Coral Reef Project: Hawaiʻi

Science Center Objects

As part of the USGS Coral Reef Project, the USGS is working on the Kona (west) coast of Hawaiʻi to evaluate geologic resources at two historical parks.

Satellite image of an island showing its terrain

Satellite image of Hawaiʻi captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite on January 26, 2014.


The island of Hawaiʻi, known as the Big Island, is the largest in the Hawaiian Islands chain. Greater than twice the area of the remaining main eight Hawaiian Islands combined, Hawaiʻi encompasses 10,432 sq km (4,028 sq mi). The island was formed from five major volcanoes. The volcano of Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth, reaching nearly 9 km (5.5 mi) from the seafloor to the summit. Although shorter, Mauna Loa's massive size makes it the largest volcano in the world. Kīlauea, long thought to be part of Mauna Loa, is the only currently active subaerial volcano in the Hawaiian Island chain and is home to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.


Live coral growth on the Big Island is typically limited to scattered aggregate corals on volcanic boulders and pavement. The USGS is working with the National Park Service on the Kona (west) coast of Hawaiʻi to evaluate the geologic resources at Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic SiteKaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, and at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau (City of Refuge) National Historical Park, including benthic habitat mapping of the nearshore coral ecosystem and nutrient flux from groundwater sources. Other partners involved in this work include the University of HawaiʻiStanford University, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.