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Installation team secures shackles on the new CREWS station. (Photo: NOAA)

NOAA introduces 'early warning' coral reef observing network to Pacific

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Thursday, September 22, 2011, 22:40 (GMT + 9)

Coral reef managers in the Northern Mariana Islands will now receive early warning of dangerous environmental conditions that can weaken and kill high value coral reefs, thanks to a new coral observing station added today in Lao Lao Bay, Saipan. The new station is a first-of-its-kind for the Pacific region and joins a network of other monitoring stations in Caribbean and Atlantic tropical waters that assist officials conserve, protect and manage reef ecosystems.

Coral reefs in the Pacific and throughout the world provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental benefits such as food, protection of the coasts, and tourism. The benefits provided by coral reefs to Saipan’s tourism industry alone are estimated to be worth more than USD 42 million, according to a 2006 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of the Interior-funded study.

This station, installed last month off the island of Saipan, will collect and transmit a suite of observations, including warm water conditions that could trigger a coral bleaching event. Data will also be used by researchers and managers to understand the complex physical, chemical and biological processes influencing the health of coral reef ecosystems.

New CREWS station in the Northern Marianas will provide officials with help to understand the complex physical, chemical and biological processes that influence the health of coral reef ecosystems.(Photo: NOAA)

Jim Hendee, PhD, a coral expert with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Florida, led the team that built and deployed the station for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Programme. The station joins a network of three existing Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) stations established in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands.

“This particular installation has been through several years of planning and logistics and I’m proud of the dedicated team of scientists and engineers who brought it to fruition,” said Hendee. “This station will expand NOAA's conservation efforts in the Pacific and provide environmental managers with the data they need to understand the region's coastal and coral reef ecosystem dynamics."

CREWS stations are part of the larger Integrated Coral Observing Network (ICON)  that integrate data in near real-time from in situ, satellite, radar and other sources for ecological forecasting in coral reef ecosystems. This latest station was established jointly with the Pacific Integrated Ocean observing System (PacIOOS), the Pacific regional component of the US Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®).

PacIOOS contributed a suite of sensors to the station to monitor ocean conditions, as well as impacts from sediment and algae blooms that can degrade healthy reefs.

“Working with NOAA to establish a full-water column monitoring site in Saipan, with the ability to transmit real-time data to coastal managers in Saipan, and around the world, is a great first step to expanding ocean observations throughout the Pacific Region,” said PacIOOS Director Chris E Ostrander.

This station will transmit a variety of data, including air temperature, wind speed and gusts, wind direction, barometric pressure, precipitation, light (above and below water), sea temperature, salinity and state of tide. The data is sent to NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center and is included in the World Meteorological Organisation’s Global Telecommunications System, making it available for use by weather services all over the word.

According to the World Resources Institute, 75 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by a combination of local and global pressures with that percentage expected to grow to more than 95 per cent.

As part of the US Integrated Ocean Observing System, the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System is a partnership of data providers and users working together to enhance ocean observations and develop, disseminate, evaluate and apply ocean data and information products designed to address the needs of stakeholders who call the Pacific Islands home.

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Photo Courtesy of FIS Member  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA/NMFS
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