Dr. Malia Chow is the Superintendent of NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (sanctuary), a role that necessitates experience working with stakeholders, researchers and government officials, etc. on varying levels. What readers might not know is that Malia also holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Pennsylvania and did her post-doctoral fellowship with University of Maryland’s Center for Marine Biotechnology, giving her a great understanding and appreciation of laboratory and field research. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that she’s also a former academic researcher with University of Hawai‘i’s Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology. She has also worked hand-in-hand with local communities and government officials to tackle marine management and stewardship issues across the Pacific through training and skills development activities, which has given her incredible insight into collaboration and team work. Needless to say, NOAA’s Coastal and Ocean Science Blog was excited when Dr. Chow agreed to speak with us about a recently-completed Hawai‘i coral mapping study published by researchers from the Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) in partnership with the sanctuary and other stakeholders across the region and NOAA.
Thank you for sitting down with us, Dr. Chow.
Thank you for inviting me to meet your readers.
What was the impetus for the “Modeling Mesophotic Coral Distributions in the Au’au Channel, Hawaii” report?
The sanctuary is currently undergoing a review of its management plan. As part of the review process, the sanctuary held a scoping period during which sanctuary users, members of the public and agencies had opportunities to comment on current sanctuary management strategies and allowed stakeholders to provide input on what issues and problems they see as management priorities for the sanctuary. It was during that process that several leading scientists provided letters identifying the unique features of mesophotic corals and the urgent need for their protection in the Main Hawaiian Islands. In response to those letters, the sanctuary looked for ways to gather more information.
What made NCCOS scientists a good choice for the project?
The Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA) at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Research (NCCOS) was the best choice for this project because their scientists are able to conduct field observations on a regional and national scale. They are also very good at synthesizing the best available scientific information for resource managers.
How did the sanctuary coordinate with NCCOS scientists to design the scope and goals of this effort?
Sanctuary staff reached out to NCCOS to develop a study for evaluating existing survey data and map additional existing mesophotic coral beds which we lacked data on within the Maui Nui complex area. There was significant interaction between NCCOS and sanctuary researchers to define the scope and goals of this effort and to identify key scientists who had collected the existing data.
Who were the other partners besides NCCOS who collaborated on this report?
NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Coral Reef Ecosystem Division and Protected Species Division, the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and US Fish and Wildlife also collaborated on this effort.
How did you strike a balance between resource conservation and local stakeholder needs inside the sanctuary?
As the sanctuary considers protecting and conserving additional natural and cultural resources of national significance under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (Act), there has been considerable engagement with various stakeholder groups. Sanctuary management will continue to facilitate multiple uses within the sanctuary that are consistent with the primary purpose of resource protection defined by the Act.
How does the sanctuary plan to use the data from this recent report to inform decision-making within the sanctuary?
This report will be used to understand the distribution and abundance of mesophotic corals in the Main Hawaiian Islands and their associated threats, and to assess whether additional management action is warranted for their protection and conservation.
How will this study shape future scientific research in the sanctuary? Outside of mesophotic corals, what additional needs does the sanctuary foresee wanting to address in the way of research for meeting its management and conservation goals?
The sanctuary is considering a wide range of both natural and cultural resources for possible inclusion in the sanctuary. A proposal for inclusion will be completed as part of the sanctuary’s management plan review process. The results of this study will inform the decision as to whether mesophotic corals should be included in the sanctuary and will likely direct future research in the sanctuary. A draft proposal will be made available for comment before the proposal is final. We expect to have a draft to share with the public towards the end of 2013.
Where can readers learn more about the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary?
Please visit our website to learn more about the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.