HANALEI — Local residents are reminded that experts from the University of Hawai‘i will discuss the health of coral along Kaua‘i’s North Shore during a community briefing today in Hanalei.
The briefing begins at 4 p.m. at Hale Halawai ‘Ohana O Hanalei, located east of Wai‘oli Park on Malolo Road. Presenters will include Dr. Greta Aeby, assistant researcher for the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, and Sean Callahan, a professor in UH’s Department of Microbiology. Representatives from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Health are also expected to be present.
Recent reports of a cyanobacterial/fungal disease that is rapidly killing coral — specifically at ‘Anini, Makua and Hanalei — have “raised concerns” within the community, according to a recent county news release. As a result, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has invited the public to attend today’s briefing to gain “a better understanding of the science” behind the recent reports.
“We are expecting Greta and Sean’s presentation to take roughly 30 minutes, and then we will spend the remainder of the time posing questions to them that have been submitted by members of the audience,” county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka wrote in an email Tuesday. “Any questions we can’t get to before the briefing ends we will provide answers to following the meeting.”
Since September, Aeby and Dr. Thierry Work, wildlife disease specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Honolulu field office, have made several trips to Kaua‘i to photograph infected coral colonies, document the disease’s progression and collect samples of both coral and Hawaiian white-spotted toby fish — which have been showing up with black skin discoloration and unusual lesions on their fins — for further study.
Work’s initial findings were outlined in a Nov. 21 diagnostic report, in which he called the outbreak and “epidemic” and said this is the first time a cyanobacterial/fungal disease has been documented in Hawaiian corals.
Work is currently traveling for an unrelated study and is unable to attend today’s briefing.
The lead agency responsible for Hawai‘i’s coral reefs is the DLNR.
In a Dec. 7 email, Deborah Ward, a DLNR information specialist, said that the department’s Division of Aquatic Resources is consulting with its federal partners and coral reef scientists involved directly with the investigation to understand the cause and extent of the damage.
“Once we have a reasonable understanding of the situation we will devise a plan to address it,” she wrote.
When asked if any steps were being taken to fix the problem, Ward said the DLNR “is awaiting the follow-up report from Dr. Work and our Kaua‘i aquatic biologist (Don Heacock) who are conducting additional assessments. We will be discussing these results with both our state and federal natural resource trustee agency partners and then convene a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary task force to address the issue. The make-up and direction of the task force will be based on the results of the field assessments and discussion amongst various state and federal agencies.”
Last week, Aeby said there is a Rapid Response Contingency Plan in place for situations like the outbreak along Kaua‘i’s North Shore, but that it is underfunded.
On Friday, Ward confirmed Aeby’s statement, saying, “There is a plan but it has not been funded.”
Immediately following the coral disease briefing, the Hanalei Watershed Hui will conduct a presentation on pollution control strategies, evaluation and monitoring protocols and education and outreach approaches for the Watershed Management Plan. The 5 p.m. presentation will focus on specific management practices to reduce or prevent nonpoint source pollution.
For more information contact the Kaua‘i County Office of the Mayor at 241-3900.
• Chris D’Angelo, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 241) or firstname.lastname@example.org.