SLIDESHOW: Hawaii’s Coral Research

Scientists are racing against time in their effort to assist the evolution of corals so they are more resilient to climate change and pinpoint what is harming reefs in Hawaii and worldwide.

By Cory Lum Alana Eagle /

Kira Hughes, project manager at Ruth Gates’ lab at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, checks on the “super corals” they are growing in Kaneohe Bay.

Scientists are working on ways to make corals more resilient to a rapidly warming ocean.

Corals that survived a massive bleaching event in 2015 are being bred with the hope that new colonies can be established to resist climate change.

Corals provide homes to a quarter of all marine life, which more than 500 million humans depend on for food.

A coral is really thousands of units called polyps, which are visible in this macro photo of a coral off the north shore of Oahu.

Corals are an animal that has survived on this planet for more than 200 million years but are now in dire danger.

Corals are increasingly susceptible to bleaching, and mass die-offs, as ocean temperatures rise due to climate change.

Bob Richmond, who heads the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, explains future scenarios of corals. Unless local stressors like pollution runoff and overfishing are addressed along with the broader issue of climate change, particularly capping carbon emissions to slow global warming, corals may be doomed.

Rubie Gabriel, from Palau, is interning at Kewalo Marine Laboratory. She’s testing the effects of chemicals in sunscreens.

Ruth Gates, research professor and director of HIMB, heads out to Coconut Island on a small boat from Lilipuna Street.

Scientists at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, which is on Coconut Island a short boat ride off of Oahu, have incredible access to the corals they are studying.

Ruth Gates, who heads the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, is conducting “assisted evolution” experiments with corals.

Volunteers at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology wear red head lamps as they prepare for the coral to spawn. The white light affects the mitochondria in coral, making them think it is daytime.

Volunteers use pipettes to suck up the tiny bundles of sperm and eggs from the corals that will be used in experiments later.

Bundles of coral sperm and eggs slowly float up from the corals, which only spawn during moonless summer nights.

Scientists have attached fine mesh nets to healthy coral heads in Kaneohe Bay to collect the spawn so they can breed super corals.

Informally called “coral condoms,” they collect the bundles of eggs and sperm that float up to the surface.

Alana Eagle/Civil Beat

Some sites in the underwater lab at Kaneohe Bay use plastic containers to collect coral spawn, with the nets kept vertical by empty bottles.

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