Predicted Coral Bleaching Already Appearing off Molokini and South Maui
The severe and widespread coral bleaching event predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is already occurring along reefs across the state, according to information compiled by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Last week, a team from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources conducted a rapid assessment of coral health at Molokini and along Maui’s south shore from Mākena to Māʻalaea.
Russell Sparks, an Aquatic Biologist with the department reported that Molokini is composed of high percentages of the coral species. He said his team found roughly 50% of this coral already bleached or paling heavily. Meantime, corals showing bleaching in waters off Mākena, Wailea, and Kīhei is currently at less than 10%.
Sparks said that reefs in dirty water (closer to shore at Kalama Park and other areas in North Kīhei) are doing better than in similar areas with cleaner water. This may be due to the shading effect of dirty water reducing some of the stress from direct sunlight on these corals. At Olowalu, routine monitoring in August did detect numerous Porities corals bleached and overgrown with turf algae.
Areas along West Hawai‘i and Maui Nui are especially warm, as much as 3 to 3.5°F above typical summertime temperatures, according to Dr. Jamison Gove, a NOAA Research Oceanographer.
“Warm ocean temperatures are expected to persist in the coming weeks. Department officials say this will likely worsen the coral bleaching that has recently been observed across the islands,” said Dr. Gove.
NOAA, DAR and the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (ASU-GDCS) have joined forces to collaborate on coral reef science, conservation, and management in Hawai‘i. One of the outcomes of this partnership is the creation of a coral bleaching alert card, which depicts six, simple steps people can take to reduce any additional stress on corals during the current bleaching event.
Dr. Greg Asner, the Director of ASU-GDCS said, “My team has partnered with DAR and NOAA as a technical source for advanced aircraft and satellite monitoring of reefs throughout the main Hawaiian Islands. We launched the website, www.hawaiicoral.org to provide a simple, but advanced platform that integrates coral observations made by residents and visitors with observations made from the air and Earth orbit. The outcome is a real-time monitoring system that informs citizens as fast as scientists are getting data. Together, we can not only monitor this terrible bleaching event, but also work to reduce secondary stress on the most impacted reefs. After the heatwave ends, we will have a good map with which to plan restoration efforts.”