NOAA scientists study diseased corals around Kauai


LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — A team of government scientists has wrapped up its visit to Kauai to get a look at the island’s diseased coral reefs but will be back this summer for a second look.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration four-person team finished its work Tuesday after spending more than a week doing surveys along Kauai’s North Shore where cyanobacterial white coral disease has been documented.

Terry Lilley, a Hanalei biologist who first alerted coral experts to the unusual outbreak, escorted the NOAA team after its arrival on April 29. NOAA focused its study on a number of locations around Waipa, Hanalei, Wainiha Bay and Anini Bay.

The team on Tuesday conducted its final dive at Tunnels reef, one of two locations where cyanobacterial white coral disease was first documented.

Lilley said the NOAA scientists are expected to return to Kauai soon.

“Their game plan is to come back in a couple months, sometime this summer, to go back to all the same locations to see how much the disease has spread and how many corals it has killed,” he said.

Last year, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Hawaii got a look at what is happening in the diseased reefs. In a November 2012 report, Thierry Work, head of infectious disease for USGS, described the rapidly-spreading disease on Kauai as an “epidemic.” He said the term still applies.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else,” he told the Garden Island on Tuesday. “What we’re seeing here is truly unprecedented.”

Work released an updated report on Monday detailing his findings since a return trip to Kauai in mid-April.

The visit came in response to reports from Lilley that the disease was no longer exclusive to the common rice coral, but it had begun targeting other species of Montipora corals, including blue rice coral.

NOAA has proposed listing 66 coral species under the Endangered Species Act. One of those is the blue rice coral.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is that the major player in this is this filamentous bacteria, and we’ve shown now that they’re infecting a third species (of Montipora corals).”

Of the four North Shore locations he visited last month, Work said infections were most common at Waipa, where 75 percent of corals sampled were infected with the filamentous bacteria.

“Waipa is a degraded reef with numerous recently-dead urchins, bleached and dying cauliflower corals, bleached rice coral in the shallows, sedimentation, low visibility and low currents,” his report says.

It says that North Kauai’s rice corals “continue to manifest tissue loss associated with filamentous bacteria on a scale not seen elsewhere in Hawaii.”

 

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