Hawaii’s Coral Pledge

 Hawaii’s six-step pledge aims to educate visitors and residents about real actions they can take to help preserve the reefs. Tour companies and others in the visitor industry are already signing the pledge — and the public can, too at https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dar/coral-pledge/

“The Coral Pledge” highlights these six action points:

• Let Fish Protect Reefs
• Corals Like Their Space
• Stand on the Sand
• Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen
• Contain Any Chemicals
• Anchor Away from Reefs

As Hawaii simmers in warmer-than usual ocean temperatures, experts monitoring the expected coral bleaching said in early November that it’s not as severe as was predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September.

But it is widespread, in pockets, and monitoring the corals throughout this marine heat wave could help with future response to bleaching and coral research.

For the past two months, teams from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, conducted rapid assessments of coral health along coral reef tracts throughout the state.

They report cauliflower and rice corals were most impacted and that the ocean temperatures are already starting to cool off. However, as much as half of live coral bleached in the most heavily affected areas.

“Conditions for corals are now improving with sea surface temperatures beginning to drop,” said Gerry Davis with NOAA Marine Fisheries. “While bleaching this year was not as devastating as the events seen across the Hawaiian Islands in 2014 and 2015, the DAR surveys, along with NOAA observations and reports from ocean users to the Hawaii Coral Bleaching Tracker, show there still was substantial bleaching found on all islands.”

Kauai follows that pattern, according to DAR aquatic biologist Kim Fuller, who led survey teams to reefs around multiple islands.

“Kauai’s reefs mirrored this year’s statewide trend with extensive bleaching in some areas and less in others, but overall the 2019 event appears to be less severe than those of four and five years ago,” Fuller said.

Kauai local underwater photographer Terry Lilley started reporting bleaching at the Anini coral reefs in September. Other citizens also reported some unhealthy-looking corals in the area.

Lilley recently reported that the corals in that particular area have “partially or totally recovered” and that big swells have cleaned out the lagoon.

“It appears that we do not have any wide range coral bleaching in Kauai due to the so-called ‘blob’ or a degree or two of sea temperature rise,” Lilley said.

On Hawaii Island, the majority of the sites surveyed by the DAR teams showed some level of bleaching. The areas most affected by the bleaching were along the Kona coast, with an average of 40% live coral bleached in many survey locations. Several locations there were heavily bleached in the 2015 event, which resulted in high mortality.

On Maui, bleaching surveys showed that the amount of coral impacted was less than in 2014 and 2015, but areas with low coral from previous events were more severely impacted this year.

Several locations on Oahu were surveyed for bleaching the first time this year, in what were the most extensive islandwide surveys yet conducted by DAR aquatic biologists and technicians.

Davis said corals bleach and recover at different rates in ways that aren’t fully yet understood.

“You could have two individual corals right next to each other, same species, and one will bleach and the other won’t,” he said. “We’re still learning as we go.”

That’s where citizens come into the picture, by reporting what they see in the coral reefs to DAR and organizations like Eyes of the Reef.

“We need to do everything we can to preserve (corals) for our future and for our children,” Davis said. “We need to work together.”

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, printed November 6, 2019. Photos by Jessica Else.

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