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USGS Looks at Moloka'i's Coral Reefs

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Geologists sample coastal mud on south shore of Moloka'i
Geologists sample coastal mud on south shore of Moloka'i to obtain history of recent flood sedimentation.
Over the past few decades, rapid change has been occurring in the overall health and diversity of coral-reef ecosystems around the world. Hawaiian coral reefs are important because they protect the shoreline from storm waves, produce sand for beaches, and create a vital habitat for many species of marine life. They also provide an important source of food and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. The fringing coral reefs of the south shore of Moloka'i have long been described as a pristine environment and are only recently showing signs of degradation.

In mid-April, a team of scientists from several USGS offices visited Moloka'i as part of a new investigation into the condition of the reefs along the south coast of the island. According to Mike Field (Menlo Park and Monterey Bay Office), chief scientist for the project, "The coral reefs along the south coast of Moloka'i are richly diverse and are the most extensive in the Hawaiian Islands. They are a valuable resource to the people of Hawai'i, and we are making efforts to map the reef and evaluate its health." Pat Chavez (Flagstaff) is guiding the remote-sensing aspect of the project and was on hand with specially processed aerial photographs for use in reconnaissance ground control.

Of particular interest to the team is the amount of muddy sediment delivered to the reef by erosion and runoff. Large amounts of mud can affect the health and growth of corals, which in turn can affect the health and abundance of fish and crustaceans on the reef. Mike Bothner and Peter Gill (Woods Hole) took core samples from sites along the south coast to help characterize the history of sediment runoff. Layers of mud and sand in the cores, especially from those samples taken in the ancient fishponds (which have been trapping mud for decades), will be analyzed to provide insight about the recent history of sediment runoff.

Mike Field and Hank Chezar (Menlo Park) collected aerial video footage and photographs of the entire south coast to help get an overview of the shoreline and to look for runoff plumes. With the help of Susan Cochran (Monterey Bay Office), they also took underwater video footage and photos for the purpose of mapping the coral reefs. Future studies will include researchers from the University of Hawai'i and the WRD office in Honolulu.

The team was encouraged by the favorable reception they received from the community. Local residents expressed their excitement about the project in various ways. From discussions resulting in valuable insights, to a mention in the local high-school newsletter, their hospitality and enthusiasm was endless.

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Moloka'i Coral Reefs

George's Bank Moorings: Photo Essay

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Rio Grande Delta

Venture Capital Award

Outreach Bolide Web Site

Virginia Meteorite Impact

Film Crew Visits St. Pete

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Coral Reef Assessment

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Bring Your Kids to Work Day

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