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Healing the bay: Public asked to stay out of Kahaluu Bay for final days of spawning

As Kahaluu Beach Park’s nine-day closure — allowing for a more successful coral spawning cycle — nears an end, officials are hoping for a swell of public cooperation to remain out of the bay during the closure’s final days.

The park was closed May 28 and will stay closed through Saturday. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources and The Kohala Center, a nonprofit organization that administers the Kahaluu Bay Education Center, have asked the public to avoid snorkeling, swimming and surfing in the bay as to not disturb the once-a-year spawning event.

“In 2015 and again in 2019, there was a major coral bleaching because of the temperature increase; 90% of the cauliflower corals died, not only in Kahaluu Bay, but along the Kona coast,” said Cindi Punihaole, Kahaluu Bay Education Center’s director. “Because we had seen such devastation in the bay, it was really important that we look at how and what we can do as a community and as a county to help start the healing.”

A stress-free environment — without human interaction — during spawning gives the gametes the best chance of a successful fertilization and larvae the best chance of finding a safe place to settle.

The park’s closure has largely kept the bay’s waters clear of beachgoers and swimmers. Frustrations have been voiced, however, over the sight of surfers in the water. Punihaole was quick to thank the local surf schools that halted operations for their help.

“The majority of the surf school owners are really respectful; they’re not here,” she said.

One of the schools staying out of the water is Kahaluu Surf & Sea. Manager Christopher Thomason indicated Kahaluu Surf & Sea and the other schools in the area have made a point to honor DLNR’s request. While the closure is strictly a voluntary measure and not enforceable by any law, Thomason implored the handful of surfers who elected to bypass the closure signs to stay out, if only for a few more days, for the sake of the bay’s health.

“You hope people do the right thing,” he said. “Even if it’s not the law.”

A lighter spawning so far than Punihaole had expected, has made the final days of closure even more critical.

“I was hoping that we would have more spawn,” she said. “We really need to give our bay a chance.”

Education, Punihaole insists, is the key to ensuring beachgoers understand why the closure is so important. Every day, the Kahaluu Bay Education Center has a representative at the beach park’s entrance, explaining why the park is closed.

“It really is educating our visitors with aloha, to let them know the reason why. The larvae, they’re at the top of the water when they’re spawning; they’re not at the bottom,” Punihaole said. “People in the water with their fins and with chemicals in the water can cause them to be confused. That’s why we want to give them space.”
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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