HANALEI — Local residents who are concerned about the health of coral along Kaua‘i’s North Shore are invited to join experts from the University of Hawai‘i during a community briefing Dec. 13.
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 county news release. As a result, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has invited the public to attend a briefing to gain “a better understanding of the science” behind those recent reports.
The hour-long briefing begins at 4 p.m. Dec. 13 at Hale Halawai ‘Ohana O Hanalei. 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.
Since September, Aeby and Dr. Thierry Work, wildlife disease specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Honolulu field office, have made three 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 findings were outlined in a Nov. 21 diagnostic report, in which he called the outbreak an “epidemic” and said this is the first time a cyanobacterial/fungal disease has been documented in Hawaiian corals.
“What we wanted was for the UH researchers and the USGS representatives who issued the report … to come and explain their findings to the general public,” county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka wrote Wednesday in an email. “We have invited the Department of Land and Natural Resources to send a representative, and they will be sending one, but I haven’t been informed who that is yet. I will be inviting the Department of Health to send a representative as well.”
Work is unable to attend the briefing as he will be traveling out of state for an unrelated study.
Tokioka said the county is getting involved at this point only “to facilitate a community briefing” on the outbreak, as it does not have jurisdiction over ocean waters.
“As the situation unfolds and a role for the county emerges, we will certainly support the lead agencies in any way we can,” she wrote.
The lead agency responsible for Hawai‘i’s coral reefs is the DLNR, which did return TGI’s request for comment by press time.
Aeby says that there is currently a Rapid Response Contingency Plan in place for situations like the outbreak along Kaua‘i’s North Shore, but that it is underfunded.
“There are holes in the system,” she said. “There’s a severe lack of funding in the state of Hawai‘i directed at coral reef management and conservation.”
During the Dec. 13 briefing, Aeby said she will give a brief presentation about her and Work’s findings to date, what the disease looks like and why the high infection rates are alarming to her and other scientists.
“There is a hypothesis that the environmental stressors are making it worse,” she said. “The reefs we are looking at are in very poor condition … Ultimately, our goal is to find answers and understand what is exacerbating the problem.”
Following the presentation, Aeby said the meeting will be opened up to questions from the public.
“There’s no excuse for letting Hawai‘i’s reefs die,” Aeby said. “None. No excuses acceptable.”
In a recent online poll, 68 percent of TGI readers voted that it is not too late to save Kaua‘i’s coral reefs.
While the Mayor’s Office has received phone calls from concerned community members, the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau said Wednesday that it has not received any calls or emails following the recent media coverage.
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.