Coral reef colonies in the waters off of Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii have been affected by a coral disease called Montipora White Syndrome, a disease that was first seen in the waters off Hawaii’s largest bay in 2010, according to report on KHON Hawaii. The disease has wiped out dozens of colonies of rice corals (Montipora sp) in the bay, which, according to the report is the most common species of coral in the Hawaiian Islands. The disease kills the live coral tissue, exposing the white skeleton of the coral, killing it.
Dr. Greta Aeby of the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says the disease is so quick and virulent, it can kill a 20-year-old coral head in two weeks. She said in the report that a recent survey of coral heads showing the largest outbreak of the disease seen in Hawaii, saying that close to 200 colonies of rice corals have been killed by the disease. Experiments and testing in the lab point to a pathogenic bacterium, though higher seawater temperatures due to climate change or land based pollution factors are also under consideration when trying to determine the potential cause of the disease in the bay.
The disease, which only has been shown to affect rice corals, has apparently been spotted in other locales in Hawaii, including several reports on Maui and Kauai from Hawaii’s Eyes of the Reef members. Aeby and her colleagues organized a rapid response team comprised of scientists from UH Manoa, HIMB, and the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center and are documenting the disease outbreaks throughout the state and are working to figure out the cause of the disease and how it spreads. People who wish to help document coral reef issues such as disease, invasive species, and coral bleaching in Hawaii can contact Reef Check Hawaii (reefcheckhawaii.org) to join the Eye’s of the Reef program and volunteer for training on identifying coral disease.