The New York Times
BUTARITARI, Kiribati — Off the palm-fringed white beach of this remote Pacific atoll, the view underwater is downright scary.
Corals are being covered and smothered to death by a bushy seaweed that is so tough even algae-grazing fish avoid it. It settles in the reef’s crevices that fish once called home, driving them away.
Dead coral stops supporting the ecosystem and, within a couple of decades, it will crumble into rubble, allowing big ocean waves to reach the beach during storms and destroy the flimsy thatched huts of the Micronesians.
“We are catching less and less fish, and the seaweeds are fouling our nets,” says Henry Totie, a fisherman and Butaritari’s traditional chief, in an interview in his traditionally built house in the village near the blue-green lagoon.
The area affected, about four miles long and a mile wide, lies off the island’s main village, an underwater examination showed. It looked strikingly similar to Kaneohe Bay in the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where the seaweed also has spread out of control.
“This is one of the most damaging seaweeds I have ever seen,” says Jennifer E. Smith of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has studied the Hawaiian invasion for eight years. “If there is that much Eucheuma in Butaritari, it proves it can destroy a healthy reef as opposed to a degraded one like in Kaneohe.”