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New early warning system predicts coral disease outbreak in Hawaii

Jun 18, 2024

HONOLULU, Hawaii: A new early warning system dubbed the “multi-factor coral disease risk” that forecasts how likely it is for two common diseases to afflict those vital marine animals in the Pacific was developed by coral researchers in Hawaii.

The coral disease already shows a strong chance of outbreaks across the Hawaiian archipelago this summer.

The online tool forecasts a high risk of “growth anomalies” that could hit coral colonies on the windward side of Hawaii island, across Maui, and parts of Oahu and Niihau through August.

According to the tool, that risk drops significantly along the Big Island by September. However, during that same month, it forecasts a higher risk of the other common disease, called white syndrome, in various parts of the islands.

Beyond Hawaii, the warning system also provides disease forecasts for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and the Pacific Remote Islands. The forecasts primarily rely on existing ocean temperature predictions, supplemented by data on water quality, nearby human populations, land use, and coral colony sizes.

Researchers said the aim is to give regional groups and government agencies a tool to make better management decisions for marine areas as climate change causes frequent coral disease outbreaks to occur.

Corals afflicted with growth anomaly have tumor-like growths that hurt their reproductive output, while corals with white syndrome have patches of white that spread and cause the animals to shed their tissue.

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