New life unfolds in the waters of western Hawaii.
DLNR’s State Parks Division and Hawaii County have announced the closure of parking lots at several popular beaches over the coming week to facilitate the natural process of coral spawning in accompanying bays. Information specialists have also visited these sites to deter people from entering the water at specific times.
On Friday, May 28, the Kahalu`u Bay Education Center Project Director and Kohala Center Outreach Coordinator Cindi Punihaole said she had already seen evidence of the success of the effort.
“Coral spawning (was) observed yesterday in Kahalu´u and Waialea. (I’m) grateful that (the) county and state have allowed parks to be closed, ”Punihaole said. “This week is a very sensitive time for cauliflower corals. The community and visitors are also very respectful. “
Waialea Bay was closed for half days on Friday and Saturday, while Kahalu´u Bay was closed on Friday and will remain closed until June 5th.
DAR observes the spawning process on the Kohala coast
Shortly after dawn on Friday and Saturday, a trio of aquatic biologists from DLNR’s Aquatic Resources Division (DAR) carefully monitored the coral colonies in Waialea Bay in the state recreation area. from Hāpuna Beach (SRA).
Once a year, with spring tides and a full moon, corals reproduce and send millions of tiny gametes into the water column. However, the annual cycle can be broken.
“There are many factors at play,” said Lindsey Kramer, DAR Fish and Habitat Monitoring Planner. “The temperature and salinity of the water are important. Rain events can cause colonies to wait for the next lunar cycle. Lunar cycles are the primary drivers of these cauliflower coral spawning events. ”
She and her colleagues hope the gametes will fertilize with neighboring colonies, float to the surface, and within 24 to 48 hours produce larvae to reseed reef structures with new corals.
Cauliflower Coral (Pocillopora Meandrina) the reefs in the waters of western Hawaii were severely affected by a massive coral bleaching event in 2015.
“We’re about 5% of the population of this species in western Hawaii,” Kramer said. “Cauliflower corals are particularly susceptible to bleaching, so with this 95% coverage loss, these spawning events are vitally important. We must do everything we can to help these reefs recover through this natural reproductive cycle. ”
Researchers have now recorded active spawning over the past five years. To give even more benefit to coral recovery, this year, in cooperation with the State Parks Division of DLNR, the bay parking lot was closed and people were asked to avoid entering. in the water before noon every day.
Upon entering, state park outreach specialist Dena Sedar explained the reason for the closure to snorkelers.
“Everyone really understood the reasons not to interrupt coral spawning. One of the most important is to keep personal care products out of the water, ”she said.
Scientists say sunscreens form a surface on water that interacts with coral larvae. Reef-safe sunscreen dispensers are expected to be installed in the SRA’s Waialea Bay section later this year.
“It’s good to let them do their job without the people, as I hope this will allow them to settle in later,” said DAR aquatic biologist Chris Teague, adding that observing the spawning results was tricky. . “Some are transported offshore and it may take a few months before they get back down to the reef. They could settle in Waialea, but the spawning could go elsewhere in the region or even across the state.
With the resurgence of tourism, coral experts are renewing their calls to the oceans to be aware of their personal impacts on marine environments. Do not touch, sit or step on the corals. Use sun protective clothing and a helmet, and use only reef-safe sunscreens.