Holocene coral reef accretion in Hawaii: a function of wave exposure and sea level history


 In the high Hawaiian Islands, significant accretion due to coral reef growth is limited by wave exposure and sea level. Holocene coral growth and reef accretion was measured at four stations off Oahu, Hawaii, chosen along a gradient in wave energy from minimum to maximum exposures. The results show that coral growth of living colonies (linear extension) at optimal depths is comparable at all stations (7.7–10.1 mm/y), but significant reef accretion occurs only at wave sheltered stations. At wave sheltered stations in Hanauma Bay and Kaneohe Bay, rates of long term reef accretion are about 2.0 mm/y. At wave exposed stations, off Mamala Bay and Sunset Beach, reef accretion rates are virtually zero in both shallow (1 m) and deeper (optimal) depths (12 m). At wave sheltered stations, such as Kaneohe Bay and Hanauma Bay, Holocene reef accretion is on the order of 10–15 m thick. At wave exposed stations, Holocene accretion is represented by only a thin veneer of living corals resting on antecedent Pleistocene limestone foundations. Modern coral communities in wave exposed environments undergo constant turnover associated with mortality and recruitment or re-growth of fragmented colonies and are rarely thicker than a single living colony. Breakage, scour, and abrasion of living corals during high wave events appears to be the major source of mortality and ultimately limits accretion to wave sheltered environments. Depth is particularly important as a modulator of wave energy. The lack of coral reef accretion along shallow open ocean coastlines may explain the absence of mature barrier reefs in the high Hawaiian Islands.

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Accepted: 14 May 1998

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Grigg, R. Holocene coral reef accretion in Hawaii: a function of wave exposure and sea level history. Coral Reefs 17, 263–272 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/s003380050127

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  • Key words Reef accretion
  • Holocene
  • Hawaii
  • Wave exposure
  • Sea level