Under a sky of fluorescent lights, young corals rest in a trough of seawater. The only sounds are of flowing water and bubbles churning at the surface; if you close your eyes, you could imagine yourself on the Amazon River during a rainstorm. But all is calm in this sanctuary known as the Aquarium Lab where Hawaiian corals grow unrestricted by the barriers of climate change or dangers posed by anthropogenic influences. While they currently live in a controlled environment, these corals are being groomed for a special purpose and mission.
The Aquarium Lab was utilized through 2015 to help transplant over 700 pieces of corals in Hawaii that were at risk due to necessary construction repairs at harbors and piers.
In anticipation of such events, the lab functions as a “farm” to raise corals with best practices learned from coral researchers within DAR’s Coral Restoration Nursery who specialize in fast-growing techniques. Like a Rubik’s Cube, it takes the right combination of variables to complete the puzzle. Substrate type and shape, light intensity and duration, water flow, algae control, and more are considered when trying to help accelerate a coral’s average growth rate of a quarter inch per year.
Like the coral transplantation projects of the past, Maui Ocean Center is a part of a family of coral conservation pioneers including DAR’s Coral Restoration Nursery (Sand Island, Oahu), Waikiki Aquarium (Honolulu, Oahu), Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (Kaneohe, Oahu), and a relatively new partner, the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute (Ma‘alaea, Maui). While each may have a different approach to solving the riddle, they are all forging paths that lead to the same outcome of protecting Hawaii’s fragile coral reefs.
With growing public awareness about the importance of coral reefs, the expanding number of environmental non-profits and research facilities, and local laws being passed to reduce human impacts on natural resources, one can hope that Hawaii is entering the beginning of a “coral renaissance”.
“Ka Mo‘olelo Moana,” or “The Ocean Story,” is a monthly column written by Maui Ocean Center and published in The Maui News.
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