Bleachapalooza

LIHUE — Bleachapalooza, a statewide effort to train Hawaii residents how to identify and report sightings of coral bleaching, is coming to Kauai.

On Oct. 3, when ocean temperatures are predicted to peak, trained volunteers will simultaneously get into the ocean on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island to look for bleaching on coral reefs.

Event participants will learn how to report coral bleaching to the Eyes of the Reef Network, which plays an integral role in the state’s coral bleaching response plan by reaching out to ocean users and providing additional assessment and reporting capacity of coral damage.

The information they gather will give researchers a better understanding of the extent of the coral bleaching. It will also help guide the conversation about future conservation options for reefs statewide.

In advance of Bleachapalooza, the Eyes of the Reef Network is offering free coral bleaching identification training.

Training is not mandatory to participate in the event, but participants should be confident snorkelers, free divers or SCUBA diver. They should also have a basic understanding of what coral is and be able to recognize white, bleached corals.

The time and place of the training, which is scheduled to take place on Kauai on Oct. 1, has not yet been set.

“We initially conceptualized Bleachapalooza as an event for Maui that would provide a way for people to take positive action for our reefs by reporting coral bleaching,” said DAR Maui special projects coordinator Darla White, who helped come up with the event. “Once we started talking to our colleagues, it immediately became clear that this call for action should extend statewide.”

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources’s Division of Aquatic Resources is supporting the first-ever Bleachapalooza events across the state.

“The ocean is the lifeblood of Hawaii and our coral reefs are the building blocks for the entirety of a healthy aquatic ecosystem,” said DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case. “Virtually everyone in Hawaii enjoys the ocean in some way and anything we can all do to help protect coral reefs will help protect our most vital natural resource for generations to come.”

Coral bleaching, a stress response, is reaching unprecedented levels across the state.

Many corals are only just recovering from last year’s bleaching, which occurs when warm waters prompt coral to expel the algae they rely on for food.

The phenomenon is called bleaching because coral lose their color when they push out algae.

The island chain experienced a mass bleaching event in 1996, and another one last year. This year, ocean temperatures around Hawaii are the estimated to reach temperatures that are 3 to 6 degrees warmer than normal.

Bleaching makes coral more susceptible to disease and increases the risk they will die.

This is troubling for fish and other species that spawn and live in coral reefs. It’s also a concern for Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy because many travelers come to the islands to enjoy marine life.

For updates on the Bleachapalooza event, check the Eyes of the Reef Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/eyesofthereef.

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