Let’s face it – doom and gloom have become par for the course when it comes to reports about the state of Mother Earth, with stories detailing a warming climate, extreme weather events, and the extinction of various species taking over headlines with tragic regularity.
Unusually, the damage to the planet seems like a done deal – the result of humanity’s opening of Pandora’s Box in a manner that unleashes irreversible consequences.
Such was the case in 2014 and 2015, when two scorching heat waves led to the worst coral bleaching in Hawaii’s recorded history, leading scientists to ponder whether the islands’ reefs were risking death, going from “a vibrant, three-dimensional structure teeming with life, teeming with color, to a flat pavement that’s covered with brown or green algae,” according to a Guardian report.
However, four years later, scientists are reportedly “thrilled” to notify the world that Hawaii’s coral reefs are bouncing back and showing healthy signs of stabilization.
In new survey data released by The Nature Conservancy, healthy new reefs located further away from human influence are thriving while even those corals in West Hawaii that faced 60 percent to 90 percent bleaching in 2015 are showing signs of recovery.
The data shows that while scientists were right to worry about irreparable damage to the state’s reefs as a result of the bleaching events, recovery remained possible.
Eric Conklin, the director of TNC’s Hawaii marine science program, told West Hawaii Today:
“We surveyed over 14,000 coral colonies at 20 sites along the West Hawaii coast from Kawaihae to Keauhou and were thrilled to see that many of the area’s reefs have stabilized, which is the first step toward recovery.”
The survey illustrated a large gap in the health of those corals most exposed to the ecological effects of human economic activities, which were generally the hardest-hit by the bleaching event, versus those corals in remote areas where human shoreline access was limited.
TNC marine program director Kim Hum explained:
“Interestingly, the number of stressors affecting an area, not the severity of a single one, was the most important factor … Reefs that are fighting the impacts of several stressors are more susceptible to temperature stress, making them more likely to bleach and less able to recover if they do.”
While frequent and severe bleaching remains likely in the coming years, the survey points to the possibility that Hawaii will be able to reduce the stressors that render corals more vulnerable to dying off. But this will mean that protection from commercial fishing, land pollution, and runoff is needed. Hum said:
“We can make sure remote areas with few stressors stay that way, and we can reduce pressures from over-fishing, land-based pollutants and runoff in more populated areas.”