monitoring sites at each of the islands visited during the
expedition. Midway through the trip, the team has established
9 new sites and re-surveyed 3 that were established in 2001.
The establishment of these sites is critical to monitor the
changes that may occur over time. According to Jim Maragos,
Ph.D., team leader for the coral monitoring team, new records
of corals were reported at Necker, French Frigate Shoals and
of the coral monitoring team's effort includes collecting
coral cores at some of the survey sites. Two-inch diameter
coral cores are collected from massive colonies of Porites
evermanni (lobe coral) at different depths and habitat
types. According to Daria Siciliano, a member of the team,
"these core samples will allow us to establish historical
and recent growth rates of the corals across the archipelago,
and determine the effect of global climate change on the growth
and calcification of remote reefs, far removed from human
In addition, the coral monitoring team is also working to
improve the accuracy of habitat maps created from satellite
The Terrestrial Team set out on this expedition with two primary
goals - first, to assess the bird populations on the different
islands to assess populations of the region's approximate
14 million seabirds; and second, to assess plant populations
and do what is possible to control invasive weed species.
One of the aggressive weeds that has been targeted is a yellow
daisy-like plant called Verbisina. Two biologists were
left at Pearl and Hermes Atoll yesterday to set up a 10 day
field camp to combat the aggressive weed and monitor the bird
population at the Atoll's southeast island. They will be picked
up when the Rapture returns to the atoll on the 26th.
team also gathered seeds from the endangered Nihoa Palm or
loulu (Pritchardia remota) from Nihoa Island and take them
to Laysan Island for outplanting. The palm was once found
on Laysan island before human impacts and commercial exploitation
of the island wiped the plant out by 1923. A total of 320
seeds were gathered on Nihoa, then soaked twice in a mild
chlorine solution to prevents the transfer of harmful bacteria,
fungus or other disease organisms that could otherwise be
transferred to Laysan. Once sprouted, the seeds will be planted
over the next few of weeks by 2 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Technicians
stationed at Laysan and raised in a shade house until they
are ready to be outplanted. In 1923 Laysan was devoid of virtually
all plant life. Today, native species abound.
Archaeology and History:
One aspect of NOWRAMP research that has quickly captured the
imagination of the expedition's website followers is the work
of the maritime archaeology and history team. This three-person
team has been searching for signs of shipwrecks, utilizing
published reports and suggested coordinates from old ship
logs, more modern reports from mariners, and other literature
to target them.
French Frigate Shoals the team surveyed a well-known "barge"
in near shore waters off Tern Island. The barge actually turned
out to be a twin-screw landing craft, identified by Hans Van
Tilburg, Ph.D., that was upside down. According to Van Tilburg,
amphibious vessels of this type were some of the 'unsung heroes'
of the Pacific War. Also in the vicinity were a submersible
lifting pontoon and two large old anchors, unshackled and
placed on top of reefs as markers or trophies.
the southeast of Laysan Island Van Tilburg's team documented
the wreck of the fishing vessel Kaiyo Maru #5, as well
as an interesting fragment of a bamboo raft and other maritime
flotsam found nearby. Near the landing area that was used
during the days of guano mining, the team found three encrusted
anchors, likely from guano transport vessels. Further offshore,
the team discovered what they term a 'suspicious site' (one
they feel may likely be a shipwreck site), consisting of fouled
anchors embedded into the reef and encrusted iron debris which
are characteristic of wreck sites. Van Tilburg feels confident
that the area is a possible wreck site that warrants a more
detailed, multi-day survey in the future.
their four-day stop, at Midway Atoll, the team will survey
a number of well-known wreck sites, including the submarine
rescue vessel Macaw lost during the rescue of the USS
Flier in 1944 and the turn-of-the-century sailing ship
Carrollton carrying coal from Australia to San Francisco.
Their first target will be a ballast pile wreck site and nearby
anchors in the historic Wells Harbor mid-lagoon. Both the
General Seigel and the Wandering Minstrel were
lost in this area.
seas have continued to greet the scientists at each location,
with the exception of 8 to 10 foot swells they encountered
during the crossing between Laysan Island and Pearl and Hermes
Atoll a few days ago.
continues to become abundantly clear that the observations
of each day brings new insights and raises new questions about
the complex ecology of the NWHI that we need to follow up
on," summarized Randall Kosaki, Ph.D, chief scientist
aboard the Rapture. 'These NOWRAMP missions are just
a beginning - a quick glimpse of what's here to offer us a
road map of the areas we need to explore more closely, the
indicators we need to pay attention to which will help us
mark critical changes over time, and the relationships among
species and between animals and their habitat."
accomplish their mission, scientists to date have safely completed
over 700 SCUBA dives.
is either prophetic or ironic that we find ourselves mid-way
through the cruise on Midway Island; not only the site of
a pivotal Naval Battle but a "turning point" of
sorts as we head into the second half of a very successful
research and education expedition," said Greg McFall,
dive supervisor for SCUBA operations aboard the vessel Rapture.
"Because of the diving experience and diversity represented
in the respective dive teams, the job of diving supervision
is made much easier. The teams are self-motivated, safety-oriented
and dedicated to collecting the information necessary to make
this expedition a resounding success."
research vessels, the Rapture and the R/V Townsend
Cromwell, headed to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
earlier this month a to expand the baseline of knowledge and
information about the biological, historical, and cultural
resources of the area. This baseline information is critical
for the development of effective management strategies and
future priorities for the region, and will be of value to
all agencies with NWHI jurisdiction.
all, aboard the two vessels, there are 3 teams of divers conducting
rapid ecological assessments of various sites at each island,
reef or atoll. Other activities include night time sonar measurements
to accurately map the seafloor habitat; towboarding and towed
camera surveys to obtain quick assessments of habitat over
large areas; coral monitoring and hyperspectral imaging; intertidal
and shallow water surveys and maritime archaeology. The vessels
are expected to return to O'ahu Monday, October 7, 2002.
collaborators are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
(NOAA) National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries
Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State
Department of Land and Natural Resources, along with the University
of Hawai'i, Bishop Museum, and the National Park Service.
Note: A sampling of still images and newly shot video will
be available through Hastings & Pleadwell. (Still images
were shot by Jim Watt, video images were shot by Mike May.
Please credit photographer and NOWRAMP 2002.)
few NOWRAMP participants returned to Honolulu from Midway
on Saturday, September 21 and can be available for interviews.
Nainoa Thompson, President, Polynesian Voyaging Society
Bell Hudgins, U.S. Fish and Wildife Service
Anthony, Videographer for the Expedition
to interview them can be made through Hastings & Pleadwell.
track the vessels, obtain anecdotal stories from participants
or learn more about the expedition overall, visit: www.hawaiianatolls.org
are being posted daily.