For the eighth consecutive year, staff members from Seattle Aquarium traveled to Hawaii’s Big Island to gather important data. Annually, these teams take dives to eight specific sites along the northwestern side of the Big Island. At these sites, the team conducts reef fish surveys. Seattle’s team is partnered with the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) who also participate in regular data collection dives.
On approach to Site 8, the team had their first look at the changes that had taken place during last summer’s bleaching event.
This phenomenon can occur when reef waters become too warm. When the surrounding water temperature rises, coral then expel the algae living in their tissues which will turn the coral white. This type of algae is called zooxanthellae. Although coral can survive a bleaching event, it becomes highly vulnerable. During their survey, the Seattle Aquarium found about half the corals at Site 8 to be dead. There are other causes of coral bleaching, but rising water temperature was the attributing factor in this scenario.
Along with DAR, the Seattle Aquarium team also works in cooperation with Washington State University. The objective of these dives is to gather information through diver-performed video sampling. This is a non-invasive method of maintaining a record of the health of the reef. Curator of Conservation Dr. Shawn Larson shared a journal of the team’s most recent dive.
“We are searching for shifting baselines, an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities.”
This research is very important to understand and maintain this delicate and complex ecosystem. Having such a detailed annual record of the sites will make it easier to find and note any changes that may be observed. The team’s data is already being put to use in Hawaii for both educational and management purposes.
The Seattle Aquarium is a research hub. Click here to learn more about their ongoing projects.