Reefs of Rawaki

This is blog entry posted from the field during the 2012 Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area (PIPA) Expedition. The Phoenix Islands are an isolated island chain more than 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. They are part of the island nation of Kiribati, which partnered with the New England Aquarium and Conservation International to create PIPA in 2008. Today it is one of the world's largest marine protected areas and a UNESCO world heritage site. This voyage is part of a regular series of scientific expeditions to investigate coral health and study ecosystems and biodiversity.

Photographer Keith Ellenbogen, a regular Aquarium blog contributor, is on the expedition capturing stunning underwater photos of marine life as well as the essence of life on a working research vessel. Here are some of the fish he photographed off Rawaki Island.

If you've ever been to Rawaki Island, you would laugh if someone mentioned their visit to the Rawaki forests. Afterall, the island is tiny and treeless and highly exposed... terrestrial Rawaki is an important nesting ground for seabirds, but it hardly known for it's vegetation. Within PIPA, it is part of the pest eradication project (read more about that here), but again: no forests.

BUT... if you mentioned that you visited the underwater forests of Rawaki, you might get the "lightbulb moment" you were hoping for. :-) After all, the underwater reefs of Rawaki are a complex forest of Porites, Acropora, Monitpora, and Pavona corals (among others), building complex habitat to host a spectacular array of reef fishes and other organisms. Some examples of these underwater forest creatures ...

A vampire snapper lurks in the deep dark coral forests of Rawaki.

Teeming with anthias and a few jacks patrolling the scene, Rawake reefs are full of life.

Every forest has it's wolves... or sharks, in this case. Can you see the fish hiding amidst the coral structure?

Planktivores, herbivores, and corallivores abound in this photo - high in the water column with no predators in sight. 

Descending to the forest below! Dive master Mo proudly wearing a 2010 New England Aquarium/Monterey Bay Aquarium Fiji Expedition t-shirt.  He says hi to Bailey.

Rough seas and bad weather in Rawaki alter the course of our exploration to the windward side of Rawaki Island, but the serenity below makes up for the roughness above!

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