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Hawaii’s Coral Reefs are Coming Back to Life

Coral reefs are often considered the ‘canaries of the ocean,’ because they act as an alarm system for our marine environment. In recent years, scientists and concerned citizens have worked together to confront and alleviate some of the negative impacts facing our coral reefs by improving the resiliency of many coral species.

Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to the threats faced by coral reefs, including rising ocean temperatures, water acidification levels and disease. By reducing these stressors, humans can increase the resiliency of coral reefs and begin the restoration process needed to preserve their delicate habitat.

Coral reefs in Hawaiʻi make up approximately 85 percent of all coral reefs in the United States, making Hawaiʻi an important location for restoration and propagation of these important species. With over 5,000 species of plants and animals making their home within Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs, spreading awareness of their fragility and what can be done to preserve and sustain these vital ecosystems, is imperative to their survival.

Humans depend on coral reefs to protect our shorelines and fish populations. With the damage caused to reefs in recent years, coastal communities with a significant dependence on fishing or tourism have felt the impact of their decline. Much of this damage was caused by coral bleaching and Hawaiʻi has adopted strategies to encourage coral growth. However, these implementations alone are not enough, so local scientists are now growing Hawaiian coral inside protected facilities in order to promote faster maturation without the exposure to threatening elements.

Coral in Hawaiʻi grows slowly, averaging 1.5 centimeters a year. With the help of scientists and indoor laboratories, coral colonies can grow at an average rate of 2.5 centimeters a year. These pieces of smaller coral are joined with larger colonies and then transplanted into the ocean, significantly reducing their growing time.

Scientists are hopeful this project will provide a maintenance strategy for coral species and provide insurance in the face of further catastrophic events like coral bleaching. By rebuilding coral reefs, advocates hope to reestablish these vital marine ecosystems and restore their ability to provide habitat for thousands of reef fish and organisms. In addition, coral reefs also offer shoreline protection from storms and support recreational activities such as fishing, snorkeling, and boating.

There are several ways you can help save Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs and protect this sensitive ecosystem. Become involved by joining a reef protection program, or volunteering for reef and beach clean-ups. Beach litter poses a threat to reefs because it can wash into the ocean and cause harm. If you don’t live near the beach, you can help by reducing your use of items containing chemical ingredients like fertilizers, pesticides and cleaning products. If you like to fish, limit what you catch and keep only what you need. Also, take extra caution to never touch or step on the reef as it can kill this fragile species. Let’s work together to save our magnificent underwater utopia so we can share it with future generations.

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