Higher Than Normal Water Temperatures Cause Bleaching Events In Hawaii

Corals are bleaching from the Kure Atoll in the Northern Hawaiian Islands to the Big Island of Hawaii.

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Corals bleaching at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, Photo by Hawaii DLNR
John Virata

Higher than normal water temperatures (with some areas 2 degrees warmer than normal) in the Hawaiian Islands is causing corals to bleach from the Kure Atoll in the Northern Hawaiian Islands to the Big Island of Hawaii, the state’s department of Land and Natural Resources said in a press release sent out to the media.

Experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch program had forecasted, correctly and unfortunately, that bleaching events in the 50th state would begin in August and continue through October.

Coral bleaching is a result of a loss of algae living within the coral’s tissue that provide them with energy and give them their colors,” said Brian Neilson, an aquatic biologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR). “This loss results in the pale or white ‘bleached’ appearance of the impacted corals. When corals bleach, they lose a supply of energy and become particularly vulnerable to additional environmental stresses.”

Areas such as Kaneohe Bay on Oahu’s Windward Side are experiencing bleaching events, as well as reefs in the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In Kaneohe Bay, 75 percent of the most populous coral species in the bay lost color or turned white in 2014. Approximately 12 percent of the corals died. Some corals in the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument are experiencing 85- to 100 percent coral deaths and are some of the state’s most rare and unique corals, according to Dr. Courtney Couch, a researcher with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. There is some optimism that the coral reefs will recover, especially in the NWHI as these reefs have healthy populations of herbivorous fish to keep algae in check, and there is no fishing allowed in the area.

Corals bleaching in Hawaii can have severe detrimental effects to the reef ecosystems in the state, as dying corals degrade reefs which protect shorelines, making these areas vulnerable to natural disasters. The impact of ocean-related businesses such as diving and snorkeling can also be adversely affected by dead corals. A 2011 study put the value of healthy coral reefs in Hawaii at $33.57 billion a year. The DLNR is creating monitoring surveys to come up with coordinated responses with other players to address bleaching events.

John B. Virata has been keeping fish since he was 10 years old.  He currently keeps an 80 gallon cichlid tank, a 20 gallon freshwater community tank and a 29 gallon BioCube with a Percula clown, a huge blue green chromis, and a firefish all in his kitchen, and a 55 gallon FOWLR tank with a pair of Ocellaris clowns, two blue green chromis, a six line wrasse, a peppermint shrimp, assorted algae and a few aiptasia anemones in his living room. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata

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