Fish swimming over a patch of bleached coral in Hawaii (© AP Images)
Warmer ocean temperatures have stressed Hawaii's corals, causing them to turn white. (© AP Images)

Hawaii officials are stepping up efforts to fight coral bleaching caused by global warming, which threaten the state’s reefs. The proposals include new marine protected areas, limits on fishing and controls on runoff pollution.

Hawaii’s ocean temperatures have been rising as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased, forcing corals to turn white. This is called coral bleaching.

It’s a serious concern for the health of the ocean, because coral reefs provide habitat for fish and other marine life, scientists say.

Warmer ocean temperatures bleached corals in Kaneohe Bay off Oahu in 2014. In 2015, they bleached corals off the west coast of the Big Island and off Maui.

Bruce Anderson, the state Division of Aquatic Resources administrator, said the state came up with the proposals after surveying over 80 scientists around the world about what steps were most effective at helping coral reefs.

One idea is to ban “lay gill nets,” which fishermen leave in the water. Anderson said these types of nets are harmful because they kill all the fish caught in them, not just the species targeted by the fisherman.

The state will hold public meetings on its proposals before any are adopted.

Phil Fernandez, president of the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, said he looked forward to working with Anderson and the state on the proposals.

“We want the reef to come back. We fish, and the health of fish is completely dependent on habitat. When the habitat is decimated, the fish go away,” he said.

Want to learn more about coral reef issues? Take a look at this coral reef conservation program, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.