View of bay with some boats in the water
Honolua Bay near Kapalua, West Maui, has faced a drop of living coral from 42 percent to 9 percent between 1994 and 2006. (Photo credit: State Department of Land and Natural Resources)

As a leader in coral reef research and conservation efforts, the University of Hawaiʻi may benefit from legislation introduced in recognition of National Oceans Month by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Ed Case from Hawaiʻi. The legislation would support practices to preserve, sustain and restore coral reef ecosystems.

The Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2019 addresses threats facing the nation’s coral reef ecosystems by directing the 12 federal agencies on the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to use existing cross-agency funding to carry out a coral health prize competition. Additionally, the legislation allows federal agencies to work with private entities to both fund and administer the prize competition.

“As said by the late Ruth Gates, Sundance Award-winning ‘Chasing Coral’ science adviser and former director of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, ‘If we do not intervene in the next 10 years, we will be discussing the demise of [coral] reefs in our lifetime,’” said Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UH Mānoa. “The time is short to save corals and humanity.”

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. A peer-reviewed study commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates the total economic value of coral reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands alone to be nearly $34 billion. Healthy reefs contribute to local economies through tourism and provide shoreline protection during severe weather events by mitigating damaging wave action.

Coral reefs are currently facing a number of threats, including climate change, bleaching, disease, overfishing and pollution. As highlighted in a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on interventions to increase coral resilience, several new innovative approaches to improving coral health have been identified within the past decade, with many others on the horizon. If enacted into law, this bill could support these and other novel practices.

See a one-page summary and fact sheet about the bill.

—By Marcie Grabowski