Scientists assess reef fish and benthic communities, monitor effects of ocean acidification off Timor-Leste

The PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) today began a mission to conduct surveys to provide quantitative assessments of reef fishes and benthic cover and collect water samples that will be used as baselines to monitor long-term trends in carbonate chemistry (i.e., ocean acidification) along the entire northern coast of Timor-Leste in conjunction with the Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP), National University of Timor-Leste, and Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. This effort is part of NOAA’s work in Timor-Leste that focuses, with support from the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) Timor-Leste Mission and in collaboration with the above partners, on providing technical assistance and building capacity to sustainably manage and conserve fisheries, biodiversity, and coral reefs.

Paula Ayotte, Andrew Gray, Kevin Lino, Kaylyn McCoy, Brett Schumacher, and Max Sudnovsky of CRED on June 4–27 will conduct an estimated 150 surveys with scuba, to assess populations of coral reef fishes and benthic habitats at different sites along the northern coast of Timor-Leste (see map, top right). They will collect baseline data through the use of a nonextractive, diver survey method called the stationary-point-count method. Results from these surveys will allow for comparison of spatial patterns in reef fish assemblages in shallow-water habitats at depths of 0.0–18.3 m and will provide information about the relative abundance, size, general health, and diversity of the coral reef fishes near the capital of Dili and the districts of Oecuessi, Bobonaro, Liquica, Manatuto, Baucau, and Lautem, including Atauro and Jaco Islands. In addition, divers will collect data to characterize the benthic habitats. The team also will collect water samples near the surface of the ocean and the bottom of the seafloor at sites (see map, bottom right) where a CRED team deployed equipment for ocean acidification monitoring in October 2012. These water samples will help to monitor changes in the carbonate chemistry of the coral reef ecosystems of Timor-Leste.

In addition to the reef fish and benthic surveys and with generous support from the CTSP, Max Sudnovsky of CRED and Rui Pinto of the CTSP will travel on land to visit the coastal communities of Timor-Leste and host a series of education and outreach workshops with the aims of raising awareness about these baseline assessment and monitoring efforts and providing an introduction on the importance of well-managed marine ecosystems and conservation of biodiversity.

For more information on CRED activities in Timor-Leste, see these previous blog posts:

Max Sudnovsky, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Blog, 3 June 2013. Article.

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