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Concept: Atoll


Sea-level rise and climatic change threaten the existence of atoll nations. Inundation and erosion are expected to render islands uninhabitable over the next century, forcing human migration. Here we present analysis of shoreline change in all 101 islands in the Pacific atoll nation of Tuvalu. Using remotely sensed data, change is analysed over the past four decades, a period when local sea level has risen at twice the global average (~3.90 ± 0.4 mm.yr-1). Results highlight a net increase in land area in Tuvalu of 73.5 ha (2.9%), despite sea-level rise, and land area increase in eight of nine atolls. Island change has lacked uniformity with 74% increasing and 27% decreasing in size. Results challenge perceptions of island loss, showing islands are dynamic features that will persist as sites for habitation over the next century, presenting alternate opportunities for adaptation that embrace the heterogeneity of island types and their dynamics.

Concepts: Oceanography, Climate change, Pacific Ocean, Maldives, Island, Atoll, Islands, Tuvalu


We report measurements of background gamma radiation levels on six islands in the northern Marshall Islands (Enewetak, Medren, and Runit onEnewetak Atoll; Bikini and Nam on Bikini Atoll; and Rongelap on Rongelap Atoll). Measurable excess radiation could be expected from the decay of (137)Cs produced by the US nuclear testing program there from 1946 to 1958. These recordings are of relevance to safety of human habitation and resettlement. We find low levels of gamma radiation for the settled island of Enewetak [mean = 7.6 millirem/year (mrem/y) = 0.076 millisievert/year (mSv/y)], larger levels of gamma radiation for the island of Rongelap (mean = 19.8 mrem/y = 0.198 mSv/y), and relatively high gamma radiation on the island of Bikini (mean = 184 mrem/y = 1.84 mSv/y). Distributions of gamma radiation levels are provided, and hot spots are discussed. We provide interpolated maps for four islands (Enewetak, Medren, Bikini, and Rongelap), and make comparisons to control measurements performed on the island of Majuro in the southern Marshall Islands, measurements made in Central Park in New York City, and the standard agreed upon by the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) governments (100 mrem/y = 1 mSv/y). External gamma radiation levels on Bikini Island significantly exceed this standard (P = <0.01), and external gamma radiation levels on the other islands are below the standard. To determine conclusively whether these islands are safe for habitation, radiation exposure through additional pathways such as food ingestion must be considered.

Concepts: Radioactive decay, Atoll, Marshall Islands, Bikini Atoll, Castle Bravo, Pacific Proving Grounds, Project 4.1


The taxonomy, biology, and population status of flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) remain little investigated in the Caroline Islands, Micronesia, where multiple endemic taxa occur. Our study evaluated the taxonomic relationships between the flying foxes of the Mortlock Islands (a subgroup of the Carolines) and two closely related taxa from elsewhere in the region, and involved the first ever field study of the Mortlock population. Through a review of historical literature, the name Pteropus pelagicus Kittlitz, 1836 is resurrected to replace the prevailing but younger name Pteropus phaeocephalus Thomas, 1882 for the flying fox of the Mortlocks. On the basis of cranial and external morphological comparisons, Pteropus pelagicus is united taxonomically with Pteropus insularis “Hombron and Jacquinot, 1842” (with authority herein emended to Jacquinot and Pucheran 1853), and the two formerly monotypic species are now treated as subspecies - Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus in the Mortlocks, and Pteropus phaeocephalus insularis on the islands of Chuuk Lagoon and Namonuito Atoll. The closest relative of Pteropus pelagicus is Pteropus tokudae Tate, 1934, of Guam, which is best regarded as a distinct species. Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus is the only known resident bat in the Mortlock Islands, a chain of more than 100 atoll islands with a total land area of <12 km(2). Based on field observations in 2004, we estimated a population size of 925-1,200 bats, most of which occurred on Satawan and Lukunor Atolls, the two largest and southernmost atolls in the chain. Bats were absent on Nama Island and possibly extirpated from Losap Atoll in the northern Mortlocks. Resident Mortlockese indicated bats were more common in the past, but that the population generally has remained stable in recent years. Most Pteropus phaeocephalus pelagicus roosted alone or in groups of 5-10 bats; a roost of 27 was the largest noted. Diet is comprised of at least eight plant species, with breadfruit (Artocarpus spp.) being a preferred food. Records of females with young (April, July) and pregnant females (July) suggest an extended breeding season. Pteropus pelagicus pelagicus appears most threatened by the prospect of sea level rise associated with global climate change, which has the potential to submerge or reduce the size of atolls in the Mortlocks. Occasional severe typhoons probably temporarily reduce populations on heavily damaged atolls, but hunting and ongoing habitat loss are not current problems for the subspecies.

Concepts: Caroline Islands, Atoll, Pteropus, Federated States of Micronesia, Chuuk, Namonuito Atoll, Yap, Pohnpei


Observations show global sea level is rising due to climate change, with the highest rates in the tropical Pacific Ocean where many of the world’s low-lying atolls are located. Sea-level rise is particularly critical for low-lying carbonate reef-lined atoll islands; these islands have limited land and water available for human habitation, water and food sources, and ecosystems that are vulnerable to inundation from sea-level rise. Here we demonstrate that sea-level rise will result in larger waves and higher wave-driven water levels along atoll islands' shorelines than at present. Numerical model results reveal waves will synergistically interact with sea-level rise, causing twice as much land forecast to be flooded for a given value of sea-level rise than currently predicted by current models that do not take wave-driven water levels into account. Atolls with islands close to the shallow reef crest are more likely to be subjected to greater wave-induced run-up and flooding due to sea-level rise than those with deeper reef crests farther from the islands' shorelines. It appears that many atoll islands will be flooded annually, salinizing the limited freshwater resources and thus likely forcing inhabitants to abandon their islands in decades, not centuries, as previously thought.

Concepts: Water, Sea level, Oceanography, Weather, Ocean, Flood, Storm surge, Atoll


The Maldives are an 850 km-long string of atolls located centrally in the northern Indian Ocean basin. Because of this geographic situation, the present-day Maldivian population has potential for uncovering genetic signatures of historic migration events in the region. We therefore studied autosomal DNA-, mitochondrial DNA-, and Y-chromosomal DNA markers in a representative sample of 141 unrelated Maldivians, with 119 from six major settlements. We found a total of 63 different mtDNA haplotypes that could be allocated to 29 mtDNA haplogroups, mostly within the M, R, and U clades. We found 66 different Y-STR haplotypes in 10 Y-chromosome haplogroups, predominantly H1, J2, L, R1a1a, and R2. Parental admixture analysis for mtDNA- and Y-haplogroup data indicates a strong genetic link between the Maldive Islands and mainland South Asia, and excludes significant gene flow from Southeast Asia. Paternal admixture from West Asia is detected, but cannot be distinguished from admixture from South Asia. Maternal admixture from West Asia is excluded. Within the Maldives, we find a subtle genetic substructure in all marker systems that is not directly related to geographic distance or linguistic dialect. We found reduced Y-STR diversity and reduced male-mediated gene flow between atolls, suggesting independent male founder effects for each atoll. Detected reduced female-mediated gene flow between atolls confirms a Maldives-specific history of matrilocality. In conclusion, our new genetic data agree with the commonly reported Maldivian ancestry in South Asia, but furthermore suggest multiple, independent immigration events and asymmetrical migration of females and males across the archipelago. Am J Phys Anthropol 000:000-000, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: DNA, India, Indian subcontinent, Indian Ocean, Maldives, Chagos Archipelago, Atoll


Microorganisms act both as drivers and indicators of perturbations in the marine environment. In an effort to establish baselines to predict the response of marine habitats to environmental change, here we report a broad survey of microbial diversity across the Indian Ocean, including the first microbial samples collected in the pristine lagoon of Salomon Islands, Chagos Archipelago. This was the first large-scale ecogenomic survey aboard a private yacht employing a ‘citizen oceanography’ approach and tools and protocols easily adapted to ocean going sailboats. Our data highlighted biogeographic patterns in microbial community composition across the Indian Ocean. Samples from within the Salomon Islands lagoon contained a community which was different even from adjacent samples despite constant water exchange, driven by the dominance of the photosynthetic cyanobacterium Synechococcus. In the lagoon, Synechococcus was also responsible for driving shifts in the metatranscriptional profiles. Enrichment of transcripts related to photosynthesis and nutrient cycling indicated bottom-up controls of community structure. However a five-fold increase in viral transcripts within the lagoon during the day, suggested a concomitant top-down control by bacteriophages. Indeed, genome recruitment against Synechococcus reference genomes suggested a role of viruses in providing the ecological filter for determining the β-diversity patterns in this system.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Bacteria, Ecology, Indian Ocean, Maldives, Ocean, Chagos Archipelago, Atoll


Isolated coral atolls are not immune from marine debris accumulation. We identified Southeast Asia, the Indian sub-continent, and the countries on the Arabian Sea as most probable source areas of 50 000 items on the shores of St. Brandon’s Rock (SBR), Indian Ocean. 79% of the debris was plastics. Flip-flops, energy drink bottles, and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) were notable item types. The density of debris (0.74 m(-)(1) shore length) is comparable to similar islands but less than mainland sites. Intact CFLs suggests product-facilitated long-range transport of mercury. We suspect that aggregated marine debris, scavenged by the islands from currents and gyres, could re-concentrate pollutants. SBR islets accumulated debris types in different proportions suggesting that many factors act variably on different debris types. Regular cleaning of selected islets will take care of most of the accumulated debris and may improve the ecology and tourism potential. However, arrangements and logistics require more study.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, India, Indian Ocean, Asia, Pacific Ocean, Fluorescent lamp, Maldives, Atoll


In 2012 we conducted an integrated ecological assessment of the marine environment of the Pitcairn Islands, which are four of the most remote islands in the world. The islands and atolls (Ducie, Henderson, Oeno, and Pitcairn) are situated in the central South Pacific, halfway between New Zealand and South America. We surveyed algae, corals, mobile invertebrates, and fishes at 97 sites between 5 and 30 m depth, and found 51 new records for algae, 23 for corals, and 15 for fishes. The structure of the ecological communities was correlated with age, isolation, and geomorphology of the four islands. Coral and algal assemblages were significantly different among islands with Ducie having the highest coral cover (56%) and Pitcairn dominated by erect macroalgae (42%). Fish biomass was dominated by top predators at Ducie (62% of total fish biomass) and at Henderson (35%). Herbivorous fishes dominated at Pitcairn, while Oeno showed a balanced fish trophic structure. We found high levels of regional endemism in the fish assemblages across the islands (45%), with the highest level observed at Ducie (56% by number). We conducted the first surveys of the deep habitats around the Pitcairn Islands using drop-cameras at 21 sites from depths of 78 to 1,585 m. We observed 57 fish species from the drop-cams, including rare species such as the false catshark (Pseudotriakis microdon) and several new undescribed species. In addition, we made observations of typically shallow reef sharks and other reef fishes at depths down to 300 m. Our findings highlight the uniqueness and high biodiversity value of the Pitcairn Islands as one of the least impacted in the Pacific, and suggest the need for immediate protection.

Concepts: Algae, Biodiversity, Coral reef, New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Atoll, Pitcairn Islands, Ducie Island


BackgroundThe location of the original home of the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, and the extent of its natural dispersal are not known. Proponents of a South American origin must explain why it is not indigenous there and why it shows greatest diversity in southern Asia. Conversely, proponents of an Asian origin must explain why there are no Asian Cocoseae and why the closest botanical relative to Cocos is in South America. Both hypotheses share the common problems of how, when, where and in what directions long-distance dispersal occurred.HypothesisThese difficulties are resolved by accepting that C. nucifera originated and dispersed by populating emerging islands of the coral atoll ecosystem, where establishment conditions impose high selection pressures for survival. When lifted by wave action onto virtually sterile, soilless coralline rocks just above sea level and exposed to the full impact of the sun, seednuts must germinate, root and establish vigorous populations. The cavity within the nut augments the buoyancy provided by the thick husk, which in turn protects the embryo and, by delaying germination, simultaneously extends viability while floating and provides a moisture-retentive rooting medium for the young seedling. These adaptations allow coconuts to disperse widely through the coral atoll ecosystem.ConclusionsThe monthly production of fruit and the long floating duration ensure that viable seednuts are always available in the lagoon to replace those destroyed by hurricanes and tsunamis, or to populate newly emerged coral atolls elsewhere. Long-distance dispersal is secondary, because it was the spontaneous, independent migration of coral polyps on a prolonged geological time scale that generated new coral atolls in new areas where the coconuts would be amongst the earliest inhabitants. The coconut palm became an intermittent, itinerant, pioneer endemic there, and also on suitable beaches on volcanic or large islands and continental coastlines.

Concepts: Arecaceae, Fruit, Seed, Coconut, Nut, Atoll


The sediments of Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, consist of bioclastic materials, including foraminifera and coral debris. The sedimentary depth profiles of elements showed that various elements including zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu) were enriched in the upper layers of the islands of Majuro Atoll. Carbon-14 dating revealed that the sedimentation of the upper layer was completed before 1670 and 542 cal BP in Laura and Calalen, respectively. The enriched elements could be categorized by their origins: (a) terrestrial elements transported as dust (aluminum (Al) and rare earth elements (REEs)); (b) anthropogenic elements (Zn and Cu); and © elements supplied by seabirds (phosphorus (P)). From the results of the total amount of Al supplied to sediments for ca. 2000 years, Al in Majuro Atoll was suggested to be airborne origin. The enrichment factors of the elements normalized to Al concentration of continental crust showed that REEs were also transported as dust, while Zn and Cu were mainly of anthropogenic origin. The speciation analysis by X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) showed the presence of Zn-Cu alloys originated from industrial products. It was also revealed that Zn was enriched in the surface due to anthropogenic emission after urbanization on Majuro Atoll and fixed by carbonate and phosphate at the upper layer, which inhibits migration of Zn into the deeper layer and its release to the groundwater and costal water. Hence, the fixation of heavy metals at the surface prevents their exposure to aquatic organisms and residents via fresh groundwater in the island.

Concepts: Sedimentary rock, Carbon, Zinc, Copper, Rare earth element, Atoll, Marshall Islands, Majuro