Coral Reefs

Coral reefs

Over 5000 known species of marine plants and animals find their homes in Hawaii’s coastal reefs, 25% of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Yet, these reef resources are degrading at an alarming rate worldwide, due to numerous local and global stressors. The Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative Research Program (HCRI-RP) was established in 1998. Our goal is to increase understanding of our valuable, yet vulnerable, nearshore reef ecosystem through scientific research, monitoring, and education.

Coral bleaching

Hawaii’s coral reefs experienced severely damaging coral bleaching events in 2014 and 2015, which have caused mortality throughout the archipelago. It is predicted that mass bleaching will become an annual phenomenon in Hawaii by 2050 and current strategies to promote coral growth following bleaching and other damaging events are decidedly limited. There is currently an urgent need to expand the inventory of feasible and effective tactics to restore reefs and to promote reefs’ inherent resilience to and ability to recover from such events. HCRI coral bleaching projects have focused on coordinating monitoring and outreach activities during events as well as developing practical management strategies to promote recovery and resiliency following mass bleaching events.

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Coral disease

Coral disease has been identified as a damaging stressors to Hawaii’s coral reefs. The development of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan (RRCP) in 2008 outlined monitoring and management recommendations to respond to coral disease outbreaks. HCRI projects have focused on working with management partners to revise the 2008 RRCP and facilitating the response to coral disease outbreaks including management briefings, status reports, and coordination of stakeholder workshops and meetings.

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Coral restoration

Currently, there are an extremely limited number of direct strategies to promote and accelerate coral reef recovery following disturbances. Resource managers’ current suite of restoration tools includes strategies to ‘clean’ the reef by removing algae to promote new coral settlement. HCRI projects have worked on prioritizing areas for restoration via algae removal and sea urchin outplanting. Additionally, HCRI efforts are expanding Hawaii’s current coral reef management toolkit by investigating a novel method of using ‘corals of opportunity’ and in situ nurseries to produce corals ready for transplantation onto injured reef areas. Corals of opportunity are fragments of coral that have naturally been dislodged or unattached from the substrate. HCRI projects focus on unanswered questions about sources of corals of opportunity and parameters to ensure success within an in situ coral nursery.

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Supporting managers

HCRI directly supports effective resource management in Hawaii by providing capacity in coral reef planning, communication, and monitoring.  In 2014, HCRI provided logistical and planning support to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Meeting held in Kaanapali, Maui.  The meeting brought together coral reef managers and decision makers on the federal, regional, and local levels to prioritize and discuss management strategies.   HCRI also supports development of a Mitigation Bank at the Division of Aquatic Resource (DAR) to provide compensatory mitigation for damaging coral impacts associated with permits issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Monitoring is a critical aspect of coral reef management.  HCRI supports ongoing projects to monitor reef restoration in Kaneohe Bay as well as vessel grounding sites including the USS Port Royal.

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