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CRITTER: What is killing our corals in Kaua‘i?

In 2010, I took my first boat ride down the magical Na Pali Coast and stopped at Nualolo Bay to snorkel. The water was crystal clear and the corals were just stunning. Huge mound and pork chop corals mixed in with golden and pink antler and cauliflower corals.

Above the corals was a big school of nenue and humu humu ele ele, while below the uhu picked at the live healthy reef. I was in heaven just being in this remote place where no people lived, until 2014 when I went back and discovered over 95 percent of the corals had died.

Not only did the corals die from 2012 to 2014 along the Na Pali Coast, they also died in Ha‘ena and Hanalei. We have about 20 species of coral that live in shallow water all around Kaua‘i, and they are very sensitive to a number of events that can wipe out an entire reef in a short period of time. Most of our corals grow algae in their tissue of which they feed on and this algae needs sunshine to grow much like your garden at home needs sunshine.

In 2018, we had a major storm in Hanalei and a lot of mud washed out to sea and covered the live corals. This caused a lot of the corals to die. Storms often kill parts of the coral reef that are at the mouth of our streams or rivers.

Often during big rains, we have a release of farm chemicals out into the sea that can cause the corals to bleach pure white then die. This happened on the westside in 2012. All throughout Kaua‘i there are old cesspools that leak raw sewage into the sea.

We all read the monthly Surfrider surface bacterial test results. The sewage has a lot of nitrogen in it which stimulates algae to grow on the reef. This algae competes with live coral for space on the reef and can cause the corals to die.

As you can see there are many different events that can cause our corals to die. When a local event causes a coral loss we look at the rest of the coral reefs in Kaua‘i and see how they are doing. If the corals look good in one area and bad in another this usually means there is a localized problem affecting the corals so we need to study that area and find the problem, then fix it so the corals can grow back.

What caused an entire 40-mile stretch of coral reef to die like what happened along Kaua‘i’s North Shore in 2014?

When there is a massive amount of corals that bleach and die there must be a huge event that happened to kill so many corals at the same time. Since there are no farmlands or cesspools along the Na Pali Coast then what could have killed all the corals?

Many people felt that the corals died because of a 2 degree temperature change in the sea water. The rise in sea temperatures around Kaua‘i happened in 2015, so when the North Shore corals died the water temperatures were still normal. Matter of fact the north shore corals started to grow back in 2015 at the height of the sea temperature rise.

Figuring out what is killing our corals is very difficult and we must do detailed studies in each area and look at a lot of possible causes. As a marine biologist I am aware that sonar and electrical discharge into the sea can also kill corals.

Sound and electricity will break down the calcium carbonate structure of the coral and then disease sets in which eventually kills the corals. We now know that cruise ships, container ships, military ships and submarines discharge electricity into the sea on a regular basis. Could this have caused the coral deaths along the North Shore in 2014?

PMRF missile base started a submarine electromagnetic and microwave weapons testing program along Kaua‘i north shore in 2012. That is exactly when the corals started to become diseased.

The Navy ran its RIMPAC military operation along Kaua‘i north shore in 2014 when all the corals died! They ended their activities near shore in 2015 and guess what? The corals all started to grow back!

If the U.S. military, container ship companies and cruise lines wish to continue operating in Kaua‘i they need to do an environmental study and look at the effects of the discharge of electricity into the sea.

Currently, the military only does studies on their use of sonar and how that affects whales and dolphins. They have not done any studies about the effects of their high powered microwave radar towers on our wildlife or the effects of their electromagnetic weapons training on our marine life. All life on earth is made up of vibrating electromagnetic energy, so man-made radiation can negatively affect all living systems.

If we want to have a live healthy coral reef in the future for our children to enjoy, then we need to make sure that all possible activities are studied that may affect the health or the corals. All too often, environmental reports just blame coral deaths on sunscreen, sewage leaks or a minor change in sea temperatures and they don’t even address the huge output of electromagnetic energy into the environment.


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei Kaua‘i and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawai‘i go to
Source: The Garden Island

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