Ecological and socio-cultural responses to transplanting corals to enhance reef resilience near Oʻahu

Coral reefs are declining worldwide due to a combination of stressors, but climate induced ocean warming is the biggest threat. Warming oceans lead to ‘coral bleaching’ and frequent death, compromising the structure and function of reefs. The increasing frequency and severity of bleaching means that human intervention is needed to support the adaptive capacity of reefs. Most proposed interventions involve the movement of corals, but the outcomes of these strategies are almost completely unknown. To bridge this knowledge gap, this project aims to assess how restoration to enhance resilience within coral reefs can effectively reduce climate change threats while also gaining a better understanding of socio-cultural perspectives relating to intervention strategies.

Coral scape with a few small yellow fish
Healthy coral reefs supply many important ecosystem services but struggle to survive warming oceans and other stressors. (Photo: NOAA)

The project team has proposed to temporarily transplant two important reef-building species between six reefs in Kāneʻohe Bay and Waimānalo Bay on windward Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. Kāneʻohe Bay corals are known to be more resilient to climate stressors. Since the bays differ in environmental conditions, the researchers will perform a natural experiment to identify the sources of this resilience (e.g., coral colony, bay, individual reef) and how they change over space and time. With this information, the team will develop a ‘Restoration Decision Support Framework’ that incorporates the perspectives of the local community and helps managers to prioritize limited resources by focusing on the most conservative restoration options with the highest potential to support climate adaptation.

Working partnerships between the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, NOAA, Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources, Ke Kula Nui O Waimānalo, Waimānalo Canoe Club, and the Oceanic Institute will be established to ensure that diverse knowledge and perspectives are incorporated. The results of this work are intended to be broadly useful to communities engaged in environmental stewardship: the scientific community, as we strive to understand better the thermal resilience of some corals, the local, state and federal agencies responsible for the long-term conservation and management of coral reefs, and the local communities that actively strive to protect the resources they depend on.





Crawford Drury
Affiliate Researcher, Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, UH Mānoa


Rob Toonen
HIMB, UH Mānoa
Matthew Parry
Brian Nielson
Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources
Carolyn Jones
Hawaiʻi Pacific University/Oceanic Institute
Scotty Reis-Moniz
Waimānalo Canoe Club
Kirk Deitschman
Ke Kula Nui O Waimānalo