Tracy Wiegner, UH Hilo professor of marine science, talks to the local community about her findings.

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo visited the local community of Vacationland to present their findings on the effects of Tropical Storm Iselle that hit the Hawaiʻi island on the night of August 7, 2014, wreaking havoc on coastal communities in Puna. A website now provides public access to the research data on post-Iselle recovery, including the recovery of the Waiʻōpae tidepools in Kapoho.

The Vacationland community, which is located on the Waiʻōpae coastline, requested UH Hilo’s involvement in assessment of recovery after Iselle. On February 7, UH Hilo’s Misaki Takabayashi, Tracy Wiegner, Makani Gregg and Louise Economy presented the data they have collected so far at a Vacationland Hawaiʻi Community Association meeting.

“The face-to-face sharing of our research is helping the community understand what is happening in their backyard,” says Takabayashi, an associate professor of marine science who is researching the reef at the Waiʻōpae tide pools. “The attendees were generally appreciative of our efforts so far and had lots of informed questions,”

Website on the research team’s findings

The newly launched website also provides an exclusive look into their research on post-Iselle recovery of the Waiʻōpae tidepools and the nearby coastal environment.

“This website contains the purpose of the research, video documentation of our research efforts, and updated results,” says Takabayashi.

Impacts of Hurricane Iselle at Waiʻōpae

The most important findings so far include the discovery that physical damage of Tropical Storm Iselle on corals was limited to the northern pools. Water quality remains a concern there although no parameters are indicating long-lasting decline in water quality that can be linked directly to Iselle.

Two other major concerns are the sustained high water temperature caused by El Niño slackening of winds in September/October 2014, causing as much as 80 percent of corals there to bleach; and the mass mortality of invertebrates and fish over November 16-18, 2014.

“Although we do not know the exact cause of the mass-mortality event, we are worried that there have been a number of disturbances that have synergistically challenged the resilience of coral reef ecosystem at Waiʻōpae,” says Takabayashi.

“The health of the coastal environment directly affects the well-being of the fringing community,” she explains.

Other researchers investigating the aftermath of Iselle include Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography who is mapping Albizia distribution; Tracy Wiegner, professor of marine science who is studying the coastal water quality at Waiʻōpae; and Steve Colbert, assistant professor of marine science who is looking at water connectivity in Kapoho.

A big concern of the research team is the availability of funds to continue their work.

“Our funding runs out at the end of March,” explains Takabayashi. “We are appealing for donations to at least keep the monitoring efforts going. From the website, folks can make tax deductible donations, through the UH Foundation, that will go explicitly toward our research on Waiʻōpae environmental monitoring.”

Read the UH Hilo Stories website for the full story.

—By Susan Enright