NOAA Initiates $1.4 Million Three-Year Project to Study Valuable Deep Hawaiian Coral Ecosystems

October 24, 2007

NOAA has awarded four Honolulu based organizations $500,000 for the first year of a three-year $1.4 million project to improve the understanding of deep water coral reef ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands.

“We know very little about corals found in the 30 to 100 meter depth range,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The technological advances in unmanned remote vehicles give researchers the chance to gain new insights into how these deeper coral ecosystems function and their importance in the broader effort to protect coral reefs.”

The funds were awarded through NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies program to researchers at the Bishop Museum, the departments of plant biology and geology at the University of Hawaii, the State of Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources, and NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

“Our Hawaiian archipelago is blessed with abundant life, and I am pleased that my colleagues and I in the Congress have been able to support NOAA's efforts to shed light on increasingly diverse segments of our complex ecosystem,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. “The coalition of partners that will exploring Hawaii's deep sea corals with today's grant funding mirrors the diversity of the natural ecosystem, and it is my hope that cooperative efforts like this will form a firm foundation for community members to work together in the future."

A multidisciplinary team will focus on a recently discovered coral ecosystem in the Au’au Channel between the islands of Maui and Lana’i. The researchers plan to determine the physical and ecological characteristics that regulate these deeper water coral ecosystems and how they differ in comparison to the ecosystem needs of shallow water counterparts.

The researchers will use the data to predict where and how many of these unique coral ecosystems can be found in Hawaii. This information will allow resource managers to consider options for the recovery of shallow water coral reefs.

Coral reefs in shallow coastal waters can be harmed by natural events such as hurricanes, as well as human activity because of their nearness to coastal development and recreational areas, and the potential for their easy removal. Deep, light-dependent coral ecosystems are usually more isolated from these events and may allow these areas to act as a refuge to species depleted in the shallow coral reefs, and to harbor a higher proportion of rare or endemic species compared to shallower coral reef environments.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service, through its Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, provided approximately $10 million in competitive grants in fiscal year 2007 to other institutions to assist NOAA in fulfilling its mission to study our coastal oceans.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870’s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.