The Ocean

Photo: Red snapper

Red snapper, with a school of soldierfish, swimming near Vostok Island

Photograph by Enric Sala

Southern Line Islands

During the spring of 2009, Enric Sala and a team of scientists returned to the central Pacific—this time to the southern Line Islands, a province of the Republic of Kiribati located some 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) south of Hawaii. These are among the most remote and isolated atolls on Earth. They are rarely visited. No person calls them home.

The team spent six weeks visiting Flint, Vostok, Millennium, Starbuck, and Malden islands. They observed and documented water quality, fish populations, predator populations, and the health and diversity of the coral reef itself—the heart of the tropical marine ecosystem. Renowned terrestrial ecologist and conservationist Mike Fay conducted above-water transects on the islands.

The expedition was the first comprehensive study of its kind. Researchers hope to use the data to establish a baseline model for healthy coral reefs, to quantify the effects of human activity on these ecosystems, and to devise a blueprint for the conservation of already degraded reefs.

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