Meeting of the Minds: Scientists Meet with DAR to Discuss Coral Disease On Kauai

The Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) convened an update from three scientists who have been studying the cyanobacterial infection  that is currently affecting Montipora, or mound corals, on the north shore of Kauai that was originally reported by an Eyes of the Reef (EOR) volunteer in 2012.  The intent of this meeting was to provide DAR biologists, managers, and education and outreach experts with accurate and up-to-date data information on the location and severity of the affected areas, research accomplishments, and future survey plans.  This information will be useful as DAR helps to support additional surveying and water testing on the affected reefs this summer and continues to discuss management options.

Information was presented from Dr. Thierry Work, Wildlife Disease Specialist at USGS on how the disease was first discovered, lab work that determined that the infection was caused by a bacteria, and that it is currently observed at six reef sites in and around Hanalei Bay.  Bernardo Vargas-Ángel from the NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Division then spoke about surveys that NOAA conducted in May to determine if the disease was prevalent in other north shore areas including deeper reefs.  These surveys determined that because the bacteria seems to be affecting Montipora corals, which are typically found on shallow reefs, it is not found in deeper water (~20 – 50 ft).  Possible disease hotspots were also found in areas close to freshwater inputs.  Finally, Christina Runyon, a PhD candidate from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii, shared an update on her dissertation work that will investigate the relationship between this coral disease and environmental factors and how to determine which reefs may be at risk for infection.  This DAR supported  research will focus on  Montipora-dominated reefs on the north and south shores of Kauai and will use geospatial computer software to correlate the disease prevalence to several environmental stressors.

All three scientists discussed how this disease outbreak emphasizes the need for ecosystem-based, comprehensive management, collaboration between government, scientists, and the community, and how the positive environmental actions of individuals in the community continue to be an important part of these complex environmental issues.  Although a single cause of the infection has not been isolated, research planned in the coming months will begin to clarify the relationship between the coral disease and factors in the environment that may be encouraging its extent on the coral reefs of north Kauai.