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Rebounds, regresses, and recovery: A 15-year study of the coral reef community at Pila‘a, Kaua‘i after decades of natural and anthropogenic stress events

August 26, 2021

Pila‘a reef on the north shore of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i was subjected to a major flood event in 2001 that deposited extensive sediment on the reef flat, resulting in high coral mortality. To document potential recovery, this study replicated benthic and sediment surveys conducted immediately following the event and 15 years later. Coral cores were analyzed to determine coral growth rates and density. Our results suggest that significant reduction in terrigenous sediments has led to partial ecosystem recovery based on coral species and colony increases, more balanced size frequency distributions, improved coral condition, and enhanced coral recruitment despite lack of recovery of large dead coral colonies. However, within this 15-year period, episodic storms and a bleaching event impeded the recovery process, preventing full recovery and continuously threatening the coral reef community. As climate change progresses, the intensity and frequency of these disturbances are predicted to increase.