VIDEO: Coral die-off predicted as marine heat wave engulfs Hawaii

Another round of hot water expected to cause some of the worst coral bleaching in the region ever

In this Sept. 16, 2019 photo, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Jamison Gove talks about coral bleaching at the NOAA regional office in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

At the edge of an ancient lava flow where jagged rocks meet the Pacific, small off-the-grid homes overlook the calm blue waters of Papa Bay on Hawaii’s Big Island — no tourists or hotels in sight.

Here, one of the islands’ most abundant and vibrant coral reefs thrives just below the surface.

Yet even this remote shoreline, far from the impacts of chemical sunscreen, trampling feet and industrial wastewater, is showing early signs of what’s expected to be a catastrophic season for coral in Hawaii.

Just four years after a major marine heat wave killed nearly half of this coastline’s coral, federal researchers are predicting another round of hot water will cause some of the worst coral bleaching the region has ever experienced.

“In 2015, we hit temperatures that we’ve never recorded ever in Hawaii,” said Jamison Gove, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What is really important — or alarming, probably more appropriately — about this event is that we’ve been tracking above where we were at this time in 2015.”

Researchers using high-tech equipment to monitor Hawaii’s reefs are seeing early signs of bleaching in Papa Bay and elsewhere caused by a marine heat wave that has sent temperatures soaring to record highs for months. June, July and parts of August all experienced the hottest ocean temperatures ever recorded around the Hawaiian Islands. So far in September, oceanic temperatures are below only those seen in 2015.

Forecasters expect high temperatures in the north Pacific will continue to pump heat into Hawaii’s waters well into October.

Coral reefs are vital around the world as they not only provide a habitat for fish — the base of the marine food chain — but food and medicine for humans. They also create an essential shoreline barrier that breaks apart large ocean swells and protects densely populated shorelines from storm surges during hurricanes.

In Hawaii, reefs are also a major part of the economy: Tourism thrives largely because of coral reefs that help create and protect iconic white sand beaches, offer snorkeling and diving spots, and help form waves that draw surfers from around the world.

“This is widespread, 100% bleaching of most corals,” Gove said. And many of those corals are still recovering from the 2015 bleaching event, meaning they are more susceptible to thermal stress.

According to the NOAA, the heat wave’s causes include a persistent low-pressure weather pattern between Hawaii and Alaska that has weakened winds that otherwise might mix and cool surface waters across much of the North Pacific. What’s causing that is unclear: It might reflect the atmosphere’s usual chaotic motion, or it could be related to the warming of the oceans and other effects of human-made climate change.

READ MORE: McKenna defends Canada’s climate credibility amid Trudeau controversy

Beyond this event, oceanic temperatures will continue to rise in the coming years, Gove said. “There’s no question that global climate change is contributing to what we’re experiencing.”

Caleb Jones, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Port Alberni Fire Department to be featured on Discovery Channel

Second season of Hellfire Heroes premieres Oct. 22

Port Alberni’s newest street gets Nuu-chah-nulth name

Process prompts review of pre-approved names

EJ Dunn Elementary School celebrates playground

MLA Scott Fraser cuts official ribbon, climbs with kids at Port Alberni play space

Port Alberni students meet federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at rally

Singh posts trending video to TikTok, says reaching youth on their level is important

VIDEO: Saanich resident shocked when trespasser licks security camera, rummages through mail

‘I found the situation really bizarre,’ said the Gordon Head resident

Alberta man pleads guilty, fined for hunting without a licence in North Island

It’s the responsibility of each hunter or angler to know whether they are considered a B.C. Resident.

B.C. mayor apologizes for removal of Queen’s portrait from council chambers

‘I prefer to be inclusive of the many aspects of our history’

Alcohol a possible factor in crash that killed 17-year-old girl near Williams Lake

A pickup truck left the road and rolled over on Highway 20 on the weekend

Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

It’s the first time a yellow-browed warbler has been reported on the mainland of North America

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

App designed to help cut waste and grocery bills

Food security advocates say addressing poverty is ultimate key

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

Most Read