State monitors black band coral disease on Kauai reefs

Black band coral disease (Photo: DLNR)

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is closely monitoring the presence of black band disease on coral off Kauai.

Officials said the disease was found at nearly half of the reef sites surveyed in near-shore waters.

It gets its name from the black band lesion, or wound, that it forms on the coral. This lesion will quickly progress until the coral colony is completely dead.

Researcher Chris Runyon and her team surveyed 47 coral reef sites over the past year and found the disease in 23, or 48 percent, of them.

A coral colony with the black band disease showing dead coral, the disease lesion and live coral (Photo: C. Runyon, UH/DLNR)
A coral colony with the black band disease showing dead coral, the disease lesion and live coral (Photo: C. Runyon, UH/DLNR)

“A weak relationship was found between the abundance of the disease and water temperature. The lesions caused by black band disease become more active in the summer,” she said.

“This was a disease first identified on Kauai back in 2004 by researchers at HIMB, Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology. It was then seen in higher levels in 2012, what we would consider to be an outbreak of the disease, so it was higher from what we seen before,” explained Anne Rosinski, DAR marine resource specialist.

Previous work established the disease is affecting three species of Montipora, or rice, corals and also showed disease “hotspots” at Makua and Anini beaches.

“We actually took portions of the material and brought it back to the lab to fulfill postulates on the disease to see what we’re up against and we were able to identify three different kinds of bacteria that are responsible similar to the bacteria of black band disease found elsewhere,” Runyon said.

A management response team, established by the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources and various partners, continues to investigate the connection between the disease and environmental factors.

“What we’re thinking is that these microbes are in the environment and they’ve always been and they are just, over time, with these corals becoming stressed, we have sedimentation,” Runyon said, “or you have temperature changes, or you have pollutants… Something is stressing these corals out because when you go to some of these sites where we see black band at, they don’t look very good.”

Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology scientists previously used a novel putty treatment, which was successful in reducing the amount of coral tissue death from the disease.

Experts working to find the cause of the disease and to identify additional treatments continue to ask ocean users to report new coral disease outbreaks to The Eyes of the Reef Network.

Click here for more information on black band coral disease and to view a final report authored by HIMB.

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