About This Project
Urgent action is needed to protect coral reefs in the face of a changing climate. In Hawaiʻi, outflow from an electric plant warms a coral reef by 5 °C above normal. Surprisingly, corals are thriving here. If these corals have adapted to a warmer environment, they could enhance the long-term effectiveness of reef restoration efforts. In this project, we will conduct transplant experiments to test whether these corals retain their heat tolerance even after transplantation to cooler reefs.
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What is the context of this research?
As climate change pushes corals to the brink of their thermal tolerance, scientists and managers are turning to coral outplanting; however, this approach does not necessarily offer a solution because the corals placed on reefs may not be any more tolerant to rising temperatures than the dead counterparts that they are replacing. In western Oahu, corals live near outflow pipes of the Kahe Point electric plant, where water temperatures are elevated up to 5 °C above ambient. These corals offer a potentially powerful tool in “climate-proofing” Hawaiian reefs via restoration methods, but the efficacy of transplanting these corals has yet to be tested. Transplanting climate-proof corals is expected to have a direct restoring effect on the local reefs into which they are transplanted.
What is the significance of this project?
The reciprocal transplant experiment will reveal whether corals living at Kahe Point have developed heat tolerance that may enable them to persist as water temperatures continue to rise throughout this century, in addition to testing the ability of other corals to rapidly acclimate to higher temperatures. Thus, this project will identify if corals from Kahe Point are “climate-proof” and a good candidate for restoration efforts. Additionally, testing rates of acclimation will demonstrate the urgency with which management actions are required to combat the effects of climate change on Hawaiian reefs. The results of this study will therefore be directly applicable to organizations and agencies currently planning or practicing reef restoration efforts.
What are the goals of the project?
We will test whether corals living near or within the heated outflow of the Kahe Point pipes have developed heat tolerance that makes them resistant to bleaching. In other words, if these corals are transplanted to cooler environments, do they perform poorly or do they maintain their current fitness while retaining their heat tolerance? We will evaluate this using standardized photographs to document pigment changes that can reflect stress responses such as "bleaching", and by measuring coral growth rates via weight measurements at the beginning and end of the experiment. Answering this question is essential to understanding if these corals can be transplanted to improve the resilience of Hawaiian reefs to future bleaching events
We require funds to perform our experimental coral transplantations in the field. Temperature loggers are needed to monitor the thermal environment at locations adjacent to, and away from, the heated outflow water. We will use underwater epoxy to attach coral branch tips to plastic egg crates and then attach the eggs crates to weighted foundations. During the experiment, we will use an underwater camera to track coral pigment changes, which will show whether corals exhibit stress responses such as "bleaching". Additionally, we will use a precision scale to quantify coral growth during the experiment (with initial and final buoyant weights). Finally, we need SCUBA air fills to support the fieldwork to conduct this experiment.
We intend to launch the transplant experiment in spring of 2022, observe the transplanted corals through the warm summer months, and complete the experiment by the end of 2022.
Oct 18, 2021
Mar 31, 2022
Map out thermal environments to identify optimal locations for transplantation
May 31, 2022
Establish experiment transplant sites with coral branch tips attached to weighted foundations. This will include transplanting corals both to and from the heated outflow area.
Sep 30, 2022
Complete experimental observation period, conduct final photographs and weight measurements
Dec 31, 2022
Analyze data and produce key findings
Meet the Team
This project will be conducted as a group effort by the Sclerochronology Lab. We work on various aspects of coral reef ecology and coral calcification. Our diverse team brings a range of past experiences and expertise, and together we have all the tools to complete the field and analytical aspects of this project.
I have been studying corals for the past 10 years. Although I initially gained interest in coral reefs as beautiful habitats full of life and colors that were exciting to photograph underwater, the impacts of climate change have fueled by interest in providing scientific information to help manage these amazing ecosystems. I saw once vibrant and species-rich reefs turn ghostly white during mass coral "bleaching" events, and then become covered in algal slime after all the corals died. While I have been fortunate to dive on reefs all around the world, I have also witnessed the terrible effects that climate change is having on reefs. I know that urgent action is needed on scales from local to global in order to address the coral reef crisis. My goal is to help guide these efforts to be as effective and efficient as possible.
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