Hawaii's New Decade of Building Coral Reef Ecosystem Resilience

By Leanne Poussard, Knauss Marine Policy Fellow

He’eia National Estuarine Research Reserve in Oahu, Hawaii.
He’eia National Estuarine Research Reserve in Oahu, Hawaii. (NOAA)

Coral reefs across the Hawaiian Islands have important cultural and economic value. However, land-based sources of pollution, increased sea surface temperatures, macro algae overgrowth, and disease outbreaks all affect coral health. Resilience—the capacity to recover from a disturbance and maintain or reestablish a diverse and rich reef ecosystem—is a primary objective for coral reef ecosystems in conservation and restoration. Resiliency is therefore an integral part of Hawaii’s Coral Reef Strategy 2030. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources developed the strategy to best strategize how to protect, conserve, and restore coral reef ecosystems over the next decade.

The Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy 2030 emphasizes the inclusion of communities in coral restoration and conservation, and the need to work mauka to makai, from ridge to reef (or literally, toward the mountains and toward the sea), to promote reef resilience. The strategy calls for local government to work with members of the communities, such as fishery managers and fishers, to share fishery best practices, to implement education and outreach initiatives that serve residents and visitors to the islands, and to collaborate with residents and business owners to prevent and mitigate land-based sources of pollution in watersheds.

A regal slipper lobster on massive corals off the coast 
of Molokai in the main Hawaiian Islands.
A regal slipper lobster on massive corals off the coast of Molokai in the main Hawaiian Islands. (NOAA/Ray Boland)

The strategy promotes the creation of opportunities for public participation in restoration activities through outreach and education events, trainings, and workshops. The strategy also emphasizes collaborative coral research processes in which the local government, partners, and the scientific community share and discuss current scientific findings and theories for the benefit of the state’s coral restoration and monitoring projects. The Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy 2030 interconnects with ongoing management plans as well, such as Hawaii's Community-Based Fishing Areas and the 30x30 Management Plan, the Department of Aquatic Resources’ commitment to effectively manage 30 percent of inshore waters by 2030.

The effects of climate change and anthropogenic pollutants have been harming coral reef ecosystems in Hawaii for years. The local government and community organizations have been working to create restoration initiatives to increase coral reef resilience and recovery in these populations. The Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy 2030 builds upon progress and successes in coral restoration to establish a solid foundation for reef resilience, and continues to honor and respect local initiatives by building capacity and uplifting community leadership in coral reef conservation. This initiative leverages the collective strength of many scientists, managers, and community members to achieve coral resilience goals in Hawaii and to inform coral reef management across the country.

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