A marine monitoring and research team studies coral reefs and reef life at Palmyra Atoll.
Palmyra Divers A marine monitoring and research team studies coral reefs and reef life at Palmyra Atoll. © Tim Calver

Stories in Hawai'i

Tackling Climate Change in Hawai‘i and Palmyra

Hawai‘i is witnessing an increase in climate change impacts such as higher temperatures, coral bleaching, sea-level rise and severe storms. TNC is the world’s leading organization in advancing resilience-based climate science and management. In Hawai‘i and Palmyra, we are working to enhance the resilience of natural systems like our coral reefs and focusing scientific research around natural climate solutions.

Scenic view of the Palmyra coastline. Located a 1,000 miles south of Hawai'i, Palmyra Atoll is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth. The Nature Conservancy bought Palmyra in 2000. Today, Palmyra is a national marine monument and the Conservancy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are partnering to protect it. Through the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, it is also being developed as a center for scientific study.
Palmyra Atoll Palmyra's remote Pacific location makes it an ideal place for the study of climate change. © Tim Calver

Climate Change Laboratory

In 2019, TNC enhanced Palmyra’s global scientific value by launching the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Laboratory (CARL). CARL is the result of a three-year effort to refocus research at Palmyra around applied science that can accelerate global climate change solutions for tropical systems.

By virtue of its remote, protected Pacific location and remarkably intact marine environment, Palmyra can drive the science of climate change forward on a global scale for coral reef resilience and restoration that could be replicated on other low-lying atolls and islands throughout Oceania. 

Sun rays highlight the reef at Molokini.
Molokini reeftop Sun rays highlight the reef at Molokini. © Pauline Fiene

Maui Reef Resilience

Over the past decade, TNC-Hawai‘i has conducted some of the most comprehensive coral reef surveys for Leeward Maui and West Hawai‘i (see below). On Maui, surveys of 22,000 coral colonies at 51 sites along its south and west shores found the healthiest reefs in State-managed areas and offshore of a Federal Wildlife Refuge, which demonstrates the importance of effectively managing more accessible nearshore areas to reduce human impacts.

Researchers sought to identify the sites likely to be the most resilient to climate change. They also identified the local threats—including sediments, nutrients and high fishing pressure—that, if effectively managed, could enhance a reef’s resilience, or its ability to resist or recover from climate change impacts.

Aerial view of reefs and resorts in West Hawai'i.
West Hawai'i Aerial view of reefs and resorts in West Hawai'i. © Chad Wiggins/TNC

West Hawai‘i Reef Recovery

Three years after the worst coral bleaching event in state history, recent TNC surveys covering 14,000 coral colonies at 20 sites in West Hawai‘i showed its reefs are stabilizing and beginning to recover. TNC analysis found the most resilient reefs are in remote areas with minimal exposure to human impacts such as fishing pressure, land-based pollutants and runoff.

The least resilient sites all had multiple impacts or “stressors.” Researchers found that the number of stressors affecting reefs, not the severity of a single one, was the most important factor in determining their susceptibility to temperature stress, making them more likely to bleach and less able to recover. 

Donor Profile

Eiichiro Kuwana

Eiichiro and Yumi Kuwana © TNC

Eiichiro Kuwana spent 16 years on Wall Street before striking out on his own as an investment advisor. Today, he splits his time between his primary residence in Connecticut and a second home on Maui. As a former member of TNC’s Hawai‘i Board of Trustees and current Ihupani Advisory Council member, he is known as the most vocal and dedicated advocate of our work on Palmyra Atoll.

“Palmyra is an absolutely unique global asset,” he says. “If we position it correctly and provide the appropriate resources, it can help us answer some of the difficult questions surrounding climate change, especially for low-lying Pacific atolls.”

As a donor and fundraising leader for TNC, Kuwana embodies a committed trustee who believes strongly in our collaborative, science-based, results-oriented approach. “From a business perspective, you want to make sure the investment you’re making is producing tangible benefits—and that you can quantify those benefits with data,” he says. “I don’t just mean dollars and cents, but also how the environment is benefitting. As environmental stewards, that’s our responsibility.”