Secret love lives of Oahu's reefs unveiled

Secret love lives of Oahu's reefs unveiled
Curt Storlazzi
Curt Storlazzi
Bob Richmond
Bob Richmond

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The secret love lives of Oahu's reefs won't be a secret much longer, as researchers track the underwater phenomenon that produces new coral.

It all starts when the moon disappears. The darkest night of the month sets off a mass search for new mates.

No romance necessary, as the spawning of "Rice Coral" larvae this weekend will send countless tiny eggs looking for action along Oahu's Maunalua Bay.

This time, scientists will be watching, hoping to solve a marine mystery.

Researchers hope to understand why certain reefs in Maunalua Bay are doing so well, when others aren't.

The darkness of a new moon sets the scene for a night of love for these corals.

Each of these tiny white dots or egg and sperm bundles float to the surface, break apart to fertilize and develop into larvae within 72 hours.

It then settles onto the sea floor and may grow into new coral.

Researchers will release these satellite-tracked drifters to float along and track the process.

"We'll be going out there on a boat at night, going down on scuba, watching coral colonies and try to determine if they're spawning," U.S. Geological Survey oceanographer Curt Storlazzi said.

They'll also use underwater instruments like these to collect data on tides, waves and currents, among another other things.

"Are they staying, are they swirling around in the same place, so are the corals producing young for that same reef or are they drifting somewhere else and are they then seeding reefs down drift, because if that's the case then, where's the coral larvae that's seeding those reefs," Storlazzi said.

Researchers say Maunalua Bay has been hit hard by polluted runoff, sediment and invasive algae.

Recovery efforts to remove the algae have been successful in keeping the reefs healthy, but its livelihood depends on its reproductive health as well.

"Is that due to stressors, is it due to sediment coming out of the drainage, is it due to cesspools, pollution or is it not enough larvae is coming into the bay?" Asked Storlazzi.

Another by-product of this study is measuring surface currents. This could be crucial to helping with ocean safety and even tracking oil spills.

"This is the goose laying the golden egg, this is why tourists come here, it's a central part of the way of life for the local community and as we continue to see these resources decline, we're not only compromising the ability of our present generation to enjoy the benefits of these resources, but we're really taking away the future for our kids and our grandchildren," UH-Manoa marine researcher Bob Richmond said.

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