Hawaiian Coral Reefs Near The Pacific Ocean Are Finally Growing Again, After Over 30 Years Under Federal Protection

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For over 30 years, the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii has been overfished and trawled to devastation, which destroyed deep-sea corals and most of the ecological community around these areas.

But after years of these waters being protected under a federal mandate, scientists saw the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain growing again.

Because corals and sponges on seamounts grow very slowly, “It’s been hypothesized that these areas, if they’ve been trawled, that there’s not much hope for them.” Florida State University Associate Professor of Oceanography Amy Baco-Taylor said.

“So, we explored these sites fully expecting to not find any sign of recovery. But we were surprised to find evidence that some species are starting to come back to these areas.”

“This is a good story of how long-term protection allows for recovery of vulnerable species,” she added.

A team from A&M University in Florida State and Texas, along with Baco-Taylor, have their findings published in the Science Advances journal.

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The Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain is located in the Pacific Ocean that is mostly an underwater mountain range. Throughout the 1960’s to the 1980’s, this place was popular for fishing and trawling, wherein fishermen used their nets to catch fish from the seafloor. During this process, the fishermen would end up catching other creatures as well.

Trawling has destroyed seamounts all over the world and scientists initially thought that recovery and of these underwater communities would unlikely happen. But now, there is hope for the Seamount Chain.

Four research cruises to North and Central Pacific Ocean were lead by Baco-Taylor and her colleagues to investigate the ecological communities and their improvements.

They studied the recovery of life on the seamount chain since this has been federally protected to avoid fishing and trawling since the 1970’s.

Source: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org

The United States included this region in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone in 1977, which banned foreign fleets to trawl the seabed.  Former President George W. Bush further included the waters as part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006, protecting it even from human disturbance.

 “People started realizing how vulnerable seamounts were relatively recently, so seamounts in other locations have only been protected for 5 to 15 years,” Baco-Taylor said. “Establishment of the zone in this region, has provided protection for these sites for close to 40 years, providing a unique opportunity to look at recovery on longer time scales.”

From the four research trips that the scientists took, they were able to send an autonomous underwater vehicle to explore and photograph seamounts that were 300 to 700 meters below surface.

With all the images the captured, the team analyzed 536,000 of them where proof of baby coral in those areas were seen growing on the seafloor, as well as on fishing nets that were abandoned in the bottom.

The most important part was the discovery they made of certain areas that were not affected by trawling. These untouched areas are a crucial part of further population in other areas with different fauna, researchers added.

At present, they cannot tell how long it will take for the area to return to how it was before. Research and analysis of the corals are being done to determine the age and diversity of the species that are now growing again.



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