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NOAA grants Hawaii $715,000 for coral reef conservation

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LIHUE >> Those who study Hawaii’s coral reefs are hoping a recent $715,000 federal grant awarded to the state of Hawaii will amp up both the education and conservation of the underwater ecosystems.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the grant to the state as part of a cooperative agreement between the organization and Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono announced Thursday.

The money will be used to pay for activities critical to the management and protection of Hawaii’s coral reefs with a focus on the priority areas of West Maui and South Kohala, Hirono said.

“Coral bleaching events in 2014 and 2015, which killed approximately 50 percent of the coral reefs in Hawaii, makes it imperative that we focus on actions we can take locally to make our reefs more resilient to climate change and to help our reefs recover,” said Bruce Anderson of the Division of Aquatic Resources.

The main goals behind the grant are creating new rules to protect fisheries resources, educating the community on those rules and enhancing enforcement, The Garden Island reported.

“This will include the training of judges on the science behind the coral reef protection laws,” Anderson said. “We will also continue to support on-the-ground projects in the priority watersheds to fence out ungulates and to design and implement stormwater control projects.”

Other goals include improved management of coral reef ecosystems, supporting greater capacity to enforce coral reef protections, promoting increased understanding of the key threats to reef ecosystems at priority sites, and continuing progress toward implementing the objectives of the Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy.

“We are thrilled that the government is finally paying attention to our reefs. Reefs are like the rainforests to biodiversity,” said Gordon LaBedz, vice chairman of the Kauai Surfrider Foundation.

Focusing on solutions to the degradation of the coral reefs is important because of the hundreds of millions of dollars they bring to Hawaii’s economy annually, Hirono said. “It is critically important that we invest in the science that will help us respond to the very real threat of climate change, maintain a healthy coral reef ecosystem, and recover from recent serious bleaching events,” she said.

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