Maui News

Scientists Launch Mission to Reveal Condition of Hawaiʻi’s Reefs

August 21, 2015, 2:42 PM HST
* Updated August 21, 4:28 PM
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By Maui Now Staff

A scientific expedition has been launched to explore and study the health of the different coral reefs in Hawaiʻi.  The XL Catlin Seaview Survey will capture unique imagery of coral habitats in and around the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary adjacent to the islands of Oʻahu, Maui, Lānaʻi, Hawaiʻi and Molokaʻi.

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Survey scientists from the University of Queensland in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, will collect the imagery using an advanced SVII camera.

Representatives say the images will be used to gain a comprehensive understanding of the region’s distinctive marine ecosystem and the health of corals. Findings will also help scientists better understand and monitor the potential impact of environmental and human stress factors on coral recovery in the future.

According to NOAA, recent news on the impact of climate change and rising sea temperatures in the Pacific make this expedition particularly timely.

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The agency cites a recent EPA report titled Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action, saying “coral cover in Hawaiʻi could potentially decline from the current 38% to 5% by 2050 if continued warming persists. The most common effect of rising seawater temperatures is coral bleaching. This phenomenon occurs when corals expel their colored algae, causing them to appear white and in extreme cases die off.”

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According to NOAA, Hawaiʻi’s first ever mass bleaching event was recorded in the summer of 2014, and was attributed to an “unexplained patch of warm water” forming in the Eastern Pacific. With the combination of this phenomenon and a strengthening El Niño event this year, NOAA representatives say “the outlook for 2015 is far worse.”

“With Hawaii’s corals only now starting to recover from last year’s ‘blob’ occurrence, the current increase in ocean temperatures has the potential to stop and possibly reverse the recovery process, causing long-term damage to the state’s reefs,” the agency stated in a press release announcement.

“Due to location at a relatively high latitude and exposure to variable ocean conditions, Hawaiʻi is a remarkable place for the study of coral reefs and adds a vital element to our global picture of coral health,” said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the survey’s chief scientist from the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland in the announcement.

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“Despite the increasing global threat to coral reefs from climate change, Hawaiian reefs have remained relatively intact, although future conditions pose a very real threat. Surveying this region is likely to reveal important information on the resilience of coral reefs under the rapid and unprecedented changes in ocean temperature and acidity that are projected.”

Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Hanauma Bay Hawaiʻi 2012. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Hanauma Bay Hawaiʻi 2012. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Launching the XL Catlin Seaview Survey camera. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Launching the XL Catlin Seaview Survey camera. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Manuel Gonzalez from the XL Catlin Seaview Survey. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Manuel Gonzalez from the XL Catlin Seaview Survey. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Bleached Coral in Kāheʻohe Bay Hawaiʻi. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Bleached Coral in Kāheʻohe Bay Hawaiʻi. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Hanauma Bay Hawaiʻi 2012. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Hanauma Bay Hawaiʻi 2012. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

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