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Symposium aims to translate coral reef science into action to address reef decline

By Staff | Jun 30, 2016

HONOLULU – With one of the most extensive coral reef communities in the State of Hawaii, Maui County has been an especially important focal point for coral studies and community-led action.

Lessons learned from Maui’s community-based reef management, watershed partnerships, long-term reef monitoring studies, and citizen science programs were shared throughout the International Coral Reef Symposium last week at the Honolulu Convention Center on Oahu.

The conference brought together over 2,500 of the world’s leading coral reef scientists in a week-long series of plenary sessions, workshops, public events and presentations.

Coming on the heels of the 2015 worldwide coral bleaching event, the conference made a strong point to translate coral reef science into action steps for managers, policy-makers and community-based organizations.

The theme, “Bridging Science to Policy,” acknowledges the critical and urgent need to address global coral reef decline.

A number of local nonprofits participated, including the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, Maui Cultural Lands, West Maui Kumuwai, Project S.E.A. Link, Coral Reef Alliance, Maui Ocean Center and The Nature Conservancy, in addition to governmental agencies and resource managers.

“We are thrilled to be able to showcase the steps that Maui is taking to restore our island’s reefs,” said Robin Newbold, chair of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.

“Science repeatedly demonstrates that this is a critical time for coral reefs worldwide. It is time for Hawaii to focus our efforts on action.”

In 2013, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council’s Coral Reef Recovery Team published the Maui Coral Reef Recovery Plan.

The plan was developed by 20 of Hawaii’s most eminent scientists and led by Dr. Bob Richmond. The document describes Maui’s urgent need for reef protection and recovery, and provides an outline to help MNMRC actively implement reef restoration strategies.

“Studies show that 25 percent of Maui’s reefs have been lost in the past 20 years,” said Newbold. “We are also seeing continued coral decline, struggling fish populations and polluted near-shore waters.”

The MCRP outlines a comprehensive framework for addressing these issues and supporting local reef recovery.

Actions include building the capacity of local communities to manage reef areas, reduce the amounts of sediments and nutrients flowing onto reefs, and increasing public awareness about the state of the island’s reefs.

“Despite these issues, there is hope. We have an opportunity to reverse Maui’s coral reef declines,” said Newbold, “but we must act now, before it really is too late. Attending the International Coral Reef Symposium gives us the ability to share our experiences while learning from a global network of scientists and mangers.”

Local cultural advisor, and son of the late environmentalist and Native Hawaiian community leader Ed Lindsey, Ekolu Lindsey served as a panelist for a session that explored the connectivity between Hawaii’s natural resources and cultural heritage.

Ekolu is the cultural advisor of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, president of Maui Cultural Lands and vice president of `Uhane O Wa`a Kaulua.

Lindsey highlighted the efforts of Polanui Hiu Community Managed Makai Area, which utilizes ground-up, place-based management to restore fish populations and support reef recovery.