Research explains near-island biological hotspots in barren ocean basins

Coral reef islands and atolls in the Pacific are predominantly surrounded by vast areas of ocean that have very low nutrient levels and low ecological production. However, the ecosystems near these islands and atolls are often extremely productive and support an enhanced nearshore food-web, leading to an abundance of species and increased local fisheries. An international team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, National Geographic Society, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Bangor University published a study in Nature Communications today which provides the first basin-scale investigation of this paradoxical increase in productivity near coral reef islands and atolls —referred to as the Island Mass Effect.

“Surprisingly, scientists have historically known very little with respect to the prevalence, geographic variability, and drivers of this ecologically important phenomenon,” said Jamison Gove, lead author of the study and research oceanographer at the Ecosystems and Oceanography Program of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

“Important services that ecosystems provide to human populations, such as fisheries production, can be intrinsically linked to nearshore phytoplankton enhancement associated with the Island Mass Effect,” said Margaret McManus, co-author of the study and oceanography professor.

Read more about it in the UH System News.