A new study by Kimberly Selkoe and Benjamin Halpern at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) reveals human interaction as an ongoing threat to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Despite former President Bush declaring the 1,200-mile stretch of small islands in the Hawaiian Island chain as a National Monument in 2006, the data and maps revealed on Monday, April 6, highlight specific environmental dangers and ways to prevent harmful human impact.
The researchers produced maps of the cumulative impact – the total result of numerous small-scale changes – of humans on the reef and wildlife areas. Selkoe and Halpern’s maps show where these effects are occurring and take into account the differing vulnerabilities of varying ecosystems and organisms. “Some are more resilient than others,” Halpern explained. “Coral reefs are moral vulnerable to fishing than other life forms, for example.”
The study found that the most dramatic negative impact on reefs comes from an increased rate of coral disease due to climate-related threats, including warming ocean temperatures. The research finds that although the islands are fully protected under U.S. law, worldwide climate change and other external hazards like marine debris, shipping pollution, and foreign species have the capability of harming and destroying sensitive reefs. Selkoe, Halpern, and their team concluded that even isolated islands like the NWHI are affected by human activity, and official monument designation does not ensure complete protection from outside dangers.
The team hopes that natural resource managers will use the maps to better protect the areas under investigation. Selkoe said in a recent press release, “The maps can aid in strategically zoning uses of oceans in an informed way that maximizes commercial and societal benefits while minimizing further cumulative impact.”