Last stop Lisianski!
By: Megan Onuma & Carlie Wiener, COSEE Island Earth
We have arrived at our last expedition stop, Lisianski Island. Home to some of the largest and most diverse coral reefs and surrounded by the breathtaking Neva Shoals. After eleven cumulative days of diving, most of the scientists are familiar with the routine: awake at 6am to put out the equipment and dive gear for the day, breakfast at 7am, dive briefing at 7:30am, and loading the small boats and transiting to the research sites by 8:30 am. Divers are reminded of the weather conditions and run through safety drills during the dive briefing as to not get complacent with their diving; however, at this point in the trip, divers are familiar with each other, the research needs, and the daily tasks.
Since this is the last leg of our journey, much work needs to be completed. The coral team is comprised of two PhD and one Masters student from the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi. Nyssa Silbiger, PhD student is focusing on bioerosion, which is the natural break-down of corals by living organisms. She has been hard at work deploying and retrieving coral blocks made from old coral skeletons to see what accumulates or erodes on these blocks over a year's time. She previously put down blocks of recycled coral skeleton on the last expedition at various locations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and is now collecting them to examine what kinds of creatures burrowed into the blocks and grew on top of them. After a bit of searching (as it is a big ocean) the team was able to find the blocks and remove them. These dives are not without excitement, as researchers are usually greeted by a few ulua (Giant Trevally) and gray reef sharks, checking up on what they are doing.
John Burns, another PhD student on this team, is assessing the health of the coral reefs using three dimensional video of the reef habitat. John is able to complete his work by laying out a transect, which is simply a measuring tape placed along the bottom of the ocean next to the reef. One diver will take a series of pictures along this transect so that each portion of the reef is photo documented. At the same time, the other two divers swim slowly along the line, identifying and recording each coral species, their size and health condition, in order to get a good idea of the state of the reef.
Amazingly, all that work is just one of the four research teams on this expedition. Two other boats have been devoted to the RAMP (Reef Assessment Monitoring Program) characterizing the reef using similar transect line methods. The RAMP scientists are split into two groups: the fish team focusing on counting and sizing the fish seen on the reef, and the benthic team who examines the corals, substrate (what kind of bottom is present), as well as the algae, invertebrates, and is on the lookout for invasive species. The last boat is devoted to the acoustics team, comprised of one PhD and one post-doctoral student monitoring remote reef habitats using sound to determine the species present and their activity cycles.
It is clear from all the hard research and long days in the field that this is truly one passionate group of students and scientists. This work is important as it will help determine future research and management applications for the pristine reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. With only a few days left to complete their research, scientists are diligently working round the clock not only preparing for these last dives, but beginning to process all their data. Keeping all the site information organized, and up to date is critical not only for analysis, but for reporting purposes. Once scientists get back from their expedition all data entered must be reported back to managers so they can better understand this remote habitat and keep apprised of the outcomes of these expeditions.
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