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A nonprofit founded by fishermen is replanting damaged coral to restore Hawaii reefs

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 4:49 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At coral reefs surrounding Ko Olina, divers Alika Garcia and Daniel DeMartini work just above the ocean floor, practicing what they call traditional coral reef restoration.

They are fighting the clock to save what they can.

“Going forward we don’t have a strong outlook, the way things are right now for our reefs. We’re really trying to get ahead of that,” DeMartini said.

Along with Kapono Kaluhiokalani, the men founded the non-profit Kuleana Coral that repairs damaged reefs and studies factors mauka to makai that help or hurt coral.

“We’re restoring an area, but we’re really looking at how that affects the areas nearby,” Garcia said.

Their method is simple. They collect dislodged and broken coral then re-attach them.

“We’ll essentially glue them back onto the sea floor using a two-part epoxy,” Garcia said.

The out-planted coral is measured and photographed so DeMartini can create three-dimensional maps.

“We need to be able to document what’s there, what the health is, so we can come back in five years and say, ‘This is how it’s changed,’” he said.

Unlike other reef restoration efforts that rely on land-based nurseries, Kuleana Coral’s work is done in the ocean.

“We track their growth rates and survival rates. We can start seeing which corals are growing better than others,” Garcia said.

Kaluhiokalani and Garcia are firefighters. DeMartini is a marine scientist. As avid fishermen, they’re doing their part to counter coral bleaching and other stressors that affect the reef ecosystem.

“We just noticed a real need to help the reefs around our island,” DeMartini said.

Kuleana Coral partners with larger organizations that work on reef restoration, but they do it on a smaller scale that’s just as important.

“We’re one more tool in the toolbox, essentially,” Garcia said.

In it’s first year, the non-profit re-planted 200 coral. This year, it’s aiming at 1,000.

To learn more about the work, go to kuleanacoral.com.

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