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Keywords:

  • algae bloom;
  • coral reef;
  • Hawaii;
  • phase shift;
  • tropical;
  • turf algae

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawai`ian Islands is the second largest marine protected area in the world, providing an opportunity for scientists to understand natural ecosystem fluctuations in subtropical marine communities with little anthropogenic impact. Gardner Pinnacles is composed of two emergent basaltic rocks and has the smallest land area of any island in the Northwestern Hawai`ian Island chain but has among the largest submerged reef area. Gardner Pinnacles is also among the least anthropogenically impacted island in the Hawai`ian Archipelago, although a thriving lobster and bottomfish industry existed in the area for many years. This study assesses nearshore algal biodiversity and percent cover at Gardner Pinnacles to examine interannual differences in community dynamics and places them in an ecosystem context by also examining associated invertebrate and fish communities. Biodiversity surveys increased the number of known eukaryotic algal species occurring in marine environments immediately adjacent to the emergent portion of Gardner Pinnacles from 31 to 77. Algal percent cover, specifically populations of the green alga Microdictyon setchellianum M. Howe, varied dramatically between sampling years, possibly in response to seasonal differences. Towed-diver surveys revealed that macroalgae covered >90% of the substrate during the 2003 sampling period but returned to 2000 levels (1%–35% cover) by 2004 without any detectable damage to other reef organisms. Fish communities remained statistically similar between sampling years, and percent cover of live coral around the island did not exceed 7%.