Hawaii Legislators are Fighting Back on Coral Bleaching

Source: Coral Reef Watch at NOAA
Hawaii legislators are beginning to propose plans to help nearby coral reefs recover from bleaching events.  The main cause of coral bleaching is rising water temperatures.  Although legislatures cannot do anything significant about this main cause of coral bleaching, they can control runoff pollution and overfishing, two main factors that have been making the problem worse.

The multi-million dollar plan will include the production of artificial wetlands along the coast, which will minimize pollution runoff from the islands.  Furthermore, stricter catch limits will be put in place to help preserve as much of the coral reef ecosystem as possible.

Coral Reefs Have Been Falling Victim to Coral Bleaching Due to Increasing Water Temperatures

Source: Climate Center at NOAA
Over the last couple decades, ocean temperatures have been on a steady rise, as seen in the graph to the right.  The warm water temperatures cause the coral to expel their algae, which is their main source of nutrients.  When the algae are expelled, the coral becomes very sick because of a lack of nutrients.  If conditions do not improve quickly for the sick coral they will ultimately die.

The increase in ocean temperatures has been affecting coral reefs worldwide, not just in Hawaii.  The rise in water temperatures has been correlated to the rising air temperatures worldwide.  Studies show this rise in temperature is directly correlated to global warming.

Pollution and Overfishing Have Been Slowing the Recovery of Bleached Coral Reefs

Runoff pollution from the Hawaiian Islands has been entering the ocean and impacting nearby coral reefs. The polluted water is making it difficult for already sick coral to recover by limiting the percent of nutrients in the water.  Pollution is also killing many of the fish that live in the reef ecosystem.  Some of these fish, such as the parrotfish, are vital in maintaining the health of the coral.  Parrot fish, for example, have a symbiotic relationship with coral that helps sustain healthy coral reefs.

Overfishing near Hawaiian coral reefs is also contributing to the slow recovery of coral beached reefs.  Fish are a crucial part of the reefs' ecosystem.  The fish that live in the reef help coral thrive by eating excess algae.  With less and less fish, due to overfishing in areas around the reefs, the coral reef ecosystems are not thriving as much as they used to.

The Future of Coral Reefs Does Not Look Promising Without Widespread Environmental Change

Source: Forbes Magazine 
This study predicted the severity of coral bleaching based on region and climate.  It is predicted that in the coming years, coral bleaching is going to become a larger problem worldwide due to increasing temperatures.   Overall climate is going to increase, which will in turn increase water temperatures.  There is little we can do to reverse the rising temperatures, however we can slow down the process by limiting pollution, emissions, and deforestation.

Coral reefs are very sensitive ecosystems and the slightest change can devastate a whole reef.  Hawaii legislatures are taking steps to preserve the coral and reverse the damage as much as possible.  The legislation might just be a bandaid for a bigger problem, or it could be a huge step forward in protecting coral reefs, only time will tell.

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