Coral Reef NOAA
May 31, 2016  

Cruise Monitors Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

a bathymetric map (colors delineating depth) of the area near Reef Runway off Honolulu International Airport, mapped in December 2010
A stand of Acropora coral at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo credit: NOAA photo by Erin Looney, JIMAR

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NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) scientists and their partners left Honolulu on September 5 aboard the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai for a 26-day Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP) cruise in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). Research partners were from the University of Hawai`i Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Ocean Associates, San Diego State University, and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

This Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) RAMP cruise focused on French Frigate Shoals, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Kure Atoll, and Lisianski Island. Scientists used standard Pacific RAMP techniques to survey benthic and fish populations and hydrographic properties and to deploy and retrieve scientific instruments. For the first time in the NWHI, the CRED installed calcification acidification units to establish baseline information on crustose coralline algae and stony corals in the NWHI, including the growth rates and other changes in these critical reef-building organisms as oceans become more acidic.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch issued a widespread bleaching alert for parts of the Pacific for September through December 2010. To better understand coral reef ecosystem responses, Pacific RAMP scientists observed conditions across the Hawaiian Archipelago. In the north and northwest backreef areas at Kure Atoll, scientists reported up to 100% bleaching of a single species, Montipora capitata, in localized areas at depths less than three meters. However, researchers noted that the overall degree of bleaching was similar to what was reported during 2008 and 2009 missions and that no dead corals were observed during the mission that were associated with this bleaching event.  At French Frigate Shoals, a number of overturned table corals were observed which could be an effect of Hurricane Neki, which passed directly over French Frigate Shoals in October 2009.

Monitoring biological, physical, and oceanographic parameters in the NWHI is a critical part of understanding the condition of and changes to this region's coral reef ecosystems and the processes that influence them, ultimately providing resource managers with information needed for ecosystem-based management.  The first NWHI RAMP cruise occurred in 2000.