2017 Year in Review  

Hawaiʻi & Palmyra

Thanks to our members and supporters, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i was able to make great conservation happen in 2017.

Fencing Out Feral Animals 

In 2017, the Conservancy finished fencing its statewide network of priority watershed areas—a task we have been working at since the 1980s. By erecting 60 miles of fences and deploying a variety of new technologies, we have removed destructive feral animals from 25,000 acres of our forest preserves. As a result, native plants are reclaiming areas once laid bare, improving the forests’ ability to collect and filter fresh water and restoring habitat.

Leading with Innovation

Technological innovation has been and will continue to be critical to our success in the battle against invasive plants and animals.  Our preserves have served as a proving ground for the use of drones, heat and motion-sensing cameras, infrared binoculars, remote-controlled traps and other technologies that improve invasive animal and weed control. To replicate these efforts on a larger scale, we stepped up efforts to share these technologies with partners and launched a Science, Innovation and Technology Fund to continue Hawai‘i’s leadership in this area. 

Nature's Carbon Solution

In 2017, the Conservancy worked with the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), the U.S. Forest Service and the State to qualify Hawaiʻi as an eligible location for voluntary forest offset carbon projects under CAR protocols. The new designation allows Hawaiʽi landowners to sell the carbon in their forestlands on the voluntary carbon emission offset market. 

 

Building Ecosystem Health

In 1999, two wedge-tailed shearwater, or ʻuaʻu kani, nests were found at our Moʻomomi coastal preserve on Molokaʻi. Today, thanks to ongoing stewardship, Moʻomomi is home to one of the largest and best protected shearwater colonies in the main Hawaiian Islands—almost 1,500 nests and over 3,200 birds. To achieve this success, the Conservancy cleared 19 acres of invasive kiawe trees to expand the nesting habitat, instituted a predator control program to remove cats, rats and mongoose, and erected a 1.5-mile coastal fence to keep out deer and wild dogs.  

Restoring an Ahupua’a

In 2017, windward Oʻahu’s He‘eia ahupua‘a was designated a National Estuarine Research Reserve, or NERR, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The 1,384-acre ahupuaʻa, which stretches from the Koʻolau mountains to the reefs of Kāneʻohe Bay, is one of only 29 NERRs, and the only one in the Pacific region. For more than a decade, the Conservancy has partnered with the State and others to remove invasive algae from Kāne‘ohe Bay, restore He‘eia’s wetland taro system, and reduce sediment flowing onto the bay’s reefs. As the only Pacific NERR, He‘eia will benefit from coordinated management and increased funding, and can contribute to a better understanding of island estuaries and coral reef ecosystems.

Improving Coastal Water Quality

Tropical storms that catalyze brown water events are all too common on Maui, leaving coastal waters filled with runoff that damages coral reefs. In response, the Conservancy led a multi-agency effort in 2017 to launch Hui O Ka Wai Ola, a citizen’s science water quality group. At 30 Maui sites, 40 trained Hui O Kai Wai Ola volunteers are gathering water quality data to help guide State health and land management efforts to protect coral reefs, local fisheries and human health from the effects of land-based pollution.     

Building Reef Resilience

Following the first statewide coral bleaching event in 2015, Conservancy scientists and our partners surveyed 40 shallow water sites in West Hawaiʻi Island and found wide swaths of damaged and bleached coral colonies. This past year, the team re-surveyed these areas to see which reefs had recovered. The goal is to identify reefs that have the best chance of surviving in a warming world and focus conservation actions in those areas. Initial results indicate that while reefs are beginning to recover, roughly half of the severely bleached corals died.

Exploring Deeper Reefs

In 2017, our scientists also conducted deep-water dives in West Hawaiʻi using re-breathers that enable them to stay underwater for up to four hours and survey reefs at depths of 200 feet or more. Data and photographs collected and stitched into 3-D models will help scientists understand whether deeper reefs can serve as a refuge for corals and fish impacted by overfishing, pollution and climate change on shallow water reefs. Connecting the data from West Hawaiʻi’s shallow and deep reefs could also aid in designing a more resilient network of marine managed areas across the main Hawaiian Islands.

Reversing Reef Fish Declines

For years there has been debate about the cause of reef fish declines in the main Hawaiian Islands. In 2017, a landmark study by Dr. Alan Friedlander, a TNC Hawaiʻi trustee, conclusively showed that while sediment, pollution and habitat degradation can be contributing factors, overfishing is the primary culprit. Friedlander’s study was the largest ever conducted—based on 25,000 in-water surveys by multiple agencies over a 15-year period, including 8,500 surveys by the Conservancy’s Hawaiʻi marine team.

Sharks and Reef Health

Marine scientists have found that healthy coral reef ecosystems like those found at Palmyra Atoll have robust populations of sharks and other top predators like jacks and grouper. But exactly what role sharks play in maintaining that health is not entirely understood. With world shark populations in sharp decline, managers need important baseline information on what constitutes a healthy population. In 2017, an eight-year, Conservancy-led study at Palmyra found it’s fewer than expected—about 20 sharks per square kilometer. This lower number gives managers seeking to bolster reef resilience a better chance at success.

Reclaiming the Rainforest

By removing invasive coconut palms and restoring the native rainforest at Palmyra Atoll, the Conservancy is taking an integrated land-sea approach to addressing climate change impacts on oceanic islands and coral reefs. Palmyra’s native rainforest provides important roosting and nesting habitat for several species of seabirds. The birds, in turn, deposit guano, which is washed into the surrounding reefs by Palmyra’s frequent rains, where it is consumed by plankton. Fish and other marine life feed on the plankton, and the seabirds feed on the fish. Our rainforest restoration initiative targets the whole ecosystem. Results will inform managers about how whole-system health and function can aid climate change adaptation for island ecosystems around the world.             

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