DISCUSSION: The Hawaiian island chain has shattered dozens of records regarding various temperatures since the late-Spring and extending into early Fall. Of note are ocean temperatures which, as recent as August 2019, had indicated temperatures as much as 3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. This warmer than average oceanic temperature is expected to exacerbate coral bleaching, which appeared heavily in as recent as 2015.
Coral bleaching has been known to be a direct result of warm ocean temperatures, however not all events are due to this factor. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “when water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.” Often during a coral bleaching event the coral is not dead, but is subject to intense strain and are thus susceptible to mortality. The state Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) recently identified, areas of bleaching at Molokini and along the south shore from Makena to Maalaea. Certain species of coral in Molokini have already shown to be at or near 50% bleached.
If temperatures return to normal quickly, the likelihood of coral survival is increased, as it experiences decreased stress. Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) has partnered with NOAA and DAR on coral reef science, conservation and management in Hawaii, offering programs such as the Pacific Ridge-to-Reef Initiative providing conservation and management practices that are bioculturally sustainable to ensure flourishing reefs in the future, by utilizing advanced aircraft satellite monitoring and modeling of reefs throughout Hawaii.
For more information on sea surface temperatures or coral bleaching events, visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
© 2019 Meteorologist Jessica Olsen