Survey says half of studied coral diseased

Half the coral reef sites surveyed by state scientists in nearshore Kauaian waters in the last year are plagued by disease, environmental officials announced Monday.

The finding, mined from the research of Christine Runyon, a graduate research assistant at University of Hawaii’s Institute of Marine Biology, is part of an ongoing investigation launched by the Department of Land and Natural Resources a year ago to research black band disease on Kauai and identify options for treatment. The project marks the first time that DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources has formed a management response team specifically to address coral disease, officials have said.

All told, 23 of the 47 sites surveyed by Runyon are being killed by black band coral disease, which derives its name from the black band lesion it forms on three types of Montipora coral, also known as rice coral, living in local waters. This lesion quickly progresses until the coral colony is dead.

“When a coral completely dies, it’s gone, it’s history,” Runyon said. “It can’t just rise up from its ashes. It doesn’t happen that way.”

Runyon, who said she plans to keep diving to document the disease for at least another eight months, will present her latest findings at a news conference Wednesday on Oahu. She will also make public recommendations to the state on how best to respond to the coral disease outbreak that has been dubbed an “epidemic” in a recent U.S. Geological Survey report.

Anne Rosinski, a coral reef specialist for the Department of Land and Natural Resources who is assisting in the study of black band coral disease on Kauai, will also speak at the news conference.

Katherine Muzik, a Kapaa resident and marine biologist who is not part of the DLNR investigation, said she is concerned about the health of Kauai’s coral reefs.

“Reefs are the home of everything, the beginning of life,” Muzik said. “Ancient Hawaiians revered the coral. They were always really important in Polynesia, and they are just as important now. They protect the shore from tsunamis and they are so beautiful and important for tourism.”

The black band disease was first spotted at low levels on Kauai in 2004, then identified on the North Shore of Kauai in 2012 at 10 times background levels, according to the DLNR. It continues to plague the three Montipora (rice) corals found around the island.

The places most affected by the disease are the reefs surrounding Makua (Tunnels), Anini and Anahola beaches as well as Ahukini Landing, Runyon said.

“I don’t look at every single inch of every single reef out here,” she explained. “I have specific places I go and then I report if I saw black band if so how much.”

Once a coral colony is infected, the disease kills it at an average of 4.5 centimeters per week, according to Runyon.

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