Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Hawaii on Verge of Worst Coral Bleaching in History as Water Temperatures Soar

Science
Hawaii on Verge of Worst Coral Bleaching in History as Water Temperatures Soar

Hawaii's majestic coral reef, which makes up roughly 85 percent of all coral reefs in the country, could be entering a perilous state. The state's corals could experience the worst bleaching its history this year as surrounding water temperatures rise at abnormal rates, scientists warn.

Water temperatures around Hawaii are currently about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, Chris Brenchley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told the Associated Press.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), coral bleaching is a phenomenon that occurs when warm water temperatures expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white.

It appears that this year's especially warm waters are already causing harm to Hawaii's precious coral. Ruth Gates, the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told Buzzfeed that on a recent trip to see the corals, about 10 percent were white.

She told Buzzfeed that climate change and local conditions, such as plenty of sun, are to blame for higher-than-usual water temperatures.

According to the AP, bleaching has been spotted in Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo on Oahu and Olowalu on Maui. On the Big Island, bleaching is reported from Kawaihae to South Kona on the leeward side and Kapoho in the southeast.

Courtney Couch, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told the AP that an entire mile and a half of reef on the eastern side of Lisianski Island was essentially dead.

The coral further out from the atoll handled the warm temperatures better, she added.

These current sightings follow earlier warnings from NOAA, which predicted a severe coral bleaching event from August to October 2015 in Hawaii.

Read page 1

In the tweet below from Dr. Mark Eakin, a coral reef specialist and coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch, you can see that most of Hawaii is now at coral bleaching Alert Level 1. (Florida, by the way, is faring even worse).

Of particular concern, since many of Hawaii's corals are still recovering from last year's mass bleaching, a second year of warm temperatures would only cause more stress to the organisms.

"You can't stress an individual, an organism, once and then hit it again very, very quickly and hope they will recover as quickly," Gates told the AP.

Gates also explained to Buzzfeed that this year's conditions are “unprecedented" and “very worrying."

“I'm struggling to find an example where we've had two back to back bleaching events," she added. “This double whammy is not really common."

Coral bleaching not only increases the corals' risk for disease and/or death, it also has a serious effect on the fish and other marine life that live in the reefs, as well as local fishing and tourism operations. While bleaching isn't the main culprit of reef decline, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005 alone due to a massive bleaching event, NOAA pointed out.

"You go from a vibrant, three-dimensional structure teeming with life, teeming with color, to a flat pavement that's covered with brown or green algae," Gates told the AP. "That is a really doom-and-gloom outcome but that is the reality that we face with extremely severe bleaching events."

So what can we do to help? In the video below, aquatic biologist Brian Neilson, who works for Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources, explains that bleached coral can recover, and we can all help make a difference.

"Climate change impacts threaten coral reef ecosystems by increasing ocean temperatures, storm activity, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise ... Therefore it is essential that we not only reduce emissions, but take urgent actions to reduce the impact of elevated greenhouse gases on coral reef ecosystems," NOAA advises.

If you're in Hawaii, submit any sightings of bleached coral to the state's "Eyes on the Reef" website.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Alexandra Cousteau Launches Blue Legacy Newsroom to Raise Awareness of Global Water Issues

4 Reasons Why El Nino Won't Solve California's Epic Drought

California Senate Passes Nation's Strictest Ban on Microbeads

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

These microfibers, smaller than five millimeters, are shed when synthetic clothes are washed. Cris Cantón / Getty Images
A new study from the University of California at Santa Barbara has found that synthetic clothes released about 4,000 metric tons of plastic microfibers into California's environment in 2019.
Read More Show Less

Trending

The 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired Kingston Steam Plant, just outside Kingston, Tennessee on the shore of Watts Bar Lake on March 31, 2019. In 2008, a coal ash pond at the plant collapsed, leading to the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and subsequent industry regulations in 2015. Paul Harris / Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule change on Friday that will allow some coal power plants to ignore a court order to clean up coal ash ponds, which leech toxic materials into soil and groundwater. The rule change will allow some coal ash ponds to stay open for years while others that have no barrier to protect surrounding areas are allowed to stay open indefinitely, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
President Donald Trump prepares to sign an Executive Order to begin the roll-back of environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration, on February 28, 2017 in the White House in Washington, D.C. Aude Guerrucci-Pool / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

With President Donald Trump's re-election very much in doubt, his administration is rushing to ram through regulatory rollbacks that could adversely affect millions of Americans, the environment, and the ability of Joe Biden—should he win—to pursue his agenda or even undo the damage done over the past four years.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a plastic shopping plastic bag as he walks along Times Square in New York City on April 2, 2019. Eduardo MunozAlvarez / VIEWpress / Corbis via Getty Images

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch