UH Hilo marine scientist says coral bleaching in East Hawaiʻi waters is affecting almost every coral

Misaki Takabayashi says parts of the reef in Keaukaha and Waiʻōpae are turning ghostly white as coral bleaching takes hold, threatening the area’s marine ecosystem.

Coral reef with several coral heads bleached white.
Signs of coral bleaching in East Hawaiʻi waters. Courtesy photo from Misaki Takabayashi.
Misaki Takabayashi
Misaki Takabayashi

The coral bleaching happening in waters off East Hawaiʻi is “unprecedented” according to Misaki Takabayashi, an associate professor of marine science at University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports high water temperatures fueled by El Niño are wreaking havoc on East Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs and Takabayashi says parts of the reef in Keaukaha and Waiʻōpae are turning ghostly white as coral bleaching takes hold, threatening the area’s marine ecosystem.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, which causes them to expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.

Takabayashi tells HTH the bleaching is affecting almost every coral type to some degree, with one hard-hit species at Waiʻōpae seeing bleaching rates higher than 80 percent.

The marine scientist says last year was the first time Hawaiʻi experienced significant levels of bleaching, and this year is much worse.

“Either they will lose parts of the colony or whatever is going to survive is seen in smaller portions,” Takabayashi says in the HTH story. “They (snorkelers and divers) will see less coral next year for sure.”

Takabayashi, who specializes in coral and has been doing research in Waiʻōpae following Tropical Storm Iselle, says poor water quality makes the bleaching problem worse. Her research has shown all coral species at Waiʻōpae are bleaching to some extent, and poor water circulation is a factor.

To learn more about Takabayashi’s research: