LALO, NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS (HawaiiNewsNow) – Polynesian voyaging canoes Hokulea and Hikianalia are helping NOAA document coral damage and regrowth in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The corals were damaged by a hurricane that ripped part of the islands three years ago.
Scientists say reef damage and regrowth will become a more frequent cycle due to the effects of climate change.
Nainoa Thompson was on board the Hokulea en route to Lalo in the French Fregate Shoals. It is in the area where Hurricane Walaka pulled up from the south as a Category 3 hurricane in October 2018, turning reefs to rubble.
Crews from the canoes dived into the water to take a closer look at the remains of the reefs.
â€œMuch of the corals that were once there – large giant table corals – have almost all disappeared. And that shows you the power of these hurricanes and the destruction they can cause, â€said Thompson on board the Hokulea as she anchored off La Perouse Pinnacle.
It’s an underwater scene of devastation that researchers first saw shortly after Walaka.
“When I fell on the dive, I thought I got the wrong GPS points because it really was like all no coral, just dead coral everywhere,” said Kaily Pascoe, a coral research diver at the University of Hawaii in Hilo .
While Walaka brought big surf to the south coast of Oahu, Pascoe said the waves were much bigger right in Walaka’s path.
“The Central Pacific Hurricane Center estimated it was about 36 to 50 feet, the wave height at the southern end of the atoll.”
These waves destroyed coral to a depth of 80 feet.
But almost three years later, the crews of Hokulea and Hikianalia saw signs of hope as well.
“We found a lot of small coral polyps that make up these large table corals,” Thompson said. “The species that make up the table corals grow quickly.”
And it could be vital to marine life, as scientists believe that strong hurricanes like Walaka will become more common.
â€œThe scary part is that we’re likely to see more storm systems like this one in the future. So the better we can determine how they affect reefs, the greater the chance of not predicting the damage and possible effects. “See,” said UH Hilo’s marine scientist John Burns, who also said the visit to the moving canoes is an opportunity to maintain and monitor the area.
Hokulea and Hikianalia left Lalo on Wednesday evening and drove back to Nihoa on an east-southeast route.
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