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Meet the reef protectors who are on a mission cultivating resilient coral

Meet the reef protectors who are on a mission cultivating resilient coral

Coral fragments are placed in a tank and the temperature of the water is slowly risen to...

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Coral reefs are so important that they’re often called the rainforests of the sea, and a quarter of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy reefs to live.

Corals play an important role in marine life as well as for us who live on land. Especially in Hawaii — where we are surrounded by ocean — reefs provide protection from storms, erosion and rising waters.

But corals are in trouble

Reefs are dying as ocean temperatures rise and continue to be polluted by humans.

That’s why Malama Maunalua, an organization based in east Oahu, is partnering with other groups to cultivate resilient coral in Maunalua Bay — which roughly spans from Diamond Head to Portlock.

Executive Director Doug Harper says the program is called “Restore with Resilience.”

Harper sat down with HNN to describe the program for the first episode of “Repairing Earth,” a new limited series aimed at showcasing the people who are fighting climate change in our own backyard.

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Harper’s team along with Kuleana Coral Restoration, NOAA, DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources, and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology are all working to identify coral that can withstand warming temperatures. They do this through stress testing coral fragments.

The coral fragments are placed into a tank, and the water temperature is gradually increased to mimic rising ocean temperatures. Through this process, scientists can see which coral bleach, and which don’t.

The fragments that don’t turn white and survive in the lab are then replanted in the bay to grow coral colonies that are more resilient to warming temperatures. Harper explained that because climate change isn’t something that can be fixed anytime soon, projects like these are important.

Coral fragments are placed in a tank and the temperature of the water is slowly risen to...
To mimic rising ocean temperatures, coral fragments can be placed in a tank.(Malama Maunalua)

“Restore with resilience, for example, is such a great project because it’s allowing for an adaptation to combat what we’re expecting to see and allow the reefs to survive and live, even though conditions are going to be such that they would probably have killed a large part of the reef,” he said.

So far, the state reports that up to 50% of Hawaii’s coral reefs have already died in some locations and the problem continues to be compounded as humans fuel climate change.

Scientists say 90% of heat is absorbed by the world’s oceans, meaning that a change in temperature — even by only 2 degrees — can be devastating to corals.

Coral becomes more sensitive to warmer waters, which causes it to lose the algae that is part of its tissue. This leads to coral becoming whiter.

While these bleached corals aren’t dead, scientists warn that they become more susceptible to dying.

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Furthermore, one recent study concluded coral reefs could become extinct within 30 to 50 years if steps aren’t taken to protect them.

“Climate change is daunting I mean, it is a massive, massive issue, and it is incredibly dire in what the projections are stating but showing people what they can do to really help fight climate change on a local level is important because it gives people hope,” Harper said.

Since the nonprofit was founded in 2006, Malama Maunalua and its many volunteers have been able...
Malama Maunalua, a nonprofit founded in 2006 and supported by many volunteers, has been able remove millions of pounds worth of invasive algae from the bay.(Malama Maunalua)

Unlike most environmental projects that usually only involve scientists and academia, part of Malama Maunalua’s mission is to involve the community.

Since 2006, the nonprofit has removed nearly 4 million pounds worth of invasive algae from Maunalua Beach.

Every day, their efforts to make the coral reefs more resilient against climate change are paying off.

“While this is a global issue that’s going to require governments and industries from around the world, there are things we can do literally right here, literally right out there, that will have an impact,” Harper said.

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