Scientists survey diseased reefs off Kauai - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Scientists survey diseased reefs off Kauai

Greta Aeby Greta Aeby
Bernardo Vargas-Angel Bernardo Vargas-Angel
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

White sections are where a coral disease has sucked the life out of the tissue of brown rice coral off Kauai's northern coast.

"The disease levels have gotten much higher than they were. We were seeing two or three colonies on all of our transects and now you're counting five, six, ten colonies," said Greta Aeby of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

"Because it's a rapid tissue loss disease you can see it spreading," said Bernardo Vargas-Angel, coral ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He led a four-person team that just finished diving on the diseased reefs off Hanalei. The scientists surveyed 36 sites.

"We laid two 25-meter tapes underwater. Within the context of those tapes we surveyed segments of that area, about 50 centimeters on each side of the tape, counting each coral, measuring each coral, and assessing the health state of each coral," Vargas-Angel said.

The white coral disease was found in every site. The infected spots stretch across four reefs. This is the fourth coral disease outbreak on Hawaii's reef systems in the last five years.

Aeby said over-fishing of reef fish, land-based pollution, sewage spills, and injection wells that leach excess nutrients into the ocean all contribute to reef disease.

"The reefs are not dead yet. They're just headed in that direction, so we can easily reverse this but we are running out of time," she said

The NOAA team will use its information to zero in on how fast the white coral disease is spreading.

"There's a possibility that it may well be at very low levels at different places around the Hawaiian islands. I don't discount that, but we haven't seen the disease anywhere else yet," Angel-Vargas said.

NOAA, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the U.S. Geological Survey are studying the white coral disease.

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