Federal legislation would mean cash for coral

  • Terry Lilley / Special to The Garden Island

    Healthy mound coral grows at Makua, or Tunnels Beach, last month.

  • Terry Lilley / Special to The Garden Island

    Healthy mound coral in Wainiha was seen in June.

  • Terry Lilley / Special to The Garden Island

    Giant yellow mound corals grow in the lagoon at Limahuli.

LIHUE — Without a dedicated state Department of Land and Natural Resources biologist on Kauai, there haven’t been any state-commissioned studies of the reefs around the island.

Citizen reports, though, point to varying degrees of health in Kauai’s reefs, and legislation introduced in Washington could help provide federal funding for reef management.

The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019 was introduced recently by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and U.S. Reps. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico).

The act authorizes five years of directed federal funding and technical assistance to states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems, according to a release from Schatz’s office.

It also encourages innovative, new, coral reef stewardship partnerships among resource-management agencies, research centers and community stakeholders, and codifies and updates the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

“From never-before-seen levels of bleaching in the Pacific to unprecedented devastation from disease in the Atlantic, coral reefs need urgent help. Our bill gives local governments and communities the federal resources to help save Hawaii’s corals,” Schatz said.

Reports from several citizens around the island and from volunteers with Eyes of the Reef point to differing levels of health at different reefs on Kauai.

In July, underwater videographer Terry Lilley reported the reef at Makua Beach (Tunnels) was healthy and thriving.

“I found the only black coral I have ever seen along the North Shore of Kauai on an outer, isolated reef ledge. I have seen this single coral now for 15 years and it still looks healthy,” he told TGI in July.

He also reported new mound corals in the area.

Reports from Anini indicate the coral isn’t in as great of shape in the bay, with mound, antler and pork chop corals dissolving, and a limited amount of rice corals.

Out at Limahuli lagoon and in Wainiha Bay, corals are reported to be healthy and thriving.

Money from legislation like the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act could help further studies of the areas and a better understanding of the factors that contribute to coral decline, state officials said.

Suzanne Case, chair of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, confirmed that fact on Friday, saying the legislation would provide “critical support to conserve and restore Hawaii coral reefs” in a time when predictions indicate Hawaii is headed toward another major coral bleaching event this summer.

“Coral reefs provide a wide range of cultural, ecological and economic benefits. Also, reefs provide vital shoreline protection for Hawaii, which is especially relevant now during hurricane season,” Case said.

”This legislation provides the critical tools, funding and a pathway for implementing the best science and management actions to support the persistence and restoration of coral reefs,” Case said.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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