A US research vessel has been able to map the ocean floor and survey the coral reefs of the Marianas to help conservation agencies, divers and sailors navigate the island’s waters and protect underwater habitats .
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, hosted a free outreach event at War in the Pacific Asan Beach Park on Saturday. The US Fish and Wildlife Service helped organize the event.
With the help of the Rainier ship, NOAA has been able to collect data in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam since April, and will complete its mission in about two weeks. Rainier is currently moored in the port of Apra.
A critical mission goal is to make boating and diving safer by updating nautical charts using the latest sonar equipment to identify what’s on the ocean floor.
This is done using multibeam echo sounders which measure the depth of the ocean and provide a detailed picture of the sea floor. Sounders analyze the time it takes for sound waves to travel from a boat to the seabed and back.
They also show images of seamounts, shipwrecks, reefs and other formations along the coasts of the island.
Alice Beittel, a junior NOAA officer on the Rainier, said the full results of their data should be available in about a year.
“We are immediately submitting items critical to safe boating and working with the Coast Guard to release chart updates so that anything that constitutes a major hazard is released before the investigation is even complete,” said Beittel.
She said the NOAA Office of Coast Survey offers free downloadable nautical charts on its website for commercial and private vessels.
Another important part of the research is monitoring coral reefs and recording data on fish and their habitat.
A new problem the team discovered on this trip is an outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish in the waters off Pagan Island in the CNMI, said Bernardo Vargas Angel, coral ecologist for the Division. of Fisheries Ecosystem Science from NOAA.
Starfish eat coral, and when overcrowded they can seriously damage a reef.
Vargas Angel said a possible cause of starfish overpopulation could be sediment runoff from the land that brings nutrients into the ocean.
He said the research they collect is outsourced to partner agencies in the territories, such as the Guam Department of Agriculture and the National Park Service.
“We don’t decide what to do. We give the information and our interpretation of the data and based on local needs and policies, local officials take that information and implement actions,” said Vargas Angel.
If sailors, divers, or other interested members of the public have questions or wish to request information about the project, email [email protected]
Pacific Daily News reporter Jackson Stephens covers poverty as a member of the Report for America corps.
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