Hawaiian White Coral Disease

Fast Response Team Begins Field Study of Coral Disease


Aloha Ocean Lovers,

The last two days Greta Aeby, head of UH marine biology department, and her assistant Amanda (the reef doctor) along and with Thierry Work, head of Infectious Disease for the USGS were in Kauai on my behalf to do a major coral disease study at Anini Beach!

As you know I have been tracking the outbreak of a deadly coral bacteria known as cyanobacteria, along the north shore of Kauai for over a the year. One year ago I took HD underwater video of this rapid spreading disease and found only a 100 or so infected corals at 20 different dive location on the north shore.

Currently this disease has now spread to over hundreds of thousands of corals killing each coral at over one inch a week! Nowhere has there ever been such a fast spreading disease documented over time with HD video, and this disease may also be effecting fish, sea turtles and humans!

I have filed many reports about this disease with almost all of the Kauai politicians from Gary Hooser, Mel Rapozo, DOH, DLNR, Surfrider, The Sierra Club, The River Hui all the way to the USFWS and NOAA in Honolulu. Most of those reports went un-noticed so I finally asked UH to come help me out with this study.

Thierry Work from the USGS came over to Kauai in August and did extensive DNA and toxicology testing on this disease at Tunnels Reef. An official report was filed by the USGS saying how bad of shape the reefs are at Tunnels and documenting how fast and far this new cyanobacteria has spread! It was not a positive report! The report also did toxicology studies of the infected corals and it was discovered that the cyanobacteria may be specific to Kauai, and an entirely new strain.

Due to this report and testing, Greta Aeby planned a trip to Kauai with the USGS to do further extensive studies of this bacterial infection of our reefs. We completed this study over the past two days which involved very difficult work and being underwater for over 12 hours!! The following is a brief outline as to what was done to try and understand this new bacteria and try a possible cure before it takes over our reef system here in Kauai!

Since I have video of over 3,000 infected and fast dying corals from all over the north shore of Kauai from Pila’a to Ke’e I choose the Blue Hole at Anini for the study. There is a high concentration of infected corals in a small area and it is protected from the surf so the four divers could safely do this underwater work.

We fist swam out and Greta took pictures of each infected coral I located for her. These corals I have been taking video of for years so I have video when they were healthy and now dying quickly. She also took detailed photos of the reef in the area and I was making a movie of the whole event. Once Greta took her pics and marked each infected coral then Thierry came in a took sample of the disease, in a test tube with Greta to be analysed by the chemistry department and microbiology department at UH.

Thierry then hammered into the infected coral and took core samples for DNA testing and he also took samples of the healthy part of each coral. After Thierry was finished, Amanda came in and applied a resin to the infected coral as a barrier between the spreading infection and healthy coral. We are testing to see if this barrier stops the spread of the disease. This resin barrier can also contain chemicals to try and kill the disease.

Once this process was done then Amanda put a resin tag numbering each infected coral and a bright ribbon to mark each spot. Then they all went on to do the same thing to 16 other coral infections I had previously located. It took the team almost an hour to photograph, treat, measure and GPS each infected coral! Another diver,Scott Bacon, then came by and took a GPS reading on each treated coral.

I took a video of each infected coral before and after the treatment and it will be my job to go back every 3 to 5 days and video each coral to see if the disease has spread and if so by how much. I will send a picture out of the video of each coral tested to Greta and her team so they can analyse exactly how this disease spreads.

Within a month or two we should have a full report back from UH and the USGS with their findings, like they did in the August study at Tunnels. I will publish on my web all the pics of the infected corals every week so the public can see if this new possible cure is working.

This study is world class and these three scientist put their heart and soul into it so please support their efforts as the health of the reef affects us all!! This disease is now spread far and wide so we more than likely will not be able to stop it until we find out where it came from, and what caused it to spread all over the north shore of Kauai in just four months!

Please tune into KKCR Radio show in Kauai today from 4:00 to 6:00 as I will be on the air taking out the health of our reefs, this new disease outbreak and how all of this may effect the surfing, diving, fishing and tourist industry here on Kauai. You can also call in with questions and your own personal observations.

Terry Lilley
Marine Biologist ~ Hanalei HI

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