Hawaiis Coral reef

Hawaii’s Coral reef

Christopher Smith

May 12, 2014

        Most come to enjoy the ocean surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, but many do not realize how important the coral reef is to the ecosystem. The coral reef helps the residents and the aquatic life of the islands retain their sustainability. The coral reef recently has been of subject, since the arrival of the disease found near the island of Kauai. During this same period, it was also noticed the Hawaiian green sea turtle (Honu) has also been affected by disease.

The ecosystem

        Kauai is one of the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Kauai was originally formed approximately 6 million years when the pacific plate passed over the Hawaii volcanic hotspot. Surrounding the island is the Pacific Ocean, which provides food, safety, and seclusion.  The coral reef is a huge portion of what the island residents and aquatic life need for sustainability. The Biomass pyramid of nature starts in the ocean; the complex food chain helps to balance all life, such as algae, herbivores, and coral to support other aquatic life and land-based life. Fishing and tourism relies on the coral reef’s ability to support these biogenesis structures and the biodiversity of aquatic life.

Habitat interaction

        Similar to the coral reef system of the Caribbean, Hawaii’s coral thrives on the surrounding terrestrial and marine environments. Two important factors for coral survival are mangroves and sea-grass beds. The importance of mangroves comes from the ability to stabilize the coastline, while filtering pollutants and providing nutrients to the coral system. The root system also provides a nursery, feeding area, and a breeding area for many of the aquatic and bird life around Kauai. Sea-grass is a plant, which often forms underwater meadows between the coral and mangroves.  Sea-grass will provide protection and food to a variety of aquatic life, such as crabs and lobster.

        Mangroves are not indigenous to Hawai’i, with only two versions introduced during the colonization of Hawaii. One type of mangrove (the American mangrove) came from Florida in 1902 by the American Sugar Company and the other mangrove is an oriental version brought in from the Philippines in 1922 by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (Scott, 1991). Mangroves are looked at as useful and negatively. As an invasive species, the mangroves when overgrown will destroy cultural structures and inhibit native animal life as they steal wetlands that are important for native animals and plants. Full eradication of the mangrove was decided not to occur because of their usefulness for breeding grounds for native marine life and stabilization of soil by preventing the shorelines from washing away.

        Halophila hawaiiana is a native species only found around the Hawaiian Islands. Halophila hawaiiana occurs mainly on the sandy reefs and protected bays throughout the coasts of Hawaii.

        According to Seagrass Recovery  (2014), “Although seagrass is not a commodity that is directly cultivated, its economic value can be measured through the ecosystem services it provides, the industries it directly impacts, such as commercial and recreational fisheries, and nature and wildlife tourism, which rely on this habitat to survive” (Why Seagrasses are important).

        The Honu is a Hawaiian green sea turtle only found on the surrounding shores of Hawaii. The Honu is also dependent on the sea-grass to find many of the essential nutrients. Sea-grass is essential for seabed erosion and the release of oxygen. The Honu is on the Threatened Species list, protected by The Endangered Species Act. In recent years, the Honu has had a huge increase in numbers, but near Kauai the Honu has been stricken with a disease. Inhibiting further progress. The Honu as with many other forms of sea turtles around the globe has developed tumors, called fibropapillomas (FP). The exact cause of FP is still unknown, but several factors suggested as pollutants, and viruses in possible environmentally disturbed habitats (United States Geological Survey, 2014).

Best practices and conservation

        The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and the State of Hawai’i have developed a plan, which spans from 2010-2020. The program has four goals. The first Goal of the program is to increase undamaged coral reef by eliminating harmful invasive species, marine construction, and debris. Next on the agenda is to develop productive and sustainable coral reef, fisheries, and habitat. Goal three is to help the coral reef to be resilient to climate change and marine disease. The last objective for the coral is to increase public stewardship of the ecosystem (NOAA, 2014). Many of the threats to marine resources are from the human activity. Some of the activities, which help to degrade the coral, are overuse of recreational activities, fishing pressures, pollution, and harmful invasive species.  Pollution from land based water runoffs and ground seepage plays a huge role in the pollution of Hawaii’s coastal waters. Situations like the Ala Wai spill in 2006 dumped 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the canal, which leaked into the ocean. The damage has yet to be repaired and the clean up of the canal has not taken place. Many run offs like this exist in Hawaii and the way we treat our run offs has a direct impact on the health of our communities and coral reefs.


        Illegal dumping of chemicals, sewer leaks, and road grim fills the ocean full of dangerous threats. Recreational use of the ocean has been highly devastating to many of the tourist areas in Hawaii from boating accidents and trampling on the coral. Over fishing of areas within the ocean, places the biomass pyramid out of balance causing further harm to the industry and to the marine life. The imbalance of the biomass pyramid, suggests the lost nutrients could play a role in devastating the coral, as well. A pro-active behavior in helping the State of Hawaii and NOAA in repair the coral is needed from the residents and tourist.


        Enjoying the environment in Hawai’i comes with responsibility. As seen in Kauai the devastation brought on by human interference has caused major damage to the coral habitat. Although the state of Hawai’i and NOAA is helping to rehabilitate the ecosystem within the ocean, as a society much more can be done to preserve the coral. Reducing the amount of pollution, being mindful of where recreational activities take place, eliminating harmful invasive species, and responsible fishing could all help in rehabilitating the coastline of Hawai’i.


NOAA. (2014). Hawaii coral reef strategy . Retrieved from http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcrcp/strategy/reprioritization/management_priorities/resources/hawaii_app1_mhi_strategy.pdf

Scott, S. (1991). Plants and animals of hawaii (1st. ed.). Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press. Seagrass Recovery. (2014). Seagrass. Retrieved from http://www.seagrassrecovery.com/seagrass/

United States Geological Survey. (2014). Cancer in sea turtles. Retrieved from http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/hfs/Globals/Products/Cancer%20in%20sea%20turtles.pdf

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