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Researchers Create First Map Showing Impact on Hawai‘i Reefs

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa announces that the first comprehensive map documenting the relative impact of human activities and natural events in slowing reef recovery after extreme coral bleaching caused by rising water temperatures in Hawai‘i, has been produced by an interdisciplinary group of researchers with University of Hawai‘i ties.

Composite showing healthy coral, left, and degraded croal; photo by Keoki Stender, Marine Life Photo

The study, a large, multi-institution collaboration between Stanford University, UH, Stockholm Resilience Center, NOAA, and others, synthesized 10 years of datasets from university and government sources across many factors for the first time to get a big-picture perspective on reef health and regional impacts. It provides a foundation for further research and informs policies to protect coral reefs.

The researchers from the collaborative Ocean Tipping Points project reviewed the data to gauge how a broad suite of factors, such as sedimentation, development and fishing, influence coral reef health across the main Hawaiian Islands.

The study appears in PLOS One and reveals variations in what was inhibiting reef recovery across the islands. On the densely populated island of O‘ahu, for example, the dominant stressors were human activities, such as fishing and loss of natural habitat to coastal development. Sedimentation and nutrient runoff were dominant forces on less populated islands.

“When we jumped into the water in West Hawai‘i, over half of the coral reef was dead,” said the paper’s lead author, Lisa Wedding, a research associate at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions and graduate of UH Mānoa’s geography PhD program. “These are some of Hawaiʻi’s most vibrant coral reefs, so we were heartbroken—and determined to better understand how reef ecosystems could be more resilient in the future.”

“This area of research has been a long-term need for coral reef conservation and management,” said co-author Joey Lecky, a NOAA GIS analyst who analyzed human drivers of change in the main Hawaiian Islands as part of his graduate work at UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “These findings will allow us to take a big step forward in understanding how corals are impacted by both human activities and environmental stressors, in a place with incredible value.”

The research team’s findings highlight the importance of tailoring strategies based on location to effectively address local impacts. “These layers are being actively used in the ongoing state effort to meet Gov. David Ige’s 30×30 goal—protecting 30% of the nearshore by 2030—announced at the World Conservation Conference here in 2016,” noted Kirsten Oleson, Lecky’s advisor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management and a contributing author.

Data created by this mapping study are available for free at the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS), where scientists, managers and members of the public can explore and further analyze what drives variation on coral reefs. Users can download data layers in various formats and explore all layers in an interactive map viewer.

“We live in a changing world, and changing oceans are a big part of that,” said Ocean Tipping Points lead investigator Carrie Kappel of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. “Studies like this one provide crucial insights into how we can act locally to improve the resilience of reefs to global changes. This is an approach that can be replicated for reefs elsewhere.”

Read the paper here.

Paper co-authors include Oleson lab member Kim Falinski, a marine science advisor to The Nature Conservancy in Honolulu; Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology affiliate Kimberly Selkoe; and former biology faculty member Alan Friedlander. Other UH PhD graduates contributing to the study include Jamison Gove (oceanography), Mary Donovan and Kaylyn McCoy (zoology) and Jack Kittinger (geography).

Participating scientists represent Stanford, UH, NOAA, the University of California Santa Barbara, Bangor University, National Geographic Society, Conservation International, Arizona State University, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Curtin University and California Polytechnic State University. The research was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

NOAA Awards Nearly $200,000 to Protect Hawaii’s Marine Mammals

Senator Mazie K. Hirono today announced that Hawaii conservation programs will receive nearly $200,000 in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funding for the recovery and treatment of stranded marine animals.

“We were all captivated by the birth of Kaimana the monk seal on the shores of Waikiki this summer. But, marine mammals are threatened by climate change, development, and pollution,” said Senator Hirono. “This funding will help two Hawaii organizations with a history in marine mammal protection to conduct research on marine mammal mortality and rehabilitate and release monk seals.”

This year’s John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance grant was awarded to The University of Hawaii (UH) and The Marine Mammal Center for their work to support conservation research. As part of the grant funding, UH will receive $100,000 to investigate causes of mortality in Pacific Island marine mammals.

“Whales and dolphins are sentinels of ocean health, and like a canary in a coal mine are one of our first indicators of change to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem,” said Dr. Kristi West, standing director for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “As the only entity in the state that conducts cause of death investigations for stranded dolphins and whales, we rely heavily on the Prescott grant to determine what threatens the survival of 20 different species of dolphins and whales that call Hawaii home.”
In addition, The Marine Mammal Center will receive $98,951 to support its Hawaiian Monk Seal Rehabilitation Program.

“Public-private partnerships are essential for the successful conservation of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal,” said Dr. Jeff Boehm, Executive Director of The Marine Mammal Center, which operates Ke Kai Ola in Kailua Kona, a dedicated hospital for monk seals. “The critical funds from this award allow us to continue to rehabilitate vulnerable seals, understand health trends in the population, and enhance community involvement in recovery efforts.”

Senator Hirono continues to advocate for the protection of federal funding for NOAA. Earlier this year Senator Hirono and Susan Collins (R-Maine) led a bipartisan letter to the Trump administration urging reconsideration of proposed cuts to NOAA’s budget that would disproportionately hurt Hawaii and other coastal states.

The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal currently threatens to zero out funding for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program and other important NOAA programs.

Dead Dolphin Found Wrapped in Netting by West Hawaii Marine Mammal Rescue Network

Earlier today, a friend posted a disturbing picture of a dead dolphin that was wrapped up in some netting off the Kona Coast of Hawaii.

Photo courtesy of Julie Steelman

Photo courtesy of Julie Steelman

I had to inquire more about this incident and this is what was told to me about the dead dolphin they encountered:

It was a very sad encounter.  To say the least.  I’m part of the West Hawaii Marine Mammal Rescue Network, which is a NOAA group, but was out for a fun day on the water with friends.

At approximately 9:10am, I saw a spinner dolphin floating upside down with his pecs sticking out of the water.

Photo Courtesy of Julie Steelman

Photo Courtesy of Julie Steelman

I instantly knew something was amiss.  We drove closer and could clearly see a fishing net wrapped around his Rostrum, his neck, draped down his righthand side and then wrapped around his tail.  He was caught in the net from nose to tail and didn’t have a chance.  In my opinion, he drowned.

He was a very healthy looking male spinner dolphin.  He didn’t have any fresh cookie-cutter shark bites on him.  He was a little over 5′ long and was beautiful.  He was already dead when we found him.

Photo courtesy of Julie Steelman

Photo courtesy of Julie Steelman

We found him right near the large pipe at OTEC/NELHA, just north of Garden Eel Cove.  I could see at least 10 “swim with dolphin” boats at garden eel cove.  It was unclear if the dolphin had just surfaced and/or the dolphin swimming boats had or hadn’t seen him.

We were headed up to the Manta cleaning station to do some free-diving and then out for a whale watch.

I was instantly sickened and went into action letting NOAA know there was an entangled deceased dolphin.  He was fresh and hadn’t been there very long at all.

I felt enraged seeing this beautiful ocean animal just being himself and getting entangled in something some human put in the water.  It was so avoidable and unnecessary.  I always remind myself of Ram Das’s quote…”hold a space of infinite unbearable compassion”.  I feel so much compassion for the animals, who are completely innocent, and we STILL think the ocean is a grand dumping ground.  That the debris and garbage we put in it doesn’t hurt anything.  I feel like the animals don’t have a voice and we could certainly be more mindful of keeping their habitat clean.

Photo courtesy of Julie Steelman

Photo courtesy of Julie Steelman

So, my insides were a cocktail of compassion, sadness and outright anger.

With NOAA”s permission, we later transported the dolphin to the harbor.  We iced him and he was picked up and flown to Oahu.  He will be examined and used for research.  The only good that comes out of this is they get a very fresh animal to study.

Julie Steelman

DLNR, NOAA Request Assistance From Boaters To Report Dead Floating Whales

To Report Dead Floating Whales Notify USCG channel 16 or NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline at: 1-888-256-9840

Each year, approximately one to four sperm whale carcasses drift ashore in Hawaii, particularly in May and August. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) are asking boaters to notify authorities immediately if they see a dead whale floating at sea.

This whale washed up on the Puna Coastline last year.

This whale washed up on the Puna Coastline last year.

Data also suggests they are coming in to Hawaiian waters from east and north directions, which results in most carcasses landing on the windward side of islands.

“Early reporting allows us to locate, then tow a floating carcass away from the islands,” said David Schofield, NOAA’s Regional Marine Mammal Health and Response Program manager.  “This is often much easier and less expensive than removing it once it comes aground on a shoreline or reef.”

“It is critical that we do our best to keep these whales out at sea to avoid attracting large tiger sharks close to shore,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR chairperson.

“Fishing is also good around these carcasses, and by notifying DLNR and NOAA early we can take the necessary steps to tow the carcass back out to sea, which can extend these opportunities and benefit public safety,” added Aila.

“We know that sperm whales are the deepest diving and one of the largest ranging of all cetaceans, but we still don’t know why we see these stranding peaks in the summer,” said Schofield.  “It could have something to do with migration patterns, but scientists still have a lot to learn.”

“Although summer is peak season for sperm whale carcasses, other large whale carcasses, like humpbacks, make their way to shore throughout the year,” added Aila.

To report a floating whale or any marine mammal incident, call USCG channel 16 or the NOAA marine mammal hotline at: 1-888-256-9840.

NOAA Flights Over Pacific Ocean and Hawaii to Boost North American Weather Forecasting

A highly specialized NOAA jet typically used to study hurricanes will fly over the north Pacific Ocean during the next two months gathering data that will enhance winter storm forecasts for the entire North American continent.

The Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) is a high altitude, high speed, twin turbofan jet aircraft acquired by NOAA in 1996.

From its temporary base at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Honolulu, NOAA’s high-altitude, twin-engine Gulfstream IV-SP aircraft will deploy special sensors to collect information where the jet stream and moisture from the ocean interact and breed potentially powerful winter storms that impact North America several days later.

Data on wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature and humidity from the sensors will be monitored and quality checked by meteorologists aboard the aircraft. NOAA then will use the information to predict the location and intensity of high winds, destructive surf conditions, severe weather and flooding rainfall caused by winter storms.

“These atmospheric observations, combined with satellite and other data, have proven to significantly enhance four-to-seven day winter weather forecasts” said Capt. Barry Choy, chief science officer for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), part of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Improved forecasts mean longer warning lead times for the public, emergency managers, air carriers, utility companies and others to prepare for significant winter storms, protect lives and property and minimize economic impacts.”

The mission will take the Gulfstream IV north, east and west of Hawaii, and occasionally as far as Alaska. Data gathered in the upper atmosphere by the NOAA aircraft, which flies at 45,000 feet, will be supplemented by data collected at lower altitudes by a U.S. Air Force Reserve weather reconnaissance plane. The flight tracks for both aircraft will be developed by NCEP.

“Together, these flights will help forecasters paint a detailed three-dimensional picture of weather systems over Pacific regions where more accurate information is needed for computer weather forecast models,” said Jack R. Parrish, flight director and meteorologist with NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

Based at the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., the Gulfstream IV is part of the NOAA fleet of aircraft and ships operated, managed and maintained by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

Citizen Groups Sue Wespac, NOAA and DCC

A lawsuit seeking basic government documents has been filed in Federal District Court against the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Commerce by the Conservation Council for Hawaii, The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, KAHEA; and the LOST FISH Coalition.

The lawsuit was filed to gain access to documents requested by the plaintiffs in a Nov. 14, 2007, Freedom of Information Act request submitted to Wespac seeking basic budget, grant, and contract information.

“In addition to shedding light on the long-hidden and most basic internal operations of this controversial federal entity, the documents may also shed light on how Wespac funds may have been used in what appears to be various lobbying campaigns to influence state and federal legislative and executive branch decisions related to marine conservation in Western Pacific waters,” said Tina Owens of the LOST FISH Coalition…

More here