Research Surveys in the Pacific
Our scientists conduct field surveys to study and monitor marine life and ecosystems in the U.S. Pacific Islands region. Surveys are conducted in partnership with local, state, and federal agencies and universities.
Our researchers monitor the “Deep 7,” seven species of bottomfish in Hawai‘i, by working with local fishermen and deploying underwater camera technology. The surveys are fishery-independent, and assess the numbers and sizes of bottomfish around the main Hawaiian Islands. We collect data at various scientifically-selected sites around all eight of the islands by working with local fishermen through the Pacific Islands Fisheries Group. At sea, our researchers also collect video footage of bottomfish in their deepwater habitat using an underwater camera system (MOUSS). We are committed to cooperative research with local fishermen to build relationships with the community and improve the collection of scientific information. Data collected on bottomfish research surveys guides sustainable fisheries and resource management for the Deep-7 species in Hawai‘i and the overall ecosystem.
Coral Reef Ecosystem Surveys
Our scientists assess threats to coral reefs by conducting monitoring and research activities, including habitat mapping, oceanographic and climate studies, and long-term monitoring of coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. Pacific Islands. We characterize of the status and trends of these coral reef ecosystems over time by collecting data using ship-based research expeditions, scientific instrument installations, and satellite mapping. Accurate assessments of coral reefs and their rich marine ecosystems inform conservation and management in a changing climate. The Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program surveys are a key component of NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program, a long-term effort to to collect the information needed to gauge changing conditions of U.S. coral reef ecosystems—among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on earth.
Ecosystem and Oceanography Surveys
To better understand the structure and dynamics of ocean ecosystems, our scientists survey coastal and pelagic fish species, and the underlying oceanography, in specific regions. We study ecosystems on many different scales ranging from fine-scale habitat characterization to basin-scale oceanography and from short-term individual foraging behavior to long-term population trends. We use trawls and net surveys to sample microscopic plankton and fish larvae living at the ocean surface, in the water column, and even deepwater. Understanding ecosystem productivity—from the environmental drivers to the entire marine food-web—is critical for developing sustainable fishery management practices and helping predict impacts of climate change.
Fish Life History Surveys
We conduct research expeditions to examine the life history of commercial and subsistence valued deepwater and coral reef fish found in specific regions of the U.S. Pacific Islands. During these surveys, scientists work with fishermen and local researchers to collect biological samples, such as fish otoliths to estimate age and gonads to determine reproductive status. From these, we estimate growth rates, mortality, and size- and age-at-maturity and how they vary over space and time. Fish life history information is used to inform stock assessments and ultimately contribute to sustainable fishery management. Our focus is on species that are important to local economies and communities.
Hawaiian Monk Seal Surveys
For more than 30 years, our biologists have set up field camps to assess the status of Hawaiian monk seals at remote locations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Now, every year, we return to the same locations to study threats to monk seal survival and find ways to help save individual seals in an effort to eventually recover the entire species. Small teams of field biologists are deployed for two to six months at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Midway Atoll, and Kure Atoll. They measure and tag all weaned seal pups, identify all individuals, conduct beach counts of seals, remove marine debris, and conduct additional scientific and recovery efforts to protect the Hawaiian monk seal population.
Marine Debris Surveys
Our team voyages to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to survey and remove marine debris from remote, unpopulated shorelines and coral reefs. We focus primarily on derelict fishing gear (nets, plastic buoys, and floats) that damages corals and entangles wildlife. Since 1996, we have returned to the Papahānaumokuāea Marine National Monument almost every year to clean up debris in this ecologically significant area. Marine debris is a choking and entanglement hazard to many threatened marine species and seabirds, including the Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, humpback whale, and Laysan albatross.
Sea Turtle Surveys
In 1973, our research team began monitoring green sea turtle nesting activity at remote French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Although field biologists annually set up remote camps and work day and night to count every nest and turtle, tag nesting females, and count hatchlings, our efforts have expanded to include population assessments and monitoring across the Pacific. Working in close collaboration with multiple local and international partners, we conduct nesting beach and in-water monitoring of green and hawksbill turtles in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Philippines, and throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago. Additional research includes monitoring interactions of leatherback, loggerhead, green, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles with longline fishing fleets based out of Hawaii and American Samoa, as well as artisanal gillnet fleets in Indonesia. The data generated through these efforts represent key input for sea turtle threat assessments, status evaluations, and population modeling.
Whale and Dolphin Surveys
Across the vast Pacific Ocean, our scientists strategically survey whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in specific regions to better estimate their numbers, examine their population structure, and understand their habitat. During each cetacean survey, we collect visual data (species, group size estimates, location, biopsy samples, satellite tag, etc.) and passive acoustic data (underwater recordings). Managers use these data and updated information to assess the status of cetacean populations and consider management measures.