Scientists investigate reports of a massive coral deaths off Kauai

Rapid response team to try and determine extent of damage, cause

Published  5:04 PM HST Sep 21, 2012
Kauai's diseased coral reef, infected turtles
HONOLULU -

A mysterious coral die-off on Kauai’s north shore is prompting a team of scientists to take a closer look at what may be killing large areas of coral reef.

Marine biologist Terry Lilley has been monitoring and documenting Kauai's marine environment for the last decade or more.

This summer he was struck at how fast he was seeing something kill off what he estimates are millions of coral colonies.

"Something is damaging the reefs in the whole part of the island so it has to be something relatively big," said Lilley.

Lilley contacted scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey who've determined the diseased coral is different from what killed coral heads in Kaneohe Bay last year.

The Kauai outbreak is believed to be due to a type of cyano bacteria and fungus which has compromised the health of the reef, according to researcher Thierry Work.

Work said he took samples from the reef earlier this month and will be back to collect more coral and fish to conduct toxicology tests.

Lilley has sounded the alarm which he hopes will trigger action to get the disease in check, and prevent its spread.

"We have a billion dollar industry tourist industry in Hawaii with snorkels who want to see the reefs. If we let them die on the north shore of Kauai, that’s going to be a huge impact financially on the resources, and the money coming in,” said Lilley.

The Kauai resident is also concerned about what he saw on a recent dive where he documented evidence of diseased turtles and fish.

"The other day at Annini, we counted eight turtles,seven of the eight had eye infections, two had noticable tumors and oneof the eight, had its eyes missing completely," Lilley said.

The video he shot of a blind turtle knocking into the reef was what saddened and worried him.

But he has also been finding a growing number of sick puffer fish too.

"The tobys are turning black. Their fins are turning black, and rotting and falling off, and then they die," said Lilley.

So, is there a connection between the diseased marine life and the distressed coral?

A rapid response team of scientists is headed to Kauai next week to find out.

In the meantime ,Lilley hopes the video on his website will help educate and encourage ocean users statewide to be on the alert.

"Then, they can report in other parts of the Hawaiian Islands. That will help us scientists in a huge way; where else it, if anywhere, so we can put a picture together as to what's causing this problem," said Lilley.

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