From the surface, Kaneohe Bay looks calm and pristine. But, underneath, lies a destructive bacteria destroying parts of an underwater world.
"There's a bacteria associated with diseases that causes the coral tissue to lift off the coral skeleton, and when it lifts off that tissue dies,"s aid University of Hawaii Research Assistant Maya Walton.
Walton is part of the UH rapid response team tracking a disease called montipora white syndrome that is spreading among the rice coral in the bay.
Researchers found about 400 colonies of coral dead. To put that in perspective, that's roughly the size of a football field. It takes two weeks for bacteria to wipe out a colony, but 20 years to rebuild.
Marine biologist and coral expert Dr. Greta Aeby says several factors can cause coral die-off.
She says water runoff, overfishing, and pollution, like the recent molasses spill, can stress the coral environment. When that happens, it weakens the coral making it more susceptible to disease.
"When you are under a lot of pressure and stress, that's when you start to get sick, isn't it?" asks Dr. Aeby. "That's what we're seeing now."
Aeby says it's important to keep the coral healthy, not just in Kaneohe Bay, but across the state. If coral around the islands disappear, the expert says you could see more of this -- shoreline erosion, like what we're seeing on Oahu's North Shore.
"They provide a buffer for the storms and wave energy, so if you have coral reef, even a small one, built up in front of that shoreline as the energy of the waves, it will hit the reef and lose that energy and that protects your shoreline," said Aeby.
In order to protect those shorelines, this researcher says we need to prevent future coral die-off by increasing fishing restrictions and having protected zones.
"It's going to take people willing to make short term sacrifices and voice their concerns to the government officials in charge in making the decision on how to spend our tax dollars," said Aeby.
As for the disease plaguing Windward Oahu, researchers are worried about its future. They say the runoff from the upcoming rainy season could make the die-off worse.