‘ANINI — A Kaua‘i diver has reported a successful coral spawn on Kaua‘i, as well as new baby corals from about four inches wide to 12 inches wide in ‘Anini Bay.
The report comes a few weeks after officials asked the public not to swim or snorkel at Kahalau‘u Bay on Hawai‘i Island between May 10 and 16, due to coral spawning in the bay. Spawning is part of the coral reproduction cycle, when many corals simultaneously release gametes into the water, which in turn attach to surfaces and form new coral.
Human presence in the bay during the spawning reduces the chance for coral gametes to settle naturally.
Underwater filmmaker Terry Lilley sent the ‘Anini Bay report to The Garden Island Saturday, saying: “The entire lagoon at ‘Anini Beach is just filled with tens of thousands of new baby corals from 10 different species. We had our first successful coral spawn recently, and this is the first time in many years that we have seen a whole new coating on the reef of baby corals.”
Corals face environmental and human-related threats to survival, including ocean acidification and temperature rise, increased nutrients in the water from runoff and chemicals like oxybenzone, found in sunscreen, introduced into the water.
Reef-friendly sunscreens are now available at many retailers and don’t contain those chemicals, shown in studies to harm coral reefs and banned by the state.
Corals throughout the state have battled these stressers, as well as black band disease, and have recovered at various levels. Reports from ‘Anini Bay in 2018 showed roughly 60% of corals were diseased and now, citizen science reports show less than 1% are diseased in the ‘Anini lagoon.
“In September 2019 the older corals that were diseased and dying started to come back to life and had a lot of new re growth over the past eight months,” Lilley said in his report. “We are measuring a lot of the Kaua‘i corals growth with high-tech cameras and laser beams to document the exact growth rates as they are growing faster then we once thought corals could grow.”
In early May word started to surface about coral growth at ‘Anini, as well as more animals in the lagoon — a story that has been echoed around the island by educational experts like those with Reef Guardians Hawai‘i and anecdotal stories from aquatics experts recreationally exercising in Kaua‘i lagoons and bays during the pandemic.
Reports include more monk seals and green sea turtles, animals like eagle rays and clearer water — the latter being an indicator of good conditions for coral reefs.
“For a coral reef to spawn the coral colonies must be healthy so this is a really great event for Kaua‘i we have not seen in a long time,” Lilley said.