The XL Catlin Seaview Survey utilises modern technology to bring an underwater experience to anyone who can access the Internet. In today’s world that is quite a few of us around the globe, not all of which can access coral reefs. I have been fortunate to be a member of the Seaview team being deployed to Hawaii for the second time in 2015, to resurvey the coral reefs surveyed here in August earlier this year.
The reason we have come back to Hawaii only a couple of months later is to assess how the corals are coping after consistently high water temperatures over these past months. During the August deployment the team observed that some of the corals were bleaching. Bleaching occurs when there is a breakdown between the symbiosis of corals and their zooxanthellae (tiny micro-algal symbionts from which coral get a high proportion of their energy needs). This usually occurs following thermal stress when water temperatures exceed the coral’s preferred thermal range – water temperatures in Hawaii have maintained high levels for the past few months.
This is my first trip to Hawaii, and my first with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey. On my dives I have observed high levels of bleaching with coral mortality evident in some areas. One reef was quite surreal, it felt as if I was wandering through mountain highlands after a night’s snowfall – not complete cover but enough that filled between the rocks.
My team members were surveying here only two months ago and it is obvious from their reactions that there has been a drastic change in such a short period. On two dives I have observed the first diver display utter disbelief in the amount of bleaching, even before we surfaced. Once surfaced the disbelief was verbalised – “Tragic”, “the saddest dive I can remember. There was ~90% live coral cover here last time, now……….[shrug of shoulders]”. Similar responses have come from other divers who were here previously. But it isn’t all doom and gloom – not all bleaching leads to mortality, and many areas look otherwise healthy so hopefully resilience will be high.
Hawaii is a special place. I have travelled to several Pacific islands and what strikes me is how these cultures appreciate a healthy ecosystem, incorporating both land and sea. We were lucky to have a respected seventh-generation Hawaiian on board with us one day of the expedition. Stories of the Polynesian/ Hawaiian culture and the importance of local reefs were powerful. Traditional communities here appreciate that there is a connection between land and reef and that a healthy reef ecosystem can support a healthy community. We cannot directly control the water temperature, but we can all help the reef by building it’s resilience through limiting other negative impacts such as overfishing and pollution. What the XL Catlin Seaview Survey can do is document the current state of the reefs, and share this information so that those who cannot physically see beneath the waves can view what is happening.
Immersing yourself in the underwater realm is like nothing else. As soon as you pop your head under the water surface, you are in another world. Coral reefs are an amazing ecosystem supporting an abundance of life. If you can’t physically get to them, sit back, relax and take a virtual dive with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey.