Heat waves damaged Hawaii coral reefs / Nearly half bleached in 2014-15

Writer: 
AP

The Associated PressHONOLULU (AP) — Nearly half of Hawaii’s coral reefs were bleached during heat waves in 2014 and 2015 and fisheries close to shore are declining, a group of scientists told state lawmakers.

The scientists from the Nature Conservancy briefed the lawmakers earlier this month about what they called an unprecedented situation for Hawaii’s sea life.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said 56 percent of the Big Island’s coral were bleached, along with 44 percent along West Maui and 32 percent around Oahu.

The scientists said more severe and frequent bleaching is predicted.

“In the 2030s, 30 to 50 percent of the years will have major bleaching events in Hawaii,” said Kuulei Rogers of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

When ocean temperatures rise, coral expel the algae they rely on for food. This causes their skeletons to lose their color and appear “bleached.”

Coral can recover if the water cools. But they die if high temperatures persist. Eventually reefs degrade, leaving fish without habitats and coastlines less protected from storm surges.

As for Hawaii’s fish, University of Hawaii researchers compiled data for 15 years and found a 90 percent decline in overall catch from the last 100 years, which includes fish such as ulua, moi and oio.