Recognizing the significance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Ecosystem Division’s (NOAA-CRED) findings on benthic coral and the Northern Marianas Islands biodiversity, Governor Ralph DLG. Torres stressed the importance of utilizing current data for the management and conservation of the CNMI’s coral reefs.
NOAA-CRED recently conducted their triennial trip in the Northern Mariana Islands archipelago, where they conducted rapid assessments on the ecological health of our reef systems. They presented their findings on June 22, 2017 for members of the administration and the Legislature in the Governor’s Conference Room on Capitol Hill.
“NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division has collected valuable data that illustrates the biodiversity of our waters. Our coral reefs are a key part of our way of life and with current data, we now have a greater understanding of our oceans and the effects of global climate change. These findings provide a solid foundation for oceanic data in our region which will be key to developing approaches to sustainable development,” Governor Torres said.
Dr. Kelvin Gorospe, Chief Reef Fish Ecologist, noted that the Northern Islands have a high fish biomass which is evident throughout the archipelago’s coral reef systems.
“There is a lot of variation but we try to account for that by visiting more sites in the surrounding areas. It takes longer to see the effects on the fish as these coral reefs respond to global climate change but the Northern Islands are very valuable resources,” adding that some rare species have been found in the area.
NOAA’s research team left Hawaii on the Hi’ialakai on March 26 and has conducted a total of 2,866 dives to collect data on a daily basis.
The research team performed surveys and several hundred dives throughout the waters of Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Aguijan, completing their two month long journey in Guguan, Agrihan, Pagan, Alamagan, Asuncion, Uracas, Maug, and Sariguan.
“The good news is the Northern Islands have a high juvenile density and only partial mortality in some coral which still allows for recovery from coral bleaching,” he said.
Data collected revealed that there is a significant increase in coral bleaching in Uracas from .033 percent in 2014 to 11.63% in 2017, brought about by extreme temperature changes caused by global climate effects.
Dr. Gorospe noted that this increase in uninhabited areas represents the growing concern that existent resources should be protected, preserved and promoted to reduce local effects so that coral reefs can be more resilient to global climate changes.
Governor Torres added that data collected by NOAA can be provided to the local community and policy makers for their reference.
“NOAA has provided the Commonwealth with valuable information to determine better ways to mitigate the effects of climate change. The CNMI cannot do it alone and we express our appreciation to the research team for their untiring efforts to collect data throughout our island chain.
The scientific crew hails from the University of Hawaii-Manoa, Scripps Oceanographic Institute (University of California-San Diego), San Diego State University, University of Guam, the CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality as well as NOAA.