How Maui Ocean Center is protecting Hawaii’s coral reefs

Coral conservation pioneers

Sponsored by Maui Ocean Center

Maui Ocean Center serves as a community resource for residents and visitors to learn and be inspired to take care of Hawaii’s natural resources. The aquarium is home to over 40 species of Hawaiian corals and works with the state to protect these unique ecosystems.

Maui Ocean Center’s Aquarium Lab is home to a team of aquarists who have spent years honing the art of coral propagation (reproduction by fragmenting nubbins from a parent coral) and transplantation techniques. In 2012, the lab served as ground-zero for several coral mitigation (saving corals at risk of being destroyed) and transplantation operations in collaboration between Maui Ocean Center, the State’s Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources (DNLR/DAR) and Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, and NOAA.

The Aquarium Lab was utilized through 2015 to help transplant over 700 pieces of corals in Hawaii that were at risk due to necessary construction repairs at harbors and piers. Once coral is transplanted, Maui Ocean Center’s team does follow-up dives to monitor how corals are doing at their new site.

Today, the lab remains a hub for coral propagation. While there has been a hiatus in transplanting activities, the team continues to grow corals in the event a new opportunity arises – a boat runs aground on a fragile coral reef, an ocean chemical spill, excessive sediment runoff, or following a period of prolonged elevated ocean temperatures. In anticipation of such events, the lab functions as a “farm” to raise corals with best practices learned from coral researchers within DAR’s Coral Restoration Nursery who specialize in fast-growing techniques.

Like the coral transplantation projects of the past, Maui Ocean Center is a part of a family of coral conservation pioneers including DAR’s Coral Restoration Nursery (Sand Island, Oahu), Waikiki Aquarium (Honolulu, Oahu), Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (Kaneohe, Oahu), and a relatively new partner, the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute (Ma’alaea, Maui). While each may have a different approach to solving the riddle, they are all forging paths that lead to the same outcome of protecting Hawaii’s fragile coral reefs.

With growing public awareness about the importance of coral reefs, the expanding number of environmental non-profits and research facilities, and local laws being passed to reduce human impacts on natural resources, one can hope that Hawaii is entering the beginning of a “coral renaissance”.

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