Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures

Expedition Team Bios
Diving Technology
Underwater HD Filming


Meet the Expedition Team

Dr. Jim Maragos, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coral Reef Biologist

Dr. Jim Maragos

As a coral reef biologist, Dr. Jim Maragos has surveyed wildlife, completed ecological assessments, created atlases and collected information to help manage protected marine areas. His expertise in the ecology of atolls sets him apart from other biologists.

Growing up in Long Beach, California, and reading about environmental problems inspired Jim's interest in the oceans and in their protection, and he has succeeded in working toward positive change. His research on Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, from 1968 through 1972, contributed to the removal of an environmentally harmful sewage outfall pipe. After completing his Ph.D. in oceanography at the University of Hawaii in 1972, Jim went on to lead the environmental office of the Pacific Ocean Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He later served as chief scientist for the Pacific Region for the Nature Conservancy and was a Senior Fellow at the East West Center in Honolulu.

Today, Jim continues to study coral reefs and encourage the protection of underwater ecosystems through his work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which includes monitoring and, in some cases, restoring coral reefs at a dozen National Wildlife Refuges. He also is now working with UNESCO to establish dozens of remote Pacific islands, atolls and reefs as World Heritage sites.

Interview with Dr. Jim Maragos

What was the best part about doing underwater research with the Cousteau team?

Diving with such skilled and enthusiastic divers was phenomenal. Most of the time I dive with scientists who are totally focused on recording their observations and collections and don't have the time to take in the big picture and better appreciate the beauty and importance of these special places. Jean-Michel, Yves, Holly, Blair, Mike, Antoine and the rest of the film crew demonstrated incredible sensitivity and dedication in understanding each reef and getting the most out of each dive.

Which new technologies influence your collection of data?

At present, digital photography has revolutionized the way I collect biodiversity data and monitor the status of corals. In the old days, I'd use a pencil and a waterproof slate to record all species, but now, in far less time, I load 1.5 GB of memory cards in my Olympus digital camera and take photos of every different type of coral I see, then identify them later. In the 1990s, underwater video also allowed more data collection within the limited time of each dive. Of course, computers have simplified collection of data, write-ups, tabulation, statistical analyses, presentations and public release of information. And modern deep-diving submersibles allow more marine scientists to stay underwater longer and go deeper in exploring ancient reefs and deepwater wildlife. Coming up next, new methods in genetics will allow us to gain a better understanding of the origins, evolution and present distribution of all coral reef species and will be powerful tools for justifying the protection of valuable and imperiled coral reefs. Most of the ocean still remains relatively unexplored, and it is time to figure out what's down there, lest it all disappear at the hand of mankind.

Which striking NWHI coral reef research findings are important for the public to know about? Why?

Many large jacks, sharks and other apex predators continue to thrive and dominate coral reef communities. And the high degree of endemism [species found nowhere else] is profound, both on land and in the ocean. In fact, the level of marine endemism in the NWHI is the highest reported in the world. And alien species and prevalence of disease on NWHI coral reefs is among the lowest reported.

What is a transect and why is it an important research method?

A transect, or transect line, is a rope or measuring tape stretched out on a reef in a linear fashion, usually along the same depth contour, along which marine scientists collect information about the reef. For example, data on corals, fish, algae and other invertebrates can be collected precisely along the line, above the line and/or to either side of the line. Thus, transect data are easier to interpret and express in terms of quantities per unit distance (meters, or "m"), per unit area (m²) and per unit volume (m³). If permanent markers, such as the stainless steel stakes I install, are placed along the line, then the same transect site can be precisely and quickly reused in future years and resurveyed to determine changes in that reef over time. There is tremendous variety on coral reefs over short distances, and the permanent markers help realign the transect line in the same place to maximize obtaining accurate information on trends over time and minimize the inaccuracy that comes from surveying different parts of the reef. Also, transect lines are often preferred over other orientations because dive time is normally limited to an hour, and transect lines can be deployed and retrieved quickly.