One of the most beautiful places on the island is gone.
The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools were a place where anyone could see the wonders of a coral reef. The calm and protected pools full of fish and lush coral. You could see damselfish hovering over a coral head or watch small barracuda hunt just under the surface.
And they were popular, on any given day a couple dozen locals and tourists could be seen exploring the pools. You could swim across one or two, then have to climb across a few feet of old pahoehoe lava to drop into the next. The more adventurous were rewarded with even richer coral in the outermost pools where the ocean waves created more challenging swimming conditions.
I had been hearing it was bad, I really did not know how bad.
Last time we were diving south of Kona the reef looked really healthy. With all of the rains creating murky water we had not been out in over a month. While entertaining off-island guests we went to out favorite beach at Waialea Bay for a little snorkeling and swimming.
It is pretty bad.
The warm waters have been hard on our local corals. Nearly all of the cauliflower coral (Pocillopora meandrina) is completely white, completely bleached. The encrusting lobe and finger coral (Porites lobata) was better, but some colonies were looking a little lighter in color than I would like to see. Some of the other lobe corals (Porites evermanni) were also bleaching.
As we were snorkeling in a fairly shallow bay this could be a worst case sampling of the coastline. I hope so, it was distressing to see the reef under such stress. The water was warm, far warmer than I ever remember in my eight years on island.
The current El Nino event is forecast to last through the end of the year. It will be interesting to see if the corals recover, and how much of the colonies will die. I will have to make a point to swim the same section of reef a few more time as the fall turns to winter. I should swim to the same bit of reef and take a few more photos.
Hawaiʻi is not known for the soft corals that make other tropical reef so spectacular. The soft corals here are more understated. There are some, the cup corals and the endemic octocorals are fairly common if one is observant…