Kahaluu Beach Park will once again be closed to the public during the week of May 28 to June 5 to protect spawning cauliflower coral, according to Hawaii County officials.
The state’s Division of Aquatic Resources and The Kohala Center, a nonprofit, are requesting the public’s cooperation in staying out of Kahaluʻu Bay during this critical time period.
“While the park is closed, we are asking everyone to avoid snorkeling or swimming in the bay,” said Cindi Punihaole, Kahaluu Bay Education Center director, in a news release.
During these spawning events, Punihaole said, corals emit reproductive materials known as gametes into the water column, which are carried by tides to mix and generate planktonic coral larvae. Undisturbed, the gametes have a greater chance of settling and growing in the bay.
“It is our hope that visitors and community members will honor this sacred, natural process by giving our cauliflower corals the peace and space they need in order to reproduce,” Punihaole said. “It is vital that we do everything we can to rebuild Kahaluu’s coral community so that we can all continue to enjoy and benefit from a healthy reef ecosystem for generations to come.”
Over the past three years, the county has closed the park during specific moon phases in mid- to late spring to minimize disturbances to the vulnerable corals during this time.
Cauliflower coral — also known as rose coral and “Ko‘a” in Hawaiian — was once abundant on shallow coral reefs along West Hawaii, including Kahaluu Bay, according to the state and Eyes of the Reef Network.
Environmental stressors as well as elevated ocean temperatures impacted West Hawaii in 2015 and 2019, they said, leading to the catastrophic bleaching and mortality of more than 90% of the cauliflower coral population in Kahaluu Bay.
The closures are just one way to help the corals to continue thriving.
“We totally support this voluntary measure as natural reproduction events are critically important,” said DAR administrator Brian Neilson in a statement. “With the absence of daily visitors and subsequent reduction in physical damage and impact of chemical sunscreens, growth and recovery along the shoreline has already been documented. Research has shown that it can take up to 24 hours for corals to successfully reproduce and settle properly.”