World Ocean Census - Extract 14 - Coral reefs in the Northwest Hawaiian islands

13 April 2010

In October 2006 the first expedition was launched to survey the coral reef environment of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, an untouched marine wilderness and the world’s most remote island sanctuary.

Census researchers take great pains to use techniques for sampling the diversity of reefs that do not destroy the reefs themselves. Using a mixed bag of collection methods in this location that included suctioning samples from the seabed, sifting through coral rubble with paintbrushes, and deploying traps, scientists collected approximately 4,000 samples, including more than 1,200 DNA samples to complement taxonomic analyses. After the samples were sorted, scientists estimated that more than a hundred new species of crustaceans, corals, sea squirts, worms, sea cucumbers and mollusks could be described from this work. Another result of the expedition was expansion of the known range of distribution for many species. For instance, at least 18 species of corals that were previously unknown in the area have now been observed and recorded in French Frigate Shoals.

In addition to identification of many new species and expanded ranges for existing species, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands expedition left one other lasting legacy. In 2006 the researchers deployed autonomous reef-monitoring structures, which were later collected in 2007. These structures, dubbed “dollhouses,” were designed to provide a habitat for reef creatures that mimics the reef’s structure. The aim was to provide a method for studying reef recolonization that would allow researchers to observe and interpret how reefs rebound from disturbances such as pollution events, storms and ship groundings. Such information can provide valuable guidance for future management and conservation of coral reef environments.


Ocean sample collection relies on innovative methods to collect organisms from seabed, such as this airlift used to gently vacuum the ocean floor. Courtesy of Jim Maragos


Text and images reprinted with permission from World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life by Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft and James M. Harding Jr., Firefly Books, 2009

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