HILO, Hawai’i (KHON2) — The University of Hawai’i at Hilo announced that Associate Professor of Marine Science John H. Burns, along with two other scientists from the University of Arizona, recently mapped the reef at Kurukuru Mailani in Fiji that is famously known as Cloudbreak.

“Ultimately we’re trying to understand how all the organisms on the reefs are connected and how they’re going to change in the future as climate conditions shift,” said Professor Burns.

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Cloudbreak is the site of some of the largest and best waves in the world. Yet, it is part of the larger ocean, about which we only know 20 percent, that is mostly unexplored by humans.

“These models will help us to understand the composition, characteristics and ecology of the reef and these waves that will help us to protect them in the face of disturbances such as sea level rise,” said Burns.

The researchers – which includes Haunani Kane and Cliff Kapono, both from Arizona State University – utilize MEGA, the multiscale environmental graphical analysis lab in Hilo.

The MEGA lab “specializes in inventing new methods to study coral health and reef formation that influences the shape and speed of waves across the globe,” said UH Hilo.

“The 3D maps give us this framework, essentially a basis of the whole system and its structure and then we figure out which specific corals are supporting various types of fish and ultimately we can dissect what elements of the reef give us the food and the resources that we as humans depend on,” explained Burns.

Students and alumi – Kailey Pascoe, MS UH Hilo, PhD ASU; Crispin Nakoa, MS UH Hilo, PhD ASU; and Atsuko Fukunaga, MS UH Mānoa – joined the team at the MEGA lab to analyze the data collected and to begin constructing high definition 3D reconstructions.

“So by doing this, we can support long-term sustainability of coral reefs and all the resources we get from them by figuring out what are the key players if you will, that help that system be intact and productive,” concluded Burns.

The MEGA lab is a non-profit and a global consortium of scientists, artists and athletes. They work together to forge new and innovative solutions that will protect our oceans.

At this point, the research team has not divulged where they intend to 3D map their next reef. They do, however, believe that it is integral to integrate local communities into their search.

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“It’s important to remember that we are visitors in these places and learn from the Indigenous peoples before we impose our tools on the community,” said Kane.