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Hawaiʻi's invasive algae

By: Alexa Gutierrez & Kirsten Sibley

7 November 2019

Courtesy: Lisianki Mosaics 2014-16

(CC BY-NC 2.0)

Invasive AlgaeBy Alexa Gutierrez & Kirsten Sibley

Hawaiʻi’s eight major islands currently harbor more than 60 percent of the coral reefs in the United States.


Non-native algae species infect these reefs, as they spread aggressively and prevent local marine life from building their habitats in the coral. 


Hawaiʻi has begun to address this issue on a broader public level:

“Our mission here is to promote an understanding and appreciation of pacific marine life.” Says Volunteer Coordinator Lauren Van Heukelem about the Waikiki Aquarium, Hawaiʻi’s state aquarium since 1904 and part of the University of Mānoa.


“I personally coordinate all of our invasive algae clean ups as well as our beach clean ups.” She says. “We try to do a beach clean up a month. And then our invasive algae clean ups are only during the spring due to tides and swells in this area. So our invasive algae clean up are actually right in front of this aquarium. Whereas the beach cleanup we focus on the south shore and the windward side of the island.” 

Invasive algae not only smothers coral, but degrades the environment needed by native fish, invertebrates, and limu. 


“It’s also just not great habitat for fish,” Van Heukelem states. “Our native fish here have grown up with specific diets and when you add in an invasive that they don't prefer then they’ll leave and we’ll no longer have those fish in the community.” 


















Due to Hawaiʻi being a major vacation destination, tourism affects invasive algae and water quality as well. 


“I mean it definitely contributes I’m sure. Just the more people you have in an area, the more pollution you have, the more trash run off you have, the more sunscreens you have in the water, which is becoming more of an issue that we’re seeing, " Van Heukelem said. "Areas like Waikiki, which have a high concentration of tourism I’m sure do have an impact. But it’s not just tourist; it’s everybody. And it’s just kind of what's happening with climate change on a global scale as well.”


Coral reefs are said to go extinct in the next thirty years, according to National Geographic. 


In order to reduce the consequences of invasive algae, coral bleaching, and other global threats we must make a conscious effort to remove pollutants from our seas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Anything from chemical sunscreen to plastics to unwanted snorkelers who invade reefs contribute to the increase of algae and decrease of coral.


Local protections are not enough. These unique reefs will suffer greatly, far sooner than expected.



Invasive seaweed is smothering Hawaiʻi's coral reefs.

photo #2.png

Courtesy: Lisianki Mosaics 2014-16

(CC BY-NC 2.0)

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