August 8th was our last field day for the Reef Team and we set our record for reefs surveyed. We finished a total of 11 transects at three separate locations. I think we saw a total of five Crown of Thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) which was the first time I had seen them on the reef.
Dr. Steele noticed the damage to this coral, and upon closer investigation … a crown-of-thorns seastar was found!
We finished up with a few transects off of the Pacific Resort. During that transect, we saw another moray eel (Muraenidae). The combination of moray eels and Crown of Thorns in our transects made this last day of field work very memorable.
On August 6th our Reef Team surveyed two sites. The second site, the Clam Hatchery, was definitely the highlight of the day. The 30-meter visibility left us in awe as we surveyed the reef. Clams were abundant and there were huge bommies covered with various types of coral. It was amazing to see cryptic clams living within coral. The clams camouflaged with the coral so well the snorkeler counting invertebrates had to move their hand over the rock to generate a shadow. If a clam was hiding there, it would clamp closed its shell/retract its mantle from the diver-generated shadow, confirming it was indeed a clam rather than a rock. The larger clams seemed to stay on the bottom while the smaller clams were on the reef.
Today, the reef team surveyed two sites. At the first site, there were hardly any reefs. We then swam across a channel to a motu where there were two small reefs we were able to survey. This area was on the ocean side and not protected, so there was a heavy surge and was hard to survey. Aimee surveyed the invertebrates and within one transect from zero to five meters she found 91 sea urchins! After the first site we continued to our second site that was behind a restaurant called Puffy’s Bar and Grill.
The second site was beautiful. The visibility was good and there was not as much surge as the first site. We saw a variety of fish that kept the site interesting. The corals were mostly Porites covered with macro algae called Turbinaria. There was way more of this macro algae found on the second site when compared to the first site. The highlight of our day was on the second transect at our second site where we saw a Moray eel that was about five feet long. After completing four 10 meter transects at the second site we met up with other groups at a different beach north of the airport, where we helped complete surveys with the lagoon and sandy beach teams.
I am so excited to go to the Cook Islands! I am looking forward to everything on this trip! I love learning about different cultures and am so excited to add research to the mix. I am looking forward to learning about and seeing different species I have never encountered.
I am also eager to compare different management techniques I have learned from the Coastal Managment class with management techniques used by the Cook Islands. It will be interesting to learn more about fishing rights, coastal protection, and future conservation plans for things like sea level rise.
The coconut crab (Birgus latro) is the largest terrestrial arthropod and is in the same family as the terrestrial hermit crab. They live near the ocean but prefer dense forest cover. These crabs have adapted to breathing on land with their unique organ called branchiostegal lung. This lung has tissue that is similar to tissues found in gills but absorbs air instead of water. They are omniverous and feed on fallen fruit and coconut palms. Coconut crabs have a keen sense of smell and use it to hunt food. They flick their antennae to locate smells of rotting fruit or carcasses. Coconut crabs have no known predators besides other coconut crabs and people. These crabs are hunted for their meat. In 1981, the coconut crabs was listed as a Vulnerable Species on the IUCN Redlist, but has since been listed as data deficient.
This picture was taken from Wikipedia.