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Observing and Documenting Predicted 2015/2016 Mass Coral Bleaching Events in Hawaii


Project Manager:
Thomas Oliver
Project Years:
Project Summary:
Unprecedented Bleaching Threat to the Coral Populations in Hawaii: In September of 2014, researchers documented the worst mass coral bleaching event ever recorded in the main Hawaiian Islands, only the second on record.  This year, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch has issued a Level 2 Alert for severe coral bleaching in the main Hawaiian Islands projected to peak in October 2015. From these temperature projections, Coral Reef Watch is predicting worse coral bleaching this year than last year's record bleaching. In line with these predictions, corals in some locations (Kaneohe Bay, Lanikai) have already showed noticeable bleaching, as early as July 2015. Collaborative Monitoring Efforts With Federal, State, NGO, and Academic Entities in Hawaii:  Since last year’s event, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) has been working  with local managers at Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources, community groups, and a diverse set of researchers at UH to document the ecological and physiological effects of these bleaching events. The greatest gap in this consortium is the support to rapidly survey large areas of reef and return broad-scale estimates of bleaching and recovery.      To supply this critical need, here we propose to mobilize the CRED team to perform towed-diver surveys around Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and West Hawaii immediately after the predicted warming maximum. Existing Cruise Well-Timed to Multiply Funding Impact:   Between Nov. 1 and 14th, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will conduct a research cruise through the main Hawaiian Islands, including dive-days at Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and West Hawaii. For only the cost of the dive team’s time and small-boat fuel, CRED will perform eight dive-days of surveys across the state, covering most high-coral cover areas and including both NOAA priority watersheds (W. Maui, W. Hawaii). We will follow up these ship-based surveys with five days of shore-based surveys around Oahu, using the same established tow-board methods. Towed-diver Methods Provide Cost-Effective Coverage:     Towed-diver surveys provide the most cost-effective means of documenting large areas of reef, covering up to 12 km of reef per day in 2 km sections. The surveys provide an instantaneous quantitative record of bleaching extent and magnitude across distinct taxa, able to be rapidly reported to local managers and the media. The method also provides archival records of the event using photo-quadrats from the tow. Instruments on a separate board record in-situ temperature, salinity, depth, oxygen, Chl-A, turbidity and pH, to help contextualize the bleaching patterns. SkyBox—Novel Satellite Images To Follow Bleaching and Recovery at No Cost:    Our collaborator, SkyBox Imaging (recently acquired by Google) has begun providing us with high-resolution satellite imagery of Hawaiian reefs repeatedly sampled with intervals of 2-4 days.  This imagery will come at no cost to us, and, ground-truthed by our surveys, can provide a time-series of reef recovery at 1, 3 and 6 months post-bleaching until we resample in-situ in August of 2016. No Other State-Wide Effort is FundedThese surveys will provide the only state-wide monitoring of an event that is likely to be the worst mass bleaching in the recorded history of the main Hawaiian Islands.
Expected Outcome:
Our expected outcomes are: (1) Outreach: First, as our methods can rapidly generate data on bleaching location, extent and magnitude, we will immediately notify relevant local authorities to comment on the bleaching event as soon as surveys are complete and assist media documentation. (2) The survey dataset: Second, the bleaching estimates, archival benthic images, oceanographic instrumentation tracks, and associated SkyBox Imagery will be compiled and shared openly on CORIS to support other researchers investigating bleaching phenomena. (3) Research Report: Finally, the co-principal investigators will synthesize and analyze the survey data, highlighting areas that appeared to be refuges to bleaching stress, resistant to high exposure, or showed rapid recovery from bleaching stress. We will also include our SkyBox informed methodology and results. Results will be presented in a NOAA research report.
Project Locations:
  • Hawaii
Jursdiction Priority Sites:
  • Ka‘anapali-Kahekili (Maui)
  • Pelekane Bay-Puako-Anaeho‘omalu Bay (Hawai‘i)
Project Category:
Climate Change
Project Type:
Project Status:
Associated Products:

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