NOAA scientists survey Kauai coral die-off

Published On: May 08 2013 05:52:00 PM HST

Armed with transects and tape measures, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began mapping out the area of coral reef damage along Anini and Wainiha in the Hanalei area last week.

Back in Honolulu Wednesday, the lead coral ecologist on the team said it is one of the worst outbreaks he has seen in the Hawaiian Islands.

"It is basically killing the coral, relatively fast and it is leaving a trail of dead coral behind it," said NOAA coral ecologist Bernardo Vargas-Angel.

Based on the team's surveys, he hopes to provide hard data on how many of the coral colonies are dead or dying.

"We will also get an idea of the prevalence of the disease and not only that, but within the reef what corals have higher density than others, and what species of corals are being affected by this disease," said Vargas-Angel.

University of Hawaii microbiologists have identified the cyanobacteria after culturing it in the laboratory.

They suspect it is related to a black band coral disease seen in other parts of the world, but not to this extent here in Hawaiian waters.

So far, the scientists have found that the blue green bacteria is affecting three species of montipora rice coral -- including a blue coral that is a candidate on the threatened list under the endangered species act.

"It's about awareness and what can we do collectively to manage this situation," Vargas-Angel said.

The discovery of the outbreak was first verified by a rapid response team from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Institute for Marine Biology.

If left unchecked scientists say the disease could have a huge impact not only on the ecology of the reef but the island's economy as well.


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