Water Quality Poses Threat to Coral Reefs

Robert Richmond
Robert Richmond

In conjunction with the "International Year of the Reef", Monday night we explore the undersea world of coral reefs, and the issues that surround their survival.

Specifically, we look at the off-shore water quality, and how it got to its present condition.

You can still visit places on Oahu where, when the water is clear, the naked eye can appreciate the beauty of Hawaii's coral from shore.

But, there are also locations where, due to the way we handle our island's run-off, sediment poses a tremendous threat to these delicate organisms.

''Here in Hawaii, we have some real serious issues from runoff from land.  What's done under the name of flood control is actually disastrous for coastal marine environments and resources.  So, water quality and bottom quality in Hawaii is a big issue," says Robert Richmond, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Surfers, boaters, swimmers -- when we hit the beach, the water quality for people is actually pretty good.

But for Hawaii's coral reef population -- it's becoming a nightmare -- and only getting worse.

''You'll see that things are channelized right up to the base of the mountains.  So, the two things that really affect a coastal area are the volume of runoff and the velocity of which the water is moving and you can see we're doing everything the wrong way," says Richmond.

Robert Richmond is a researcher and professor at the University of Hawaii

He explains, sediment continues to bury huge colonies of coral, like here, at Maunalua Bay near Hawaii Kai.

"We're collecting large quantities of water that can move boulders to the coastal area, when in fact, we should be trying to dissipate, or at least retain the water and the toxicants, pollutants, the sediments on land.  What we're basically doing is allowing the land to encroach on the ocean and compete with the coral reefs that should be there," says Richmond.

Richmond says, there is an awareness of the murky situation, and steps are being taken, but not a quickly as he'd like.

''Steps are being taken.  But, I'll be honest, they're going slower than what we'd like to see," says Richmond. "That's what's nice about something like the International Year of the Reef.  The focus is on education, the exchange of information.  Because I think the important thing to remember is, you can't manage a coral reef.  Fish, coral, sea cucumbers will do whatever they're trained to biologically.  The best you can hope for is to manage human activities affecting the reefs.  So, that means, you have to talk with the humans that are involved with these changes."

To its credit, the community along east Honolulu is stepping-up efforts to restore the bay.

Malama Maunalua is a newly formed organization, aimed at solving the problems out there, such as the heavy amount of sediment, as well as getting rid of invasive species.