Hawaii’s coral in peril: lawsuit filed

LIHUE — The Trump administration caught another lawsuit as a strong marine heat wave is starting to impact Hawaii’s coral reefs, including reports of coral bleaching on Kauai.

The nonprofit conservation group Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration Thursday for failing to protect cauliflower coral around the Hawaiian Islands.

That specific type of coral was particularly affected by warming ocean waters, according to environmentalists and entities including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Cauliflower coral was considered for protection in 2018 under the Endangered Species Act. However, the National Marine Fisheries Service hasn’t made a decision.

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a notice of intent to sue in May, asking NMFS to follow up on their review of the species and issue a listing decision.

“Cauliflower coral is like the canary in the coal mine of our warming oceans. Marine life around Hawaii will suffer without bold actions to protect coral reefs,” said Maxx Phillips, the center’s Hawaii director.

“Hawaii’s coral reefs are dying, and they need our help. Letting colorful corals bleach white and die indicates an ocean becoming less bountiful and biodiverse,” Phillips said.

Thursday’s lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Hawaii.

In a Thursday news release, the center said protecting Hawaii’s corals is going to require more than a listing under the ESA, but it could help.

They cite solutions like cutting fossil-fuel emissions and land-based pollution as well.

“An Endangered Species Act listing could help minimize and mitigate threats,” the center said in the release.

Meanwhile, a strong marine heat wave has reached Hawaii, and there are reports of bleaching events across the state.

Eyes of the Reef is a nonprofit organization that helps gather those reports. It’s a bridge between citizens out in the water collecting information and state entities, like the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.

Together they’re hosting a new website where citizen scientists can report bleaching, and where anyone can check in to see where bleaching has been reported.

On Kauai, bleaching was reported on both the north and south shores. Severe coral bleaching was reported on Oct. 8 near Kalanipuao Rock and Makaokahi Point, just west of Spouting Horn.

Severe bleaching was also reported near Anini on the North Shore in September.

Other bleaching reports are coming in from underwater videographer and The Garden Island columnist Terry Lilley, who has been shooting footage around Kauai and monitoring coral conditions.

He says the corals at or near Tunnels, Limahuli Stream and Wainiha all had a less-than-5% bleach rate, according to his calculations, and pointed to a high flush rate in those locations leading to cleaner conditions for the corals.

“The only interesting observation is just about all of the blue rice corals at every site are bleaching,” Lilley said in an Oct. 5 report.

“There are only a few blue rice colonies at each site because most of them got wiped out in the 2014 and 2015 black band disease event.

“It seems like the blue rice corals are the first to bleach or die on every shallow reef along the North Shore of Kauai and Oahu,” Lilley said.

Written for The Garden Island newspaper, published October 11, 2019. Photos by Terry Lilley, underwater photographer. 

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