Two of the three coral species found in Hawaii that have been proposed for listing as endangered or threatened species by the National Marine Fisheries Service are growing off the shores of Maui.
The montipora patula, which is a brown ringed rice coral, and the montipora flabellata, which is a blue and purple rice coral, are among the 66 coral species nationwide that the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed for listing last week.
Russell Sparks, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources education specialist on Maui, and said that the montipora flabellata is quite abundant on the south reef of Honolua Bay.
"It's a bright coral that you see in shallow, high-wave energy areas," said Sparks. "It evolved to live in these areas and doesn't adapt well to sediment. Usually when the water is moving, the sediment is off."
Sparks said his team has noticed that when heavy rains with high amounts of sediment in the runoff coincides with a period of calm wave activity, a lot of damage is done to the flabellata coral.
"In 2005, 50 percent of the coral cover on the south reef of Honolua disappeared in one year," said Sparks. "The montipora flabellata almost completely disappeared and was the majority of what was impacted."
Although these two montipora coral have dropped in numbers, Sparks said he is unaware of all the reasons why these species were proposed for listing as endangered species. He is concerned about the health of the montipora and other corals but views the porites coral as much more important to the health of Maui's reefs.
"The main reef building coral in Hawaii are porites, big lobe corals and finger corals," said Sparks. "Those are probably the most dominant ones that provide a lot of structure and habitat. They're not being listed, but I'd say they're even more important."
Sparks said that even if the coral species are listed things won't change much in Hawaii because of the laws already in place, though the listing may heighten awareness.
The most important change that can be made is restoring the coral's natural environment, he said.
"People naturally see a problem and just want to fix it," said Sparks. "But we have to look at how we got to that problem in the first place and prevent that from happening again. We need to restore the coral reefs natural habitat."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.