Mysterious new invasive algae strangle Hawaii’s coral reefs

(ORDO NEWS) — Hawaii is famous for many things. Perfect waves and wonderful weather. Stunning views and crystal clear water. However, one of the most famous things that they are famous for is its coral reefs. And according to a study published in the journal PLOS One, these reefs could be in serious danger.

Back in 2016, studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found strange specimens of vague red algae.

She “quickly reached alarming levels of benthic coverage on Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument, Hawaii,” which, in layman’s terms, means that it spreads like a forest fire in shallow coastal waters.

A few years later they returned to take another look at it, and what they discovered was really strange.

“By 2019, algae covered large areas on the northeastern side of the atoll with a matte, vast growth of tangled thickets,” the study announces: “The samples were analyzed using light microscopy and molecular analysis and compared with morphological descriptions in the literature for closely related taxa. Light microscopy showed that the samples probably belonged to the genus rhodomelaceae Chondria, however, comparison with taxonomic literature did not reveal morphological correspondence.

In short, it seems that the algae is most likely an unknown species. This is a problem because the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is uninhabited, removed and untouched – which makes it susceptible to invasive species like this.

“This seaweed is not closely related to any known Hawaiian native species,” the abstract continues, “and is of particular concern, given its sudden appearance and rapid increase in numbers in the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.”

The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is a huge place: about 583,000 square miles of ocean, which is home to many rare species of coral, fish, birds, reptiles and marine mammals.

“This is a very destructive seaweed that can overwhelm whole reefs,” said Heather Spaldin, author of the study and assistant professor of biology at Charleston College, in a statement. “We need to find out where she is now and what we can do to handle this.”

According to IFLScience, the alga was named chondria tumulosa. Research divers exploring the Pearl and Hermes atolls have found that they grow mostly between 33 and 50 feet down, forming thick seven-inch layers that strangle sections of the reef.

“I think this is a warning about the changes that are about to happen in the northwestern Hawaiian islands,” said interim deputy dean of the College of Natural Sciences EM Manoa and professor Alison Sherwood, lead research associate at the project. “Until now, we have not encountered such a serious problem as this, when we have an unpleasant look that came and made such profound changes in a short period of time in the reefs.”

Coral reefs need sunlight that seeps through the water, so the tiny unicellular dinoflagellates, known as zooxanthellae, cannot provide food for the coral. This, of course, depletes corals, which has a huge impact on marine animals that use the reef for food and shelter.

“Until we better understand what drives this outbreak of weird algae, it is imperative that research divers and research ships inadvertently transport this species to other islands,” said Randall Kosaki, NOAA Research Coordinator at the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument . “All of our diving equipment was saturated with bleach, and all of our diving boats were sprayed with bleach before returning to Honolulu.”

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