November 27, 2012
HANALEI, Hawaii — When compiling a list of places that may be described as paradise, Hanalei Bay on the rugged north shore of the island of Kauai surely qualifies.
The perfect crescent bay, rimmed by palm trees, emerald cliffs and stretches of white sand, has always had a dreamy kind of appeal. It was on these shores that sailors in the movie “South Pacific” sang of the exotic but unattainable “Bali Ha’i.”
The problem is what lies below the surface of the area’s shimmering blue waters.
Since June, a mysterious milky growth has been spreading rapidly across the coral reefs in Hanalei and the surrounding bays of the north shore — so rapidly that biologist Terry Lilley, who has been documenting the phenomenon, says it now affects 5% of all the coral in Hanalei Bay and up to 40% of the coral in nearby Anini Bay. Other areas are “just as bad, if not worse,” he said.
The growth, identified by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey as both a cyanobacterial pathogen — a bacteria that grows through photosynthesis — and a fungus, is killing all the coral it strikes, and spreading at the rate of 1 to 3 inches a week on every coral it infects.
“There is nowhere we know of in the entire world where an entire reef system for 60 miles has been compromised in one fell swoop. This bacteria has been killing some of these 50- to 100-year-old corals in less than eight weeks,” Lilley said. “Something is causing the entire reef system here in Kauai to lose its immune system.”
Read more at LATimes.com…