Herbivore protection for healthy Hawaiian coral reefs
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Coral reefs across the globe are in trouble due to an array of local and global threats ranging from ocean warming and acidification, stronger and more frequent storms, overfishing, pollution, coastal development, and poor watershed management. Corals are the main structure-forming organisms on coral reefs that provide habitat for about 25% of all marine life on earth and provide many services to society including protein, coastal protection from storms, tourism, and medicines for treating cancer and other deadly diseases just to name a few. In order to enhance coral reef resilience or their ability to withstand and recover from local and global stressors, we must address the threats that can potentially undermine corals.
One of the principal threats to corals on Hawaiian reefs is overfishing of algae eating fishes and urchins. Parrotfish (uhu in Hawaiian) are herbivorous fishes that eat seaweeds that grow on coral reefs. The name parrotfish comes from their fused teeth that form a “beak like” mouth that allows them to scrape or cut algae off dead coral pavement. Uhu are important to coral reefs because they serve as “lawnmowers of the sea” that keep seaweeds at bay to make space for corals to grow and thrive. Without herbivores like uhu, corals would likely struggle to form the large reef structures that are the backbone of coral reef ecosystems.
In Hawai‘i, overfishing of herbivorous fishes like uhu continues to threaten the resilience of coral reefs to local and global stressors. To address this issue, the state of Hawai‘i has put in place a management strategy that specifically protects herbivorous fishes and urchins from all fishing while allowing for recreational take of other permitted species. The Kahekili Herbivore Management Area (http://www.kahekilimarinereserve.com/) on the west coast of Maui is an example of how to protect herbivores for the benefit of coral reef health and resilience on the local level while still allowing for recreational harvest of other species. Since 2009 when Kahekili was established, uhu have increased in abundance along with other herbivorous fishes within the protected area. These early data from Kahekili support herbivore protection as a viable strategy for fostering coral resilience by increasing grazing on Hawaiian reefs.
The Uhu Conservancy has created this petition to garner grassroots support for increased herbivore conservation within the Hawaiian Islands by pushing the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to create at least one herbivore protected area on O‘ahu by 2019. Please join us and show your support for healthy Hawaiian coral reefs by signing our petition to increase the number of herbivore protected areas in Hawai‘i.
For more information about our organization, please visit our website at www.uhuconservancy.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@uhuconservancy).
The Uhu Conservancy is a not for profit organization that uses music and other art forms to spread awareness and advocate for conservation of uhu and Hawaiian coral reefs. Our mission is to encourage conservation of coral reef herbivores like uhu (parrotfish) by communicating messages of sustainability and environmental stewardship through music and other forms of art. We feel that the artists are especially good at telling stories about conservation and sustainability in a way that is relatable to all audiences. Our goal as an organization is to galvanize grassroots support for herbivore conservation here in Hawai‘i. This petition serves as our first effort to engage community members to support herbivore protections here on O‘ahu and throughout Hawai‘i.
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