holy bleaching!

Over the last two weeks, Kirsten and Kalani have been out in the field, conducting fish and benthic surveys with our marine monitoring team in Kaʻūpūlehu on Hawaiʻi Island.

As great as it was to be back in the water, there was just one big thing putting a damper on all the excitement.  All the bleached coral! With ocean temperatures, at what could be an all time high ranging from 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit, along the west coast of Hawaiʻi island, the team couldn’t believe their eyes or their wetsuits.

All the warnings of coral bleaching came to a haunting reality as the team completed over 150 dives spanning three weeks.  The extent of the bleaching event was unprecedented but there are hopes of resilient colony’s continued survival through this last push of warm water temperatures.

look but don’t touch

Responsible viewing is an important part of keeping Hawaiʻiʻs wildlife safe.  Please remember to keep your distance, do not attempt to feed, touch or ride wildlife, and choose responsible tour operators.

As part of a partnership between TNC, NOAA, DLNR, and Hawaiian Airlines the PSA below will be airing on all in-bound flights to the islands, appealing to visitors to help protect Hawaiʻi’s iconic marine species.

For more information on sea turtles, monk seals, and spinner dolphins visit roarhawaii.org.

gorillas on molokai?

Invasive species are a reoccurring theme throughout Hawai’i from land to sea.  While some are worse than others, they all pose a threat to the unique and native ecosystem of our island state.  One of the most threatening invasive species to our coral reef ecosystem is Gracilaria salicornia, or gorilla ogo.  Found in tide pools and on reef flats, gorilla ogo forms thick mats, smothering and carpeting any life reef structure much unlike its deliciously edible native counterparts, G. parvispora and G. coronopifolia, (ogo and limu manauea.)  The invasive gorilla ogo reproduces both sexually and asexually by fragmentation; any small piece of algae can break off, float away and establish a new population.  The algae was introduced to both Kāneʻohe Bay and Waikīkī in the 1970s but has since spread to Hawaiʻi Island and Molokaʻi.

What a nightmare! 

Last week, Brad and Kirsten hopped on over to Molokaʻi with folks from the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) Aquatic Invasive Species team and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to help Molokaʻi’s community survey the gorilla ogo distribution along their southern coast.  The community has expressed concern about the gorilla ogo distribution as it is inhibiting their fishpond production and hurting their fishing efforts; much of the island’s population subsists off the land and their environment is one of their most prized attributes.

DAR, OHA, and TNC helped to teach 40+ community members over three days how to use GPS, measure sediment depth, and identify invasive and native algae.  Together, we covered over 14 miles of shoreline and mapped thousands of GPS points.  The Molokaʻi community can now independently continue their efforts to map the remaining miles of the south shore and will be working with DAR and TNC in the future to develop and management plan for the gorilla ogo population.

healing reefs

Bleaching is putting coral reefs around the globe in even greater danger than they already are.  A result of warmer ocean temperatures, coral bleaching causes change in color and can result in death of the symbiotic algae within the coral skeleton.

PC: David Slater

NOAA has sent out a warning report, finding that a global coral bleaching event that began last year in the Pacific Ocean may be spreading to the western Atlantic – and to Hawaiʻi.  This not only means harm to Hawaiʻi’s beautiful blue seas but could have an effect on the long-term supply of seafood and a decline in the state’s tourism-based economy.

A study by NOAA quantified the economic value of the Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs at almost $34 billion. 

Although as much as 60 percent of Hawaiʻi’s corals have bleached since last fall, 90 percent of the corals have recovered and even reproduced; a sign of good coral health and maybe even resilience. However, with higher than average ocean temperatures already this year, the idea of a second bleaching event brings some fright.

If you live in Hawaiʻi nei and observe coral bleaching or invasive species, please submit a report with Eyes of the Reef Hawaiʻi.

To learn more about coral bleaching and ways scientists are working to combat it, click here.


Bring your own bag!

Today, Oʻahu will join the rest of the state in the plastic bag ban.  Retail stores will no longer provide plastic bags at the checkout, and some will offer paper or alternatives at a fee.

Plastics contribute to the majority of today’s trash floating in the ocean.  The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic a year.  500 billion plastic bags are used world wide, that is more than one million bags used every minute. [ecowatch.com]

Hawaiʻi is proud to be taking a step toward less plastic and less pollution, one step at a time.

enviro court

As of July 1, Hawaiʻi will become the second state to implement a court dedicated exclusively to environmental issues.  

Last week Friday, Kirsten and Brad attended a symposium at the UH Mānoa Richardson School of Law, where they learned about environmental court systems around the world, the history of Hawaiʻi’s environmental court, how the Hawaiʻi’s court will work.  The symposium was facilitated by Denise Antolini, associate law dean at UH Mānoa’s law school who previously served on the Commission of Water Resource Management.

India has the largest and most powerful environmental courts in the world, the National Green Tribunal of India (NGT). The chairperson of the NGT, Swatanter Kumar along with Dr. C. Raj Kumar, the Vice Chancellor of the O.P. Jindal Global University and Dean of the Jindal Global Law school and four of his students were in attendance at the symposium to share about their court and experiences in environmental law.

There is no better place for an environmental court; the State of Hawaiʻi is incredibly dependent on its beautiful natural environment not only to sustain its tourism-based economy but most importantly for resources to house and feed its residents.  Hawaiʻi has a strong constitutional foundation and environmental laws already in place, its just a matter of educating and enforcing the existing infrastructure.

The environmental court will be statewide, with district and circuit courts in each of Hawaiʻi’s counties.  22 judges familiar with and trained in environmental law have been appointed to serve in this court.  The court will cover cases dealing in environmental impact statements and assessments, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR): Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR), Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), water commission issues, and mostly Divison of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (DOCARE) violations.

Hawaiian rights will also be an important part of the environmental court.  “Even though it’s not explicit, it is interwoven in a lot of cases, sometimes criminal and sometimes civil”, says Denise Antolini.

Click here to read more.

citizen science

Today, after much preparation, the voyaging canoe Hikianalia, set sail for Papahānaumokuākea for a 2 week cruise.  Aboard the waʻa are four scientists from The Nature Conservancy and a couple of community members from Kaʻūpūlehu and Polanui, along side previous marine fellow, captain Kaleo Wong and some of the Hōkūleʻa crew.

Hikianalia is the sister vessel to Hōkūleʻa, both modeled after traditional voyaging canoes sailed by early Polynesians to Hawaiʻi.  Hikianalia holds modern equipment and technology, allowing the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) to bring the classroom with them as they voyage around the world.

While at Nihoa, the community members will be conducting underwater biological surveys using the exact same protocol that they use at home, providing data that will be comparable and comprehensive.

Kalani is also headed up to Papahānaumokuākea on a research vessel to participate in archaeological surveys on Nihoa.

We look forward to sharing more about their experiences as we learn more.  Updates and more photos to come soon!