Coral Grief

SUBHEAD: It is clear that there is a disastrous connection between pesticide use and coral reef die-off.

By Katherine Muzik on 25 August 2013 for Island Breath -

Image above: Coral on the Great Barrier Reef. The same pesticides pushing along the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef are also linked to a raft of illnesses in humans. From (

I am writing to speak up for the voiceless members of our Kauai Island, including the corals, limu and numerous other marine creatures which are increasingly troubled by our human activities here on land.

While conducting their research, GMO companies on Kauai are apparently using still-undisclosed kinds and amounts of pesticides, which eventually reach the sea, where they can cause grave harm to our marine life.

A quick Google search for “pesticides and coral reefs” nets 31,200,000 entries, and a search for just one herbicide, “glyphosate (as in Round-up) and corals”, an astonishing 14,800,000.

Just now, my search for “herbicides and turtles” yielded me 8,130,000!

And for “herbicides and marine algae”, 4,450,00 results!!

It is clear there is a connection - a very important one.

It is a disastrous connection. We humans ignore it at our peril.

Let me summarize these many millions of articles for you: pesticides, especially herbicides, have been scientifically shown to have a deleterious effect on marine life, whether plankton, corals, limu, turtles…

Having studied coral reefs and their decline for many decades, all over the world, I am utterly dismayed.

Corals which have already been under intense pressure from sediments, oil pollution, overfishing, marine debris, military base construction and more recently, acidification and global climate change, are now facing an additional threat in the form of pesticides arriving from land.

In 2011, marine biologists in Australia reported that pesticides increase the vulnerability of corals to rising sea surface temperatures and other human-induced threats.

Another recent report from the Great Barrier Reef shows that corals can be harmed by agricultural chemicals at levels so low as to be practically undetectable: “Coral settlement was reduced by between 50 and 100% following 18 hours exposure to very low concentrations”.

Herbicides used on farmlands eventually run down to the sea, where they damage or destroy free-living phytoplankton (which provide us oxygen and are food for zooplankton and other animals); they damage the zooxanthellae in coral (the algae in their tissues, which help corals grow and thrive); and they damage the seaweed and sea grass communities (which turtles and we too eat).

In addition to herbicides, the insecticides and fungicides used on land also enter the sea, where they damage or destroy zooplankton and coral polyps. They cause further damage to the food chain by accumulating in the tissues of shellfish, fish and marine mammals and negatively affecting their physiological processes too.

Here in Kauai, we have unusual coral reefs, formed not only by coral polyps living with their zooxanthellae (remember, plants), but also formed by coralline algae (plants)! Yes, plants! 35% of our reef sands here in Kauai are from the skeletons of plants, the so-called coralline algae!
Uh oh! As plants, the coralline algae too have photosynthetic systems already proven to be disrupted by herbicides, and so they too will likely suffer and ultimately perish if we do not care for them properly.'

And again, about those turtles, eating turtle grass, well, take a guess.

Let’s keep our reefs alive! Our corals, our limu, our turtle grass, our turtles!

Let’s remember that corals were regarded as sacred since Ancient Times, and thus were honored in the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian hymn of Creation: “Hanau ka Uku-ko‘ako’a” or, “Born the coral polyp”. And so, eventually we humans too were born.

I am for passage of Bill 2491. We need to know, and simultaneously learn how to control and manage, what is entering our watersheds and then descending, so harmfully, to our sea. The corals cannot escape. Ultimately, neither can we.

• Katherine Muzik, Ph.D. is an Associate in Natural Sciences at the Bishop Museum and is a resident, Kapaa, Kauai.


1 comment :

Hope Kallai said...

O ke au i ka huli....

Mahalo, Katy for this article.


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