Expedition to NWHI and Johnston Atoll

June 18th, 2013
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Researcher Rob Whitton in a school of Jacks at Johnston Atoll. Scientists just returned last week for an expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Johnston Atoll, where they are documenting the diversity of life in deeper coral reefs. This is important, according to chief scientist Randall Kosaki, due to the threats of climate change.

Researcher Rob Whitton in a school of Jacks at Johnston Atoll. Scientists just returned last week for an expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Johnston Atoll, where they are documenting the diversity of life in deeper coral reefs. This is important, according to chief scientist Randall Kosaki, due to the threats of climate change. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Members of a research expedition to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument came back last week with specimens of new species of deep-water algae from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the first recorded specimens of black coral from Johnston Atoll.

After 26 days of research dives to deep coral reefs 200 feet, they came back with photos of over 20 species of fish never before recorded from the NWHI and 15 species of fishes never before recorded at Johnston Atoll.

"This represents a significant increase in the known biodiversity of Hawaiian coral reefs, and provides insights into how Johnston Atoll contributes to the diversity of our reefs in Hawaii," said Randall Kosaki, NOAA's Deputy Superintendent of Papahanaumokuakea and chief scientist of the expedition. "It also underscores how poorly explored the deeper portions of coral reefs are, and how much remains to be discovered. This documentation of diversity is timely and critical, because climate change threatens much of this diversity before we even know it exists."

The research team visited Nihoa, Mokumanamana, French Frigate Shoals and Laysan Island at Papahanaumokuakea and then Johnson Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (about 860 miles west of Honolulu). Johnston Atoll is often regarded as a key "stepping stone" for a number of central and south Pacific marine species to colonize the NWHI.

Old growth coral reef at Laysan Island. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Old growth coral reef at Laysan Island. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Scientists on this expedition:

>> Collected samples of fish, corals, other invertebrates and algae for population genetics analysis' surveys.

>> Surveyed deep coral reefs and associated fish communities

>> Searched for invasive alien species of coral and algae

>> Conducted archeological surveys of the Howland, an 1800s whaling ship that wrecked at Johnson Atoll.

Scientists from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology also conducted surveys of coral disease on the research cruise. Fortunately, the coral reefs at NWHI and Johnston Atoll exhibited low levels of coral diseases, according to research John Burns, and represent  healthy coral reef ecosystems — "an important baseline to have as we enter an era of accelerated climate change."

A Moorish idol at Laysan in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

A Moorish idol at Laysan in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The scientific team included researchers from NOAA, the University of Hawaii, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and Bishop Museum.

Table coral at Johnston Lagoon. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Table coral at Johnston Lagoon. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

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