Once again we have the privilege to explore diverse coral reefs, this time is in the remote islands of the Hawaiian Archipelago - excitement is building every minute we spend in Hawaii. On this trip, we have the great pleasure to join efforts with the team from NOAA Marine Sanctuary head office and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary team. This is a very exciting collaboration that has been brewing for about a year, facilitating a wealth of local knowledge and expertise to guarantee the success of this mission. Aided by this collaboration we have put together an ambitious plan to survey about 40 reef sites in five of the eight major islands in the archipelago.
With more than 410,000 acres of reefs, Hawaiian coral reefs represent a large portion of the US coral reef systems. Because of the geographic location in the tropical North Pacific, these systems are largely isolated, resulting in about 25 per cent of the marine species being endemic to this region. A combination of the geographic isolation, volcanic geology and exposure to a strong oceanic environment, the configuration of Hawaiian coral reefs is highly unique, when compared to other regions of the world we have visited. These attributes makes Hawaiian reefs highly intriguing to us, in terms of science, raising questions about the natural state of these systems, drivers of their spatial patterns and the difference when compared to other regions in the world.
The timing of this expedition is quite crucial as it also offers an opportunity to better understand Hawaiian reefs in a time of change. The Pacific Ocean may have entered into a phase of warming waters induced by the El Niño southern oscillation, combined with an unusual hydrological phenomenon of circular warm water mass travelling through the Pacific, known in scientific circles as ‘the Blob’. Unfortunately, this may have important and deleterious consequences for Hawaiian reefs as temperature anomalies sustained for a long time can cause coral bleaching and consequently mortality across large extensions. This first expedition to Hawaii may offer the opportunity to create large and comprehensive baseline information to monitor the impact of these phenomena on Hawaiian reefs.