Scientists say seaweed blooms happen worldwide and can be seasonal, but this does not appear to be the case. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been monitoring the site for over 20 years.
“When you see something unusual in the last few years, you can be pretty sure that this is something that’s a bit special as opposed to just things that change from year to year,” said University of Queensland Professor Peter Mumby, who is also chief scientist for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Foundation. “But it is a matter of concern whenever you see an ecosystem start to display symptoms ... like this.”
Mumby, who was not involved with the Hawaii research, said more needs to be done to understand what is driving the seaweed growth.
The NOAA research crews will soon return to study the outbreak and find out whether currents have spread it to nearby Midway, home to the Battle of Midway National Memorial, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service base and the region’s only airstrip.
The first order of business, officials say, is to ensure anyone studying the seaweed doesn’t inadvertently spread it.
“All of our dive gear, all of our boats, everything got saturated with bleach,” said Randall Kosaki, NOAA research coordinator at the marine monument and expedition lead for the earlier surveys.
“If something like this got back to Waikiki or anywhere in the main Hawaiian Islands, it would be an ecological disaster but also an economic disaster,” Kosaki said. “You can imagine what that would do to tourism to have an algae like this overgrowing the reefs.”