Lost Ecosystem

Hawaiian Coral Reef Under Siege

In the tropical paradise of Hawaiian waters, a milky growth has been spreading rapidly across the coral reefs along Kauai’s north shore. Marine biologist Terry Lilley, the foremost expert on the outbreak, says it now affects up to 40 percent of the coral in Anini Bay, and conditions in nearby areas are as bad or worse.

The growth, identified by U.S. Geological Survey scientists as both a bacteria that grows through photosynthesis and a fungus, is killing all the coral it strikes and is spreading its infection at the rate of one to three inches a week. “This bacteria has been killing some of these 50-to-100-year-old corals in less than eight weeks,” Lilley told the Los Angeles Times, noting that the entire reef system appears to be losing its immune system.

Some feel the cause is high levels of fecal and related bacteria from the town of Hanalei, which has no sewer system and where homes are connected to cesspools and septic systems. Because no definitive link has been shown, government action has been limited.

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