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Early detection of nuisance algae can help Papahānaumokuākea's coral reefs

Coral head with overgrowth of Chondria.
Brian Hauk
Coral head with overgrowth of Chondria.

Researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa have found an early detection system for what’s known as “nuisance algae” in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The species known as Chondria tumulosa suffocates native coral by cutting off light and water flow.

Researchers were able to find the algae near Kuaihelani, or the Midway Atoll, and contain the species before it spread.

"So we use a process called eDNA extraction, so basically, every living organism gives off DNA. Specifically in the water, we can filter out that DNA and then see what was in that general area," said Patrick Nichols, the study’s lead researcher.

"This is basically going to be used as a mapping tool so we can detect where it is, where it isn’t and kind of ensure that it isn’t spreading to nearby atolls," he said.

Scientists are now trying to find a way to kill the algae without harming nearby native species.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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