Hawaiian Coral Reefs on the Mend

Parts of an underwater mountain range in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii has been wrecked for decades from overfishing and trawling — but things seem to be on the mend. A research team from Florida State University and Texas A&M University has seen signs the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain is on its way to recovery.

It was originally believed there was no hope for these sites, but when the research team explored the areas, they discovered some species are beginning to return.

The Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain Then and Now

A mostly underwater mountain range, the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain was a hotbed for fishing and trawling from the 1960s through the 1980s. The U.S. claimed the area as part of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone in 1977, banning foreign fleets from trawling the region.

In 2006, then-President George W. Bush added further protections by adding the area as part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The fact that it had been federally protected from fishing and trawling for decades inspired the researcher to examine this area. Over the course of four visits, the team gathered 536,000 images of sites along the chain, approximately 300 to 700 meters below the surface.

While the images revealed trawl scars on the seafloor, they also found baby coral growing in these regions. Additionally, coral was spurting up from fragments on fishing nets found on the seafloor.

It’s too early to determine the extent of the recovery, but this could be very promising for the area and others damaged by fishing and trawling.

Threats to Coral Reefs

Since most coral reefs are found in shallow water near the shore, they’re incredibly vulnerable to the effects of human activities, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the main threats include:

  • Physical damage or destruction from various activities — i.e., destructive fishing practices, boat anchors, and coastal development.
  • Pollution that begin on land, but drift into coastal waters — i.e., sedimentation, pathogens, and trash and micro-plastics.
  • Overfishing and blast fishing that modifies the food-web structure and causes cascading effects.
  • Coral harvesting used for the aquarium trade, jewelry, and curios.

These activities can lower the resilience of the reef, making it more susceptible to disease and invasive species, according to the EPA.

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