Coral bleaching in Molokini Crater shows ‘winter scene under water’

Video still courtesy DLNR

Researchers and tourists at Molokini Crater Thursday discovered unprecedented coral bleaching.

When the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources research vessel Keolahou arrived at Molokini, three miles off Maui’s south coast, more than a dozen commercial tour boats were already moored.

The research vessel carried five researchers to continue, what has been so far, a three-year-long coral bleaching monitoring project. While the researchers laid out transect lines, to tag coral heads and to photograph them, hundreds of tourists snorkeled nearby.

“While the scene underwater is visually beautiful, we hope our visitors realize what they’re seeing is a result of climate change,” said Darla White, the DAR special projects coordinator who led the dive team. “Conservatively, at least one half of the corals at Molokini are currently bleached, probably more.”

Bleaching is a response to higher than normal ocean temperatures. While it doesn’t always kill corals, bleaching makes them highly susceptible to disease and other natural and man-caused stresses.

This is the second year of severe bleaching across the entire Hawaiian Archipelago. DAR researchers are regularly monitoring 30-40 different coral colonies at Molokini.

“It looks like a winter scene under water,” White said, “and the extent of bleaching here and elsewhere around the state, hopefully reminds us all, that our coral reefs are intrinsically linked to Hawaii’s economy, our culture and our way of life. We really hope people will get involved and learn what they can do to help. Simple changes in everyday habits to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can make a big difference.”

“What boat loads of visitors are now seeing at Molokini provides an opportunity for us and their tour operators to provide information and education on coral bleaching, what causes it, and what every person can do to try and help reverse what NOAA now describes as a worldwide crisis,” said DLNR chairperson Suzanne Case.

Hundreds of people participated in last weekend’s Bleachapalooza, where the Eyes of the Reef Network trained them on how to report coral bleaching on their local reefs. That’s resulted in more than 100 new bleaching reports in the last few days. You can learn more about EOR and how to sign up for a training session at www.eorhawaii.org.

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