KAILUA-KONA – Coral bleaching is already occurring in Western Hawaiian waters and it is likely to get worse as Hawaii's reefs become a major bleaching event within the next two months – if not sooner.
Warm ocean temperatures are an important factor in bleaching, and data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program suggests that the ocean's temperatures around Hawaii are not getting any cooler.
"The ocean temperatures in Hawaii are currently extremely warm. They are about 3 degrees warmer than what we normally experience in mid-August, "said NOAA scientist Jamison Gove. "As the ocean continues to warm, as expected, 201
Corals bleach under stress, and severe or prolonged stress can lead to death. Although corals can recover from moderate heat, if they last longer, it is deadly. However, scientists claim that reducing secondary stress on corals during these bleaching operations can improve the chances of coral survival.
The worst bleaching event in the history of the state occurred in 2015. Higher seawater temperatures than usual this year led to an average of 60%. The corals in West Hawaii are bleached and some reefs have a mortality of up to 90%.
In February, The Nature Conservancy announced that coral reefs in West Hawaii could stabilize and recover.
But on Friday, Nikki Sanderlin, the reigning water biologist at the Department of Land Resources and Natural Resources of the West Hawaiian Department of Aquatic Resources presented a not so positive update.
"We are already seeing bleaching of coral in West Hawaii and some fading of other species at some of our long-term monitoring sites," she said. [Kahaluu Bay]which attracts hundreds of thousands every year, has some bleaching visible, although the recent bleak weakness is Cindi Punihaole, executive director of the Kohala Center, which oversees the Kahaluu Bay Education Center and ReefTeach programs : "Kahaluu Bay is dying." , "Although it is still abundant with fish, we can observe the degradation in our coral."
And with sea temperatures expected to rise in the coming months, there's no way to stop the bleach from settling in and possibly killing corals Brian Neilson, administrator of the Department of Aquatic Resources.
"We know this bleaching event is imminent and it will probably be worse than what we experienced four and five years ago," Neilson said. "We're all asking for help in trying to be proactive and minimize the extra stress we put on our corals."
This includes not touching corals while diving, snorkeling, or swimming and in no case on the invertebrate marine animals or resting. Boaters should use buoys, and if they need to anchor, do so in a sandy area and keep the anchor chain away from the reef.
And, as always, use reef-proof sunscreen. Currently, products without the reef-damaging chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate can be used. As of January 1, 2021, the sale, supply and distribution of sunscreen containing these ingredients is illegal in Hawaii.
"This is a stress factor that we can change in a minute – as opposed to climate change," said Punihaole. A 2018 water test in Kahaluu Bay found that the oxybenzone content was 262 times higher than that of classified as high-risk by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
"If you use chemical-based sunscreens, hiking or exercise in the Maukaländer, the washdown goes directly to the sewage and back to the ocean," explained Punihaole.
The DLNR also advises anglers to reduce or stop the intake of herbivores such as parrotfish (uhu), surgeonfish and sea urchins. These creatures remove algae reefs that grow excessively during the bleaching process, blocking the light and killing coral.
Another option is to take extra precautions to prevent potential contaminants such as fertilizers, soaps and detergents, and engine oil from entering the ocean. Dirt from poorly managed construction sites is also another culprit that pollutes the reefs.
"These are things we should do all the time, but it's especially important now," Neilson said. "We also want swimmers, snorkelers and divers to report when and where they see bleaching and healthy coral, and these healthy corals can provide valuable information on how some corals can survive these kinds of events better."
In October the Department of Land and Natural Resources announced that it will launch an initiative aimed at tour operators to inform their guests about good reef practices.
The department and NOAA also use new technologies to determine the real-time extent of predicted bleaching events Arizona State University, which compiles and maintains the Hawaii Coral Web site, provides weekly satellite imagery to identify bleaching areas, and the information is publicly available online at www.hawaiicoral.org.
Water can also be viewed on this website via i Report bleaching results.