Expedition Phoenix Islands: Blog from the Boat

Coral in the Phoenix Islands. © Randi Rotjan, New England AquariumAn extremely fine and exciting day in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. On the way out for our first dive, fairy terns fluttered about the skiff, while others darted around in the distance.

The day unfolded through 3 dives with Stuart (Sandin) to collect fish data (the coral and photography teams not far away), a swim down the landing channel to a Nikumororo landing, two lovely manta rays at the channel mouth, and the way home to a beautiful sunset seen from the Nai’a.

Today we worked the windward side of the Nikumororo, and this brought views of a rich buffet of busily regenerating reef corals, already with substantial (30 percent to 50 percent) live coral cover in many places.

Old mounds of finger coral framework were overgrown with thick crusts of bright coralline algae and green Halimeda, a branching upright green alga with cactus pad – or coin-like plates all joined together.

Coral from the Phoenix Islands.Atop all this, and spreading rapidly over it (as evidenced by thick growth horizons around the peripheries of coral colonies – fluorescent pink in the case of an unusual type of Porites coral that is common here) was an impressive diversity of small to medium-sized coral colonies.

They were of all the possible growth forms – branching, pillared, massive, encrusting, and foliose, like cabbages. The fishes were fun. Good species diversity, many individuals quite large – except the sharks. Only a few big ones, but lots of smaller individuals – blacktips and grey reefs.

Along with the return of the corals came the velvety-hued corallivorous butterflyfishes: Meyer’s, ornate, reticulated, and many others.

My nose was totally buried in the reef until Stuart tapped my head and I looked up – straight into a massive school of silver-grey jacks and another one of medium-sized barracuda, the two clouds of fish the woof bound by weaving skeins of blue and white trevallies. Up in the jack school were scattered knots of yellowfin surgeonfish, looking totally out of place. They weren’t spawning or interacting much behaviorally, so they must have been feeding, but on what? Read more >>

Learn more about the Phoenix Island Protected Area expedition

Les Kaufman is the Senior Investigator for Marine Management Area Science at Conservation International

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