The NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai left Honolulu on Thursday, January 21 with 22 scientists aboard from NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, the University of Hawaii, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on a three-month-long expedition to monitor the condition of coral reefs in the Pacific. This is the first of three legs of the biennial Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP) cruises which will work in the Pacific Remote Island Areas and American Samoa this year. Specifically, the first leg of the cruise will focus on Johnston, Howland, and Baker Islands and a portion of the American Samoa archipelago. The second segment will be conducted around all islands of American Samoa and the third will travel to Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. This is the fifth Coral Reef Conservation Program expedition to American Samoa and the seventh to the US Line and Phoenix Islands.
During each segment of the research expedition, the scientists will conduct comprehensive monitoring surveys of shallow-water marine resources. Teams of specialists will survey and assess the status of fishes, corals, algae and marine invertebrates while SCUBA diving from small boats launched from the Hi`ialakai. Fine-scale assessments will be conducted by divers surveying along 25-meter transect lines, and larger-scale assessments will be conducted through towed-diver surveys. Oceanographers will collect data using various kinds of oceanographic monitoring equipment, including data telemetry moorings, underwater moored instruments, and sensors on the ship. These cruises also provide the USFWS with a rare opportunity to visit and monitor seven islands that are USFWS reserves and a part of the newly established Marine National Monuments: the Pacific Remote Islands Areas and Rose Atoll. During its stay in American Samoa waters, the Hi`ialakai will devote a day to an education and outreach project for local high schools directed by staff of the NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries Program.