Series shines spotlight on coral — and finds hope

F or the past week, The Garden Island has been publishing a series of stories by Reporter Jessica Else on the condition of coral around Kauai. Else has been investigating the threats to the reefs, the cutting-edge methods for their preservation and restoration, and the ways the public can help save the world’s coral.

We’ve looked at the problems, the impacts, the possible causes and the much-needed possible solutions. We’ve talked to scientists associated with state and federal agencies. We’ve interviewed local marine biologists. We went snorkeling to see some of the new coral growing on the North Shore. We’ve done our best to spell out why coral are critical to our environment, in the ocean and on land.

Today, the series continues with how keiki are learning about reefs, coral and how to protect them. On Sunday, we’ll take a look at what we can all do to guard marine life. On Monday, we’ll publish a story by Tom Hasslinger, former TGI managing editor and today editor of West Hawaii Today. The story looks at experimental cross-breeding of different components of corals to try and create a species that can resist rising sea temperatures

We hope you’ve followed and enjoy this series. If you missed some of the stories, stop by TGI for copies of past papers or read them at We believe it is valuable information.

Else spent hours researching and studying what’s happened with our reefs and our coral, both locally and worldwide. She’s reported developments that haven’t been reported elsewhere.

What we know is that the condition of coral has been deteriorating for years. The cause is less clear. Possible sources include fertilizers and pesticides used on land that wash into the ocean; leaking cesspools or septic systems; developments that have sent debris and mud into streams, which in turn wind up in the ocean; sunscreen with oxybenzone that washes off people when they enter the water; rising sea temperatures; or even military activities and underwater, electronic surveillance systems.

It would be difficult to pinpoint an exact cause, and nearly impossible to trace the collapse of reefs and demise of corals back to a single source.

But what is encouraging is that new coral is growing around Kauai. It is making what some have called an unexpected comeback. Areas that a year ago had lost all their coral are seeing it colorful and strong once more.

Marine biologist Terry Lilley, who over the past several years has spent thousands of hours underwater recording the condition of coral and reefs on the North Shore and was among the first to sound alarms, wrote this recently about the Blue Hole reef area at Anini Beach: “… the whole area has erupted in new coral growth. It is really stunning!

“In 2016 the corals started to grow back and many are now over 24 inches tall in just one year! The reef is covered with new rice corals, cauliflower corals, antler corals, mound corals and finger corals.”

Lilley, who lives in Hanalei, also recently wrote this:

“Yesterday I snorkeled at Ke‘e on the right side of the lagoon that is not in the shadow of the mountains and there are tons of new baby corals there also!

This is wonderful news.

If this continues, we are told, coral could be back to where it was six or seven years ago — and coral comes with all those beautiful fish we love to see.

What this series has done, we hope, is shine a spotlight on our reef system and coral, raise awareness of their importance, and get agencies and community groups to work together, toward a common goal.

What we can agree on is there is a need to protect the coral. We can agree we all play a role in the return of coral and keeping it healthy. We know more can and must be done. We are blessed to have many talented, knowledgeable people who care and are determined to make a difference for our ocean. Let’s listen to them.

With that said, here’s how you can help:

w Learn more about educational programs with the state, call 274-3345 or email

w Join Eyes of the Reef Hawaii, the community monitoring network, visit

w Volunteer to help with ReefGuardians Hawaii summer snorkeling program, call Robin Mazor at 651-0286.

w Report marine debris on beaches and reefs, or get involved in cleanups, call Barbara Weidner with the Surfrider Foundation on Kauai at 635-2593.

w Report illegal activities and things like stranded marine life to DLNR at 808-643-DLNR or NOAA at 800-853-1964.

w Learn more about Kauai reef etiquette at


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