“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”Baba Dioum – Senegalese Forestry Engineer
The love of the ocean connects us to each other and to this very special island we are so blessed to call home. It seems impossible to quantify something so seemingly simple as “the beach”… everything from the precious time spent playing in the sand with our friends and family, to the fish we love to snorkel with, to the surf that soothes the soul. There is one thing that ties all these together ~ our coral reefs. Coral Reefs are an amazing resource, but unfortunately they are in danger, primarily due to human activities. The good news though, is that it is not too late to fix it.
Our reefs nurture our fish stocks, provide sand for our beaches, protect our shores from storms and swell, create the surf we cherish, and help drive Hawaii’s $12 billion annual tourist industry. However, during the past two decades, nearly one-quarter of Maui’s corals have been lost, with half of Maui’s reef sites currently experiencing declining health.
Some of this decline could be related to the quality of our waters; coral require very clean and clear water in order to thrive. Yet nearly 90% of water quality samples taken around Maui between 2012-2014 violated State Water Quality Standards for turbidity, nutrients and/or bacteria. Fish also play just as an important role as water quality for coral to remain strong and healthy, however the average amount of reef fish found around Maui is now the second lowest in the main Hawaii islands, behind only O`ahu.
Fish have a symbiotic relationship with corals and play a huge part in helping keep our reefs healthy. The herbivores keep the algae trimmed back so they don’t encroach on corals, which is a critically important job, especially in times of severe stress. Without the fish the algae grows unchecked.
This summer, the ocean’s temperatures were especially warm causing severe coral bleaching both locally and across the world. Bleaching is how corals cope with too much heat; they release their zooxanthellae in an attempt at slowing the overproduction of energy and waste, which is toxic for the coral. It’s the zooxanthellae however that gives coral its color, so when they are released, the coral becomes white. Without their zooxanthellae, the coral cannot fight off disease or make food, and thus is in a severely weakened state. While the coral will look completely white it is not necessarily dead, yet. “Coral mortality” as its called, happens once the algae take over. So as long as conditions return to a better state for coral within a few weeks, and the fish are present to help the coral fight off algae in the mean time, coral will have a chance at coming back to life… This is why fish are so important to corals’ survival!
So what can you do to help? The easiest thing to do is to learn and teach others. If someone asks, “Why are our reefs dying?” or, “Where are all the fish?”, tell them that the dirt and pollutants that are washing into our oceans are the #1 killer of our reefs and therefore protecting our reefs and fish population starts on land. Tell them that just 1 pound of dirt can have the same cumulative impact as 5,000 pounds due to turbulence and waves continuing to stir up the sediment. Corals function much like solar panels, deriving their energy from sunlight. When sediment either settles on top of coral or is in the water column, it blocks the sunlight causing severe stress and prevents the coral’s keiki from settling to build new reefs.
There is so much you can do to help our reefs and ocean: Visit Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (www.mnmrc.org) to learn more and sign up for our newsletter to stay connected. Find us on Facebook. Every “Like” is a statement that clean oceans and reefs are important and sends a strong message that our community cares for the future of our Maui reefs and fish. Share your knowledge with friends and family. Make a small first step and refuse to use sunscreen with Oxybenzone. Come out to our family events, fish surveys, and restoration work. If you have 5 hours a month, join us in monitoring water quality. At home, learn about how chemical fertilizers and insecticides impact our reefs if they reach our oceans, and how to make better choices for our coral. Everybody’s voice and actions make a difference and are vitally important to ensuring our reefs are healthy for future generations.
Article author:Tegan Hammond
Image Credit: Pauline Feine