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    September 2018
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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.

US Forest Service, UH Hilo and Stanford Team Up to Develop New Ecosystems for Hawaiian Forests

Media Release:

In collaboration with Stanford University and the University of Hawaii, Hilo, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry will begin research next spring on developing “hybrid ecosystems” a mix of native and non-native species in an effort to create a sustainable ecosystem in tropical forests.

The research team, comprised of Dr. Susan Cordell, USDA Forest Service Research Ecologist; Dr. Rebecca Ostertag, Biology Associate Professor from the University of Hawaii at Hilo; and Dr. Peter Vitousek, Professor of Biology and the Clifford G. Morrison Professor in Population and Resource Studies from Stanford University, recently received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) to conduct their work on the 200-acre Hawaii Army National Guard Keaukaha Military Reservation on the island of Hawaii.

The proliferation of invasive plant species in lowland tropical forests in Hawaii have become so pervasive that it is neither cost-effective nor practical to eradicate all non-native species. These highly endangered ecosystems are often degraded by invasive species, and continue to be lost at a rapid rate. The research team will examine how to create new ecosystems incorporating native and non-native (but non-invasive) species that will also optimize carbon storage and support and encourage native biodiversity.

The project will begin in April 2011 and be conducted in two phases over a five-year time period. The first phase will include a 14-month study and analysis of traits of existing native and non-native species including cultural species. The second phase will include test plantings of several combinations of species.

“Invasive species are so prevalent. You’re hand weeding, trying to eliminate them and aren’t able to keep up with them. It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. Restoring these lowland tropical forests to a historic native state is not financially or physically feasible,” Cordell says. “We’re excited about this grant because it will allow us to conduct our research and try to find ways to co-exist with a sub-set of these species, and promote the sustainability and biodiversity of these forests.”

The SERDP, DoD’s environmental science and technology program, invests across a broad spectrum of basic and applied research, as well as advanced development. SERDP focuses on cross-service requirements and pursues solutions to the Department’s environmental challenges. The development and application of innovative environmental technologies will reduce the costs, environmental risks, and time required to resolve environmental problems while, at the same time, enhancing and sustaining military readiness.