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Status and Health of the Coral Reef Ecosystems of the NWHI

The coral reef ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian islands (NWHI), due mainly to their geographical isolation and economic inattention, represent almost undamaged ecosystems with abundant and large apex predators (predators at the top of their food chain). The reefs possess an extremely high proportion of endemic (native) species, across many taxa, and virtually no impacts from alien (invasive) species. The NWHI are an important breeding and nesting sites for many endangered and threatened species.

The principal stresses to the ecosystems are coral bleaching and effects of marine debris. A multi-agency effort lead by NOAA and its partners has resulted in the removal of almost a half million metric tons of marine debris, primarily derelict fishing gear, from the reefs and beaches since 1996. In recent years, increased federal funding and expanded partnerships among federal and state agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations have enhanced monitoring, mapping, and research efforts. These efforts have lead to a greater understanding of the spatial and temporal dynamics of the NWHI ecosystems. In turn, management decisions have increased the protection of these areas. The reefs and islands were designated as a Reserve in 2000. Reef fishing is strictly controlled, lobster fishing is prohibited, and all activities require permission from management authorities.

The NWHI can serve as a laboratory of island ecology where scientists and managers can learn to manage and care for healthy and pristine coral reef ecosystems and apply these lessons back to the Main Hawaiian Islands. It also provides a basis for comparison of the health of coral reefs elsewhere (Ref. 3)

Scientists predict that while over the next decade the NWHI coral reefs will remain healthy with the strong collaboration and cooperation among management authorities, but monitoring and surveillance will continue to be necessary over these remote reefs. Predictions of serious climate change and threats of increased coral bleaching remain the major potential cause for reef damage.

Source: Friedlander, A, G. Aeby, R. Brainard, A.Clark, E. DeMartini, S. Godwin, J. Kenyon, R. Kosaki, J. Maragosand P.Vroom. 2005. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Pp.270-311. In: Waddell, J.E., (ed.), 2005. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2005. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 11. NOAA/NCCOS Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment’s Biogeography Team. Silver Spring, MD. 522pp

The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States:2005

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