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An Integrated Coral Reef Ecosystem Model to Support Resource Management under a Changing Climate

Ecosystem-based management is a useful management tool that considers both indirect and cumulative effects of added stressors to a system. Ecosystem models, especially those that consider physical and biological disturbances and human uses, can help to inform ecosystem-based management during planning and implementation stages. This study modified the Atlantis Ecosystem Model to quantify and predict the effect of added stressors on the Guam coral reef ecosystem. Specifically, the study focused on three main stressors: climate change, land-based sources of pollution (LBSP), and fishing. The study used the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report highest emission scenario to predict atmospheric COconcentrations and the RCP8.5 projection to predict sea surface temperatures. LBSP was predicted using previous data collected on Guam’s sediment and nutrient loads and river flow. Fishing predictions were based on historical catches. Short term (i.e. 30 years) and long term (i.e. 65 years) simulation tests were run for each stressor.

The short term tests revealed that fishing resulted in the greatest negative impacts with LBSP following close behind. Climate change became the dominant stressor in longer time scales with the bleaching threshold exceeded every year after year 48. It becomes clear that long-term high intensity disturbances from multiple stressors limits and sometimes even prevents ecosystem recovery. Limiting frequency, intensity, and number of stressors can significantly increase reef resilience. This study revealed that reducing LBSP and increasing water quality can delay climate-related impacts for up to 8 years while buying time for the corals to adapt to higher temperatures. The Atlantis Ecosystem Model and others like it can be used to provide a wealth of knowledge to inform ecosystem-based management decisions on both regional and global levels.

Author: Weijerman M., E.A. Fulton, I.C. Kaplan, R. Gorton, R. Leemans, W.M. Mooij, and R.E. Brainard
Year: 2015
View Full Article

PLoS ONE 10(12). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144165

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New Network Resources: Spotlight on the Western Indian Ocean

Cleaning a coral nursery. © Reef Rescuers

Content Here

Improving Management of Spawning Aggregation Fisheries in the Seychelles Using Acoustic Telemetry

Marine managers in the Seychelles are collecting and using behavioral information on Shoemaker spinefoots to develop management strategies that protect spawning aggregations of these commercially important fish. Read the case study.

Reef Rescuers: Coral Gardening as an MPA Management Tool

To repair coral bleaching damage in a marine reserve in the Seychelles, a large scale reef restoration project uses “coral gardening”, a technique that involves collecting small pieces of healthy coral, growing them in underwater nurseries, and then transplanting them to degraded sites. Read the case studyWatch the webinar.

Preparing for Coral Bleaching in the Western Indian Ocean

David Obura of CORDIO East Africa presents updated guidance (in four basic steps!) for monitoring bleaching events in the Western Indian Ocean at basic, intermediate, and expert levels. Watch the webinar.

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Seychelles – Coral Restoration


Reef Rescuers: Coral Gardening as an MPA Management Tool

Location
Cousin Island Special Reserve, Seychelles

A coral transplantation site at Cousin Island Special Reserve. © Reef Rescuers

A coral transplantation site at Cousin Island Special Reserve. © Reef Rescuers

The Challenge
In 1998, the mass coral bleaching event, caused by the coupling of El Nino and the Indian Ocean Dipole, severely affected the reefs of the Seychelles Archipelago. The 1998 bleaching catastrophe decreased live coral cover by up to 97% in some areas and caused many reefs around the islands to collapse into rubble (which later became covered with algae). In the following decades, coral recovery has been extremely slow in the inner granitic islands of Seychelles. Despite the existence of numerous no-take Marine Protected Areas (MPA) – an effective tool to bolster coral reef recovery – it has taken almost 20 years to see coral cover at pre-1998 levels in most areas in the region. Due to continuous global threats, such as changes in climate and ocean chemistry, MPAs alone may not be enough to assist in the recovery of coral reefs in the Seychelles. Consequently, more active conservation strategies are needed to promote reef recovery and build reef resilience and to achieve the long-term conservation of coral reef ecosystem services.

Cleaning the coral nursery. © Reef Rescuers

Cleaning the coral nursery. © Reef Rescuers

Actions Taken
The slow post-bleaching recovery motivated active restoration efforts in the inner islands of the Seychelles archipelago to assist in natural recovery. In 2010, Nature Seychelles launched the Reef Rescuers Project on Praslin Island. Financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), this climate adaptation coral restoration project seeks to repair coral bleaching damage in selected sites around Praslin and Cousin Island Special Reserve, a no-take marine reserve.

Through this project we are piloting the first-ever large scale active reef restoration project in the region using ‘coral gardening,’ a technique that involves collecting small pieces of healthy coral, raising them in underwater nurseries and then transplanting them to degraded sites that have been affected by coral bleaching. Forty thousand fragments of coral from 10 different branching/tabular species (Acropora hyacinthus, A. cytherea, A. abrotanoides, A. appressa, Pocillopora damicornis, P. grandis – senior synonym of P. eydouxi, P. meandrina, P. verrucosa, Stylophora pistillata, S. subseriata; species identification after Veron 2000 and nomenclature after the World Register of Marine Species) have been raised in 13 underwater nurseries located inside the Cousin Island Special Reserve. Between November 2011 and June 2014, a total of 24,431 nursery-grown coral colonies were transplanted to 5,225 m2 (0.52 ha) of degraded reef within the Cousin Island Special Reserve.

Coral colonies self-attaching. © Reef Rescuers

Coral colonies self-attaching. © Reef Rescuers

With the onset of a weak-to-moderately strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event starting late summer to early fall 2014 and continuing through 2016, we had a unique opportunity to determine the effectiveness of the choice of coral reef species (initially chosen based on survival rates during the last seawater warming anomaly) and the restoration process itself in alleviating the impact of warmer ocean temperatures. We are using standardized protocols to monitor the survival, reproduction, recruitment and bleaching response of donor and transplanted colonies. We continue monitoring at the transplantation site and two control sites, representing a healthy and degraded coral reef. Such monitoring allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of the restoration effort. Additionally, we are assessing the costs of large-scale reef restoration via coral gardening and the life cycle of coral reef restoration technology.

Transporting coral fragments. © Reef Rescuers

Transporting coral fragments. © Reef Rescuers

How successful has it been?
The long-term “success” of this mass transplantation is still being monitored but the project has already had positive outcomes. Forty-one practitioners from 11 countries have been exposed to reef restoration techniques by “on the job” work as volunteers up to three months on site, and eight experts have to date been formally trained through a full-time six-week classroom and field based training program. Before-and-after comparisons in coral cover at the transplanted site showed that the restoration project resulted in a 700% increase in coral cover, from about 2% in 2012 to 16% by the end of 2014. Similarly, we have documented a five-fold increase in fish species richness, a three-fold increase in fish density, and a two-fold increase in coral settlement and recruitment at the transplanted site. We also found that our coral transplants responded better to stressful conditions resulting from increased sea temperatures and a harmful algal bloom. The transplanted corals appear to recover faster and better than corals at other sites. The response of the transplanted reef to thermal stress bleaching is still being monitored. The preliminary analysis of the costs of reef restoration via coral gardening and the life cycle of coral reef restoration technology together with the ecological results so far support the application of large-scale, science-based coral reef restoration projects with long timescales to assist the recovery of damaged reefs. A proposal to scale up the coral farms to a mariculture venture so as to reduce costs through economies of scale has been accepted by the Seychelles government and funding is currently being sought.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
A tool kit is currently being put together to highlight the lessons learned from the project. In summary, we have learned that:

  • Survival of coral donor colonies is high.
  • Survival of nursery colonies is high for the selected species listed above.
  • There is a natural supply of corals (corals of opportunity) to be grown in the nurseries and that eliminate the need to re-fragment nursery-grown or donor colonies.
  • Nurseries become floating reef ecosystems.
  • Natural cleaning of coral nurseries and coral ropes reduces nursery maintenance and increases transplantation success.
  • There is a positive transplantation effect on settlement and recruitment of new corals, fish diversity and density.
  • The response of transplanted corals to bleaching causative events needs close monitoring to assess the effects of coral gardening on building bleaching resistance.
  • There is citizen science interest internationally in receiving training on coral reef restoration.
  • Partnerships with the tourism sector can be developed to establish coral gardens (seascaping) as a guest attraction and as a key part of the industry’s environmental management programs and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
  • Large-scale coral reef restoration needs to be considered as a cost-effective tool to include in the MPA manager’s toolbox.

Funding Summary
Until 2015, funds to support the Reef Rescuers Project have been sourced and provided by USAID. Further financial support was received under the Government of Seychelles-Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Protected Area Project in 2011.

Lead Organizations
Nature Seychelles

Partners
Global Environment Facilitaty (GEF)
USAID

Resources
About the Reef Rescuers project
Transplanted corals attach themselves in pioneering reef restoration project in the Seychelles
Reef Rescuers on CNN Inside Africa
US Oceans Envoy praises Nature Seychelles’ work
Saving the giant clams

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It’s not loo late for coral reefs

In a new article published today in the world’s leading academic journal, Science, Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy looks at the broad issues surrounding the current situation of coral reefs and highlights points of hope.

“There is growing concern around coral reefs,” said Spalding. “For decades they have had to survive a growing array of human threats and now climate change has added to this. It’s the new threat on the block and it’s a deep worry, but it is too early to proclaim the end of reefs.”

Many corals are showing some degree of adaptive capacity to both warming and to acidification, more than some scientists were expecting. Spalding notes that such adaptive capacity, alongside the natural resilience of reefs can enable them to recover even from quite severe perturbations. For example, most reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Seychelles, which lost virturally all their coral in 1998 due to warm-water induced coral “bleaching”, showed good recovery within a decade. Read more.

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Malaysia & Thailand – Disturbance Response


Temporary Reef Site Closures During Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress

Location
Malaysia (Kedah, Terengganu and Pahang states); Thailand (Trang, Satun, Chumphon, Krabi and Phnag Nga provinces)

The Challenge
From March to September 2010, a thermal stress event occurred across Southeast Asia. Satellite-based monitoring tools produced by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) program were used to describe thermal stress patterns in the region. These tools were used to help local agencies respond to the potential bleaching. Predicted coral bleaching was confirmed through in situ observations undertaken by the Department of Marine Park Malaysia (DMPM), Thailand’s National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department (DNP), university researchers, industry partners, and other stakeholders.

Undertaking practical, timely management actions before and/or during thermal stress events can reduce negative impacts on corals and reef ecosystems. Such actions include restricting potentially stressful activities on the reef such as construction, water sports (e.g., diving, snorkeling), and fishing, before, during, and after a bleaching event. In addition, enhancing overall reef health and condition (resilience) can help corals to resist environmental stress and recover more easily.

Discussing initiatives to support ecological and social resilience, Gili Islands, Indonesia. © James Tan Chun Hong

Discussing initiatives to support ecological and social resilience, Gili Islands, Indonesia. © James Tan Chun Hong

Actions Taken
In Malaysia, initial reports by government, university, NGO, and industry stakeholders confirmed bleaching had affected 60-90% of corals in the region. In response, DMPM closed 12 out of 83 dive sites within Malaysian national marine parks to divers and snorkelers from July 2010 until the close of the tourist season in October 2010. The onset of the monsoon season extended this closure until early 2011. DMPM undertook consultation with key reef stakeholders and press releases by the Director General of DMPM publicly communicated the closures and the reasons for them. These were supported by comments from NGOs (including ReefCheck Malaysia), along with calls for research and action to enhance understanding of and protection for reefs.

In Thailand, thermal stress was greater than in Malaysia, and resulted in over 80% of corals impacted at all sites. In response, and following a recommendation from the Department of Marine & Coastal Resources (DMCR), the DNP closed dive sites in national parks in December 2010. Eighteen popular dive sites within seven of 26 national parks on both sides of the peninsula were closed for 6-18 months to allow coral damaged by bleaching to recover. During this period, public awareness of marine conservation was promoted through local media. In the Gulf of Thailand, bleaching impacts were lower and bleached coral became a tourist attraction which provided additional opportunities for outreach and education. In addition to the site closures, authorities monitored coral status during the closures, increased enforcement, and also increased anchoring sites at locations unaffected by the closures to reduce boats damage to reefs.

How successful has it been?
In Malaysia, DMPM surveys of affected reefs in October 2010 and in the early months of 2011 found that corals had mostly recovered, with only a loss of ~5% of corals. Based on these results, the temporary closures were officially lifted in June 2011 for the usual beginning of the tourist season.

In Thailand, averaged across all reef sites, less than 5% of the damaged coral had recovered by 2011. Site closures were therefore extended to 18 months at some sites. The amount of young coral found suggested that while reef recovery through recruitment was occurring in some areas; it was dependent on the health of upstream reefs which provided the necessary coral larvae for recovery. These results demonstrated the importance of considering the ecological connectivity between healthy and damaged sites to better understand recovery prospects and patterns.

Tourism industry responses to the closures in Thailand were varied. The Phang Nga Tourism Association sought to cooperate with government efforts to protect marine life and to encourage collaboration between government and private tourism operators. Phuket and Andaman diving communities expressed concern that the closures would lead to overcrowding at other popular sites outside marine parks, such as around Phuket. In response, efforts were made in some locations to cap tourist numbers and/or to limit visits to during high tides (to reduce accidental contact with corals). There was also concern regarding follow-on impacts of the closures on the tourism industry, such as reduced accommodation bookings. General consultation with industry partners and stakeholders continued through DMCR and DNP, including through engagement programs such as Strengthening Andaman Marine Protected Area Networks (SAMPAN) and in partnership with research organizations (e.g., the Phuket Marine Biological Centre).

Small group reporting on potential management actions during bleaching events. © James Tan Chun Hong

Stakeholder learning workshops were held in multiple locations in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia during 2013 to identify gaps in scientific knowledge and build capacity for supporting social and ecological resilience to future bleaching events. Assessing the effectiveness of closures during coral bleaching events on promoting coral survival and reef recovery was identified as a key future research task through this study. Workshop participants acknowledged that selective site closure or reduction in usage could be beneficial for reefs, but also recommended implementing restrictions other than site closures during bleaching events. Other key responsive actions identified through the workshops included: (i) improving engagement, coordination, and communication between stakeholders about coral reef management issues; (ii) implementing education and outreach programs to raise awareness, particularly for snorkelers and divers; (iii) enforcing existing rules, particularly those related to marine parks and fisheries; (iv) improving communication and coordination during bleaching events by developing and/or socializing Bleaching Response Plans and forming Response Committees; and (v) developing and implementing codes of conduct and certification programs for divers, dive operators, snorkel guides, and tourism businesses.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Establish and maintain effective stakeholder networks. Having these in place prior to disturbance events can establish trust relationships if/when responsive actions become necessary. In the event of mass coral bleaching, coherent and guided actions are needed (e.g., through the Malaysian National Coral Bleaching Action Committee that was established with various stakeholders following the 2010 event or through Thailand’s National Coral Reef Management Plan).
  • Use predicted bleaching conditions from NOAA Coral Reef Watch tools to make proactive management decisions and support communication efforts.
  • Prevent coral damage from snorkeling in the shallow reefs before, during and after disturbance events. This may involve establishing alternative sites or only visiting reefs during high tides.
  • If temporary closure of diving sites is deemed necessary, clear and early communication of actions with industry stakeholders is important. Ongoing communication through any period of closure is also important; this includes informing the public and tourists concerning status of coral bleaching.
  • Reduce sediment load onto coral reefs from coastal development, wastewater discharge from boats and land-based activities.
  • Training and capacity building (e.g., in appropriate coral bleaching survey techniques) is important for local marine park rangers and other specialist monitoring groups.
  • Together with network partners, conduct research and monitoring for coral conservation and restoration. For example, this can inform the success of temporary closures on coral health.
  • Develop effective mechanisms for response project implementation under national coral reef management plans. This may include providing sufficient capacity and funding needs to relevant government agencies for monitoring and enforcement.
  • Support multi-national reef conservation efforts to enhance recovery of disturbed reefs.

Funding Summary
Rapid response assessment (funding sources and partners):
CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship
NOAA Coral Reef Watch Program
NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program
Australian Government’s Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (now the Department of the Environment)
The Nature Conservancy
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
Prince of Songkla University
Macquarie University

Stakeholder learning workshops (funding sources and partners):
Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research
CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship
NOAA Coral Reef Watch Program
NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program
Reef Check Malaysia
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
Department of Marine Park Malaysia
Prince of Songkla University
WWF-Thailand
Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Thailand
J.W. Marriott, Phuket, Thailand
Reef Check Indonesia
Coral Reef Alliance
Conservation International Indonesia
Wildlife Conservation Society – Indonesia

Lead Organizations
Department of Marine Park Malaysia
National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Thailand
Department of Marine & Coastal Resources, Thailand
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu

Partners
NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Reef Check Malaysia

Resources
Top dive spots closed due to coral bleaching

Coral bleaching in Thailand: 18 dive sites closed to save coral reefs

Dive sites to remain closed so bleached coral may recover

Building Capacity for Socio-ecological Resilience to Coral Bleaching Events & Climate Change in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand

First observed severe mass bleaching in Malaysia, Greater Coral Triangle

South-East Asia Coral Bleaching Rapid Response (pdf)

Impacts of coral bleaching, recovery and management in Thailand (pdf)

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Behind-the-scenes on Project REGENERATE

Photo © Project REGENERATE

In recent years, the IUCN has increased its engagement in the Maldives, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, with the development of the IUCN Maldives Marine Projects program, which aims to support the Government in addressing the environmental priorities and challenges that the Maldives faces. Project REGENERATE (Reefs Generate Environmental and Economic Resilience in Atoll  Ecosystems), a major project under this program, supports the sustainable management of coastal resources in the Maldives, particularly coral reefs, in order to build economic, social, and environmental resilience to the adverse effects of climate change. One major research activity of the project is a two-leg scientific expedition to investigate coral reef biodiversity and resilience and provide baseline ecological data for the Maldives.

The first leg of the expedition, in collaboration with the University of Queensland and the Catlin Seaview Survey, employed high tech cameras to collect data from eight atolls. The second leg of the research cruise was comprised of 17 researchers, representing  universities, research and environmental institutions from around the world, and focused on North Ari (Alifu Alifu) Atoll in the Maldives. The team documented fish abundance and species structure, benthic composition, coral population demographics, coral bleaching and disease, mobile invertebrate species, and foramnifera health. A key strategy of the project was to build local capacity by training citizen scientists in national monitoring protocols. Citizen scientists from Alifu Alifu Atoll, the capital Male and as far afield as Colombo, Sri Lanka, joined the research team, received training, and helped to collect data for their home reef. The data collected will help to assess the resilience of the coral reef ecosystem. It will also help to assess how population density affects reef health. Such assessments address important data gaps in the region and are critical in a country highly vulnerable to climate change, and also dependent on its world-renowned coral reefs and the resources that they provide. This information, combined with data from future monitoring assessments, will inform policy and management decisions in the region.

The Reef Resilience Team got a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into this expedition from two crew members: Zach Caldwell, The Nature Conservancy’s Dive Safety Officer, and Amir Schmidt, IUCN Maldives Marine Projects Field Officer.

Reef Resilience (RR): Can you tell us a little bit about how this project came about?

Zach Caldwell (ZC): There was a predicted sea temperature rise this year in the waters around the Maldives. Because we know that corals are more susceptible to bleaching and disease when thermally stressed, this created a timely opportunity to address pressing research questions on the resilience of corals in the Maldives. There seems to be quite a void in quantitative information on coral reefs in the Maldives, so the approach was to organize a comprehensive team to ensure that all necessary information was collected to answer the questions being asked.

RR: What was your role in the expedition?

Photo © Project REGENERATE

ZC: I was a member of the fish team. I worked directly with three other researchers to count and size reef fishes found along our transect line. I also worked directly with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to collect benthic data. We set up 10m x 10m plots on the seafloor and took a sequence of photos of these plots. The photos were later stitched together to make a detailed map of the sea floor. This provides us with a large permanent record of the community structure in that area at that time.  We complimented these data with fish surveys to compare fish abundance with bottom composition.

I conduct similar coral reef and fish surveys in Hawai‘i to provide our community partners with information on the health of their reefs to help inform community-based management. The Nature Conservancy Hawai‘i is currently working with 19 community partners across the State. As a research team, it’s important that we stay up-to-date on the latest monitoring protocols and also contribute to collaborative research projects like Project REGENERATE.

Amir Schmidt (AS): I had three roles to play during the expedition. My first duty was to make sure that the research team was sampling the right places at the right times. With dozens of divers and three dives per day, we had to stick to a tight time schedule! My second role was to oversee the citizen science component of the expedition. This included four local citizen scientists – two people from an environmental NGO, an assessor for Green Fins Maldives, and a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency Maldives – who helped to collect data on fish and benthic life forms, such as corals, sponges, and algae during the whole expedition and eleven community members and resort staff who joined the cruise for a day, receiving on board and in water training on monitoring protocols focused on benthic communities.

RR: How did the idea  to include local community members and scientists in the expedition come about, i.e. what was your motivation for this aspect of the project?

Training

Photo © Project REGENERATE

AS: Our goal for including community members in the expedition was to identify who locally is interested in coral reef monitoring, in order to build a network of citizen scientists to monitor our marine resources and later use this information to create a management plan.

Usually we go to the islands and conduct monitoring workshops there. This time, we took advantage of the opportunity to host the workshops on the research vessel. In addition to the training, the community members got to see what daily life on a research expedition looks like. The Maldivian island communities are small and because transportation in between them is limited, interactions of this kind are extremely rare. I think it was interesting for both the community members and researchers, and helped them to see the bigger picture.

Log on to the Network Forum to read the rest of the interview.

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Hawaii – Coral Disease


Detection of a Coral Disease Outbreak in Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi and Lessons for the Future

Location
Hanalei, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi

The Challenge
Hanalei, on the North Shore of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, is a small community of about 450 permanent residents. The Hanalei region is rich in biodiversity and cultural tradition and is home to species of high conservation value. Five ahupuaʻa, the traditional Hawaiian land division, drain into Hanalei Bay. There are also three culturally important fish ponds, a traditional Hawaiian aquaculture technique that encloses or diverts stream waters into an enclosed near shore area for purposes of rearing fish for local consumption. The Hanalei River is one of fourteen American heritage Rivers in the United States.

Hanalei River and Valley

Hanalei River and Valley. © Hanalei Watershed Hui

Tourism is the main economic driver on Kauaʻi. Many community members operate small-scale tourism businesses. On the North Shore, only about 25% of the residents are long-term, permanent residents; many residential properties have been converted to vacation rentals, with many of these visitors and seasonal residents originating from the mainland United States.

The community is highly engaged in natural resource management and planning and has identified major causes of land-based pollution including the conversion of single family homes to more intense commercial uses, inefficient waste water management systems, natural erosion, over-use of fertilizers, and erosion and disturbance caused by feral pigs. Strong wave action characterizes the ocean waters surrounding Hanalei, ensuring that the water surrounding Hanalei’s reefs are generally well mixed and water residence times are low.

Answering media questions

Answering media questions about the coral disease response.
© Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

In 2004, scientists studying the reefs on the North Shore of Kauaʻi first observed a black band coral disease at low levels. Then, in 2012, outbreak levels of the disease were reported to the volunteer reporting network, Eyes of the Reef (EOR). Scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (UH), and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have now confirmed that the disease affects three species of rice corals (Montipora capitata, M. patula, and M. flabellata), and, with some variation across sites, approximately 1-8% of colonies of these species. While these percentages are relatively low, Montipora corals are the dominant reef-building corals on North Shore reefs and therefore the disease has the potential to have a significant impact on reef structure and function. Black band coral disease can move through a coral colony very fast. Typically a disease front of cyanobacteria can be observed. It leaves behind dead coral tissue and algae covers the exposed skeleton.

Actions Taken

black band disease

Documenting the impact of the black band disease. © Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

Once the Eyes of the Reef Network confirmed the coral disease outbreak, USGS, UH, and NOAA conducted an initial assessment, according to the established protocol of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan (RRCP). The RRCP provides the Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and its partners with a plan to respond to events affecting reef health, including coral disease, coral bleaching, and crown-of-thorn starfish (COTS) outbreaks. The first step after receiving the report was getting partner scientists and government biologists to confirm and assess the extent of the disease. In 2012, a UH microbiology laboratory identified a cyanobacteria responsible for the disease, similar to diseases that have been observed in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific. A UH doctoral student surveyed Kauaʻi’s reefs in 2013 and confirmed that the disease was predominantly affecting the North Shore (86% of the 21 northern surveyed sites had the disease present, while only one site out of four in the south had the disease). The press covered the disease outbreak extensively, which brought attention and community concern about the issue.

Lesions from black band disease

Lesions from black band disease on a coral (healthy coral is to the left of the disease front, dead coral is to the right). © University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

There is relatively little known about coral diseases and less about how to manage diseased reefs; therefore, research is a major part of the first phase response. DAR partners are currently undertaking studies on diverse topics including disease transmission, potential treatments, the influence of coral health on coral susceptibility to the black band coral disease, how environmental factors correlate to the incidences of black band disease, and an experimental treatment option. This research will provide essential information to more effectively identify management options.

Members of the coral disease laboratory at University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology have been piloting an experimental treatment for affected coral colonies. Application of marine epoxy putty to edges of the disease lesions on affected corals has been found to effectively stop or slow disease progression on corals and a larger trial of effectiveness is a next step.

How Successful Has it Been?
In January 2014, DAR formed a Management Response Team with the partners that conducted the initial disease assessment as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DAR biologists and education specialists, and a coral specialist from the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. The purpose of the Team, as described in the Rapid Response Contingency Plan, is to review incoming data regarding the disease outbreak, communicate the event to the public, and evaluate management options. Thus far, the team has prioritized projects that will identify environmental drivers for the disease, evaluate potential management strategies, and launched a website where they will continue to post the latest information about the response. The black band disease outbreak is ongoing and no recovery can be reported as of yet.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

    • A plan facilitates a coordinated response. The existence of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan enabled DAR and its partners to respond to the black band coral disease in an organized manner. Some diseases move quickly and can cover large areas, so it is good to be prepared and to know what resources are available to respond to these events.
summer camp about coral health

DAR staff teaching a local summer camp about coral health. © Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

  • Community involvement is key. The citizen science network Eyes of the Reef is able to recognize coral disease outbreaks more quickly than if DAR staff had been working alone. In this case, community members expanded the capacity of managers to monitor for coral disease disturbances and will play a key role in the reef’s recovery.
  • Communication is critical when responding to this type of disturbance. Having a communication plan or involving a communication expert from the beginning would have aided the team in informing all partners and the community on Kauaʻi of what was known about the coral disease and about the research being done.
  • Contingency funding continues to be a substantial barrier. It is difficult because you cannot predict when, where, and how much funding will be needed for a disease event. A finance plan needs to be created that will allow funds to be isolated specifically for coral disease, bleaching, and COTS disturbances.
  • Partnerships are essential. Investigating a coral disease takes a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, managers, NGOs, communication experts, community leaders, private sector participants, etc. Collaboration can allow more resources to be leveraged in a timely and efficient way during a coral disease disturbance. DAR is building on this lesson by establishing the first global learning exchange of managers who respond to these types of coral reef impacts at the September 2014 U.S Coral Reef Task Force Meeting.

 

Funding Summary
Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR)The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST)University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB)US Geological Survey (USGS)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (NOAA-CRED)Several additional community partners also contributed resources and supplies

Lead Organizations (Management Response Team Members)
Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources
University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine BiologyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
The Environmental Protection Agency, Pacific Island Region
U.S. Geological Survey Wildlife Health Center
University of Hawaiʻi Kewalo Marine Laboratory
University of Hawaiʻi Department of Microbiology

Partners
Bubbles Below
Eyes of the Reef
Hanalei Watershed Hui
Kauaʻi Community College
Seasport Divers
Waipa Foundation

Resources
Reef Response: Black Band Coral Disease On Kauaʻi
Eyes of the Reef Network
Reefology 101, Coral Health and Ecology Forum
Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy, State of Hawaii (pdf)

Written by: Anne Rosinski, Marine Resource Specialist, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaiʻi Department of Land & Natural Resources
Makaʻala Kaʻaumoana, Hanalei Watershed Hui

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

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