Race to save Kauai coral from disease killer

Coral ravaged by bacterial disease off of Kauai. Photo courtesy DLNR/Aquatic Resources Division

A deadly disease has been killing coral reefs off Kauai for years. Newly discovered, it’s now a race against time as scientists and officials try to find its cause before it spreads to other Hawaii island reefs.

Back in 2004, divers off the island’s North Shore first noticed the reefs were turning black and dying. It was found to be due to an outbreak of “black band” bacterial disease that migrates over and infects coral colonies, turning entire reef zones into underwater deserts that become devoid of both coral and fish.

The disease has already decimated 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean.

It appears that the disease started in the Hanalei area “and then spread outwards (where) the two hot spots are Kee and Makua Beach,” said Anne Rosinski, marine source specialist of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Aquatic Resources Division.

Under ideal situations, the disease would’ve been discovered and dealt with years ago, but “we just don’t have the people or the money,” the ARD’s Frazer McGilvray said. “In an ideal world, we would have done this 10 years ago.”

“What we’re seeing is it’s more prevalent in the summer than the winter. We did go out a few weeks ago and didn’t find any evidence (of additional disease spread) on that particular trip.”

McGilvray said the DLNR has developed a “Hawaii’s Coral Reef Strategy” with the help of Eyes on the Reef Network, where divers from all islands are being asked to update the website with photos of unusually black or dead coral they come across during their dives. The management response team will then check to see if there is coral damage and to what extent.

Related link: Eyes on the Reef Network


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