Aerial view of reef at Puakō, Hawaii.

Stories in Hawaii

Restoring Hawaiʻi’s Reefs

Hawai'i’s once fertile and well-managed reefs and fisheries helped sustain a self-sufficient Hawaiian population for a thousand years.

Today, the living reefs along Hawaiʻi’s shores continue to provide important habitat for reef fish, including ʻuhu, ʻakule and other island favorites. They also protect us from storms and rising sea levels and support Hawai'i’s cultural traditions, island lifestyle and economy, generating more than $1 million a day through tourism and other commercial activities. 

But the pressures of an increasing population—expected to double in the next 50 years—and nearly ten million visitors a year are straining reefs and fisheries. Impacts from overfishing, sediments, land-based pollution, and invasive species have already contributed to a 40% decline in living coral reefs in some areas in the last 40 years, and a more than 90% decline in some commercially important reef fish populations over the past century. 

Fortunately, like other living things, Hawai'i’s reefs and fisheries can recover if the damage is not too severe and we take strong local action to minimize these pressures. That’s why:

  • Our scientists assess coral and reef fish populations and research the causes of their declines to inform management actions. The data we collect help community and government partners take appropriate action to improve ocean health and measure the effectiveness of their management actions.
  • We work with government agencies, community groups, and other organizations to restore essential habitat. These efforts blend science and traditional practice to demonstrate effective management and illustrate how healthy reefs, fishponds, and wetlands enhance coastal protection.
  • Our teams promote peer learning and nurture promising youth to strengthen local leadership. Through support of peer learning networks, we help facilitate the spread of knowledge among natural resource managers, while our fellowships and internships help the next generation acquire the strength, skills, and confidence required for effective leadership.  

Learn more about our science, restoration, and how we’re helping to strengthen management and leadership.