was successfully added to your cart.

Coral Restoration in Hawai’i

Restoring Coral in Hawaii featuring Kuleana Coral

Coral is a big draw for snorkelers around the world. However, many people have little understanding of what coral is, and how vitally important it is to preserve. Coral reefs play a crucial role in Hawai’i’s marine ecosystems, supporting a diverse array of marine life and providing essential benefits to the environment and local communities. Yet, these vital ecosystems are facing significant challenges, including coral bleaching, pollution, and climate change impacts. As a result, coral restoration efforts have become increasingly important in Hawai’i to help preserve and restore these fragile and valuable ecosystems. Coral restoration involves activities such as coral nurseries, transplanting healthy corals, and monitoring reef health to promote coral resilience and enhance reef recovery. By highlighting the importance of coral restoration, we can work towards protecting Hawai’i’s coral reefs for future generations and ensuring the health and sustainability of our oceans.

What is Coral?

Coral is a unique marine organism that forms the backbone of coral reef ecosystems found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, including in Hawai’i. It is made up of tiny, colonial animals called coral polyps. They secrete calcium carbonate to create hard, rock-like structures to protect and support their soft bodies. When corals multiply to form large colonies, these are known as coral reefs. Coral reefs provide habitat and shelter for a vast array of marine life, including fish, invertebrates, and algae.

Coral reefs are often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea” due to their high biodiversity and ecological importance. They also play a crucial role in protecting coastlines from erosion and providing economic benefits through tourism, fisheries, and coastal protection. However, coral reefs are facing numerous threats, including climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices. Protecting and conserving coral reefs is essential for maintaining marine biodiversity, supporting coastal communities, and preserving the health of our oceans.

What Species of Coral Do We See Around Maui?

PACIOOS Coral Coverge Map

Click to explore an interactive map of the estimated coral coverage around Maui.

Maui is home to a diverse array of coral species that contribute to the richness and beauty of its underwater ecosystems. However, most of probably have no idea what types of coral we see when we’re snorkeling around Maui’s coastline. Learn about some of the more common coral species found around Maui below. Much of this information, along with a very enlightening interactive map of estimated coral cover around Hawaiian islands can be found on the PACIOOS website here. 


This branching coral species is widespread in Maui’s waters and comes in various colors, including brown, green, and purple. Montipora corals are known for their intricate branching structures and play a vital role in reef building.

    • Montipora capitata - red rice coral

      Montipora capitata – red rice coral

      Montipora capitata: According to the PACIOOS site, “Montipora capitata is a common “rice coral” that surrounds the Main Hawaiian Islands. It has adapted to a wide range of habitats when compared to other Montipora species (Franklin et al., 2013). Members of this species may exhibit multiple growth forms, such as plating, encrusting, and branching. Colors range from brown and white to various hues of pink, green, or blue. Montipora capitata has been found in regions spanning from Hawaiʻi to Indonesia and typically spawns during the summer months after the presence of a new moon (Stender).”

    • Montipora flabellata - blue rice coral

      Montipora flabellata – blue rice coral

      Montipora flabellata: According to the PACIOOS site, “Montipora flabellata is a “blue rice coral” that surrounds the Main Hawaiian Islands and is common in higher wave environments when compared to M. capitata (Franklin et al., 2013). Montipora flabellata colonies are often found in shallow waters with high wave action. Bright colors, such as lilac, pink, and blue, and encrusting morphologies are characteristic of this coral. The current distribution of this species spans Hawaiʻi and the Central Pacific (Stender).”

    • Montipora patula (tan-purple rice coral) on the right, Montipora capitata (red rice coral) on the left

      Montipora patula (tan-purple rice coral) on the right, Montipora capitata (red rice coral) on the left

      Montipora patula: According to the PACIOOS site, “Montipora patula is a Hawaiian endemic “ringed rice coral” that surrounds the Main Hawaiian Islands. Colonies are located in higher wave environments than M. capitata and exhibit encrusting and plating morphologies (Franklin et al., 2013). Montipora patula is usually golden brown in color and is surrounded by white margins, but some colonies are bright purple. Compared to M. capitata and M. flabellata, members of this species appear rough in texture, due to elevated calices and rods that surround the colonies. This species is only found in Hawaiʻi (Stender).”


Another common coral species in Maui, Pocillopora corals are often found in shallow reef areas. They have small, finger-like branches and come in colors ranging from pale pink to bright yellow, providing a vibrant display on the reef.

    • Pocillopora meandrina - cauliflower coral

      Pocillopora meandrina – cauliflower coral

      Pocillopora meandrina: According to the PACIOOS site, “Pocillopora meandrina is a “cauliflower coral” that surrounds the Main Hawaiian Islands and can be found in shallow, high wave environments (Franklin et al., 2013). Thriving in reefs that are exposed to surf and current, members of this species form large, evenly folded hemispherical colonies. Ranging in colors of yellow, green, brown, and purple, P. meandrina is often the first coral to colonize areas with new lava flows. This species has been found in Hawaiʻi, the Central Indian Ocean, the West Pacific, and the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Stender).”


Porites corals grow in massive, dome-shaped colonies and make their homes in various depths around Maui. They are hardy corals that contribute to reef structure and often appear in shades of green, brown, or gray.

    • Porites compressa - finger coral

      Porites compressa – finger coral

      Porites compressa: According to the PACIOOS site, “Porites compressa is a Hawaiian endemic “finger coral” that surrounds the Main Hawaiian Islands. It prefers shallow environments that are close to shore, have low wave energy, and are highly turbid, due to sediment suspension and watershed inputs (Franklin et al., 2013). This species is common in marine protected waters, but also lives in the open ocean as branching projections that are light gray or tan in color. Those that are located within lagoon areas are yellow-green in color and resemble hemispherical mounds. Unlike M. patula, P. compressa has shallow calices that give it a smooth and narrow texture. You’ll only find this species in Hawaiʻi (Stender).”

    • Porites lobata - mounding coral

      Porites lobata – mounding coral

      Porites lobata: According to the PACIOOS site, “Porites lobata is a Hawaiian “lobe coral” that surrounds the Main Hawaiian Islands and is commonly found in areas with intermediate wave energy that surround young Hawaiian Islands (Franklin et al., 2013). Porites lobata is common on reefs with good water circulation. Most colonies are greenish yellow or tan in color, but may turn purple or blue if stressed. Members of this species have conical lobes with small calices and multiple peaks. Pink lesions have been found on some colonies, which is an indicator that the individual has been introduced to a trematode infection. This species lives throughout Hawaiian, Indo-Pacific, and Tropical Eastern Pacific waters (Stender).”

These are just a few examples of the coral species living around Maui. Coral reefs are incredibly diverse ecosystems, and Maui’s reefs host a wide variety of coral species, each playing a unique role in maintaining the health and resilience of the reef ecosystem. Protecting these coral species and their habitats is essential for the long-term sustainability of Maui’s marine environments and the species that depend on them.

Kuleana Coral Initiative on Oahu

Kuleana Coral is an organization based on Oahu that is dedicated to coral reef conservation and restoration efforts in Hawai’i. The organization is uniquely focusing on several key areas of work to protect and restore coral reefs.

  • Coral Nurseries: Kuleana Coral operates coral nurseries where they cultivate and propagate coral fragments that became dislodged from existing colonies due to storms, waves, or anchors and other boating impacts. These nurseries serve as vital resources for growing new coral colonies and increasing genetic diversity within reef populations.
  • Coral Transplantation: The organization then conducts coral transplantation projects, where they carefully transplant healthy coral fragments onto degraded or damaged reef areas. This restoration technique helps to rebuild and rehabilitate coral reefs that suffer impacts by factors such as bleaching, pollution, or physical damage.
  • Community Engagement: Kuleana Coral actively engages with local communities, schools, and businesses to raise awareness about coral reef conservation and the importance of preserving marine ecosystems. They organize educational programs, outreach events, and volunteer opportunities to involve the community in their conservation efforts.
  • Scientific Research: The organization collaborates with scientists, researchers, and marine biologists to conduct scientific research on coral reef health, resilience, and restoration techniques. Their research contributes valuable insights into the factors affecting coral reefs and informs conservation strategies.
  • Policy Advocacy: Kuleana Coral advocates for policies and regulations that support coral reef protection and sustainable marine management practices. They work with government agencies, policymakers, and conservation organizations to promote policies that prioritize reef conservation and address threats to marine ecosystems.
  • Monitoring and Assessment: The organization conducts regular monitoring and assessment of coral reef health and resilience, using data-driven approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of their restoration projects and conservation initiatives.

Overall, Kuleana Coral is playing a significant role in the conservation and restoration of coral reefs on Oahu and throughout Hawai’i. Their holistic approach combines scientific research, community engagement, and hands-on restoration efforts to protect and preserve these valuable marine ecosystems for future generations.

Bringing More Coral Restoration to Maui

The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC) has begun training with Kuleana Coral in a collaborative effort to enhance coral reef conservation and restoration initiatives in Maui Nui’s marine ecosystems. The MNMRC team hopes to soon receive permitting to implement Kuleana Coral’s unique coral restoration practices around Maui.

Learn more about the training and efforts to bring these coral restoration practices to Maui in this video below. 

By combining the expertise of MNMRC in marine resource management and advocacy with Kuleana Coral’s specialized knowledge in coral restoration, the partnership aims to create a more resilient and sustainable future for Maui Nui’s coral reefs. Through continued training, collaboration, and community engagement, MNMRC and Kuleana Coral work together to address the challenges facing coral reefs and promote stewardship of Maui’s marine environment for generations to come.

So Where Can We Check Out Some Great Coral?

As you might have seen in the estimated coral coverage map, some areas of Maui have more coral coverage than others. Here are some locations where you can snorkel out and see more coral. When you paddle out, try to identify the species based on what you’ve learned here!

Molokini Crater from Above

Molokini Crater from Above

  • Molokini Crater: Molokini draws attention for its extensive coral reefs and crystal-clear waters, making it one of the top snorkeling and diving destinations in Maui. The sheltered orientation of the crater and its marine reserve status contribute to the abundance of coral and marine life. Book our favorite Molokini snorkeling tour online with an extra 10% off!
Ahihi Bay Beach and Snorkel Guide

A rugged, pristine snorkeling gem in one of Maui’s marine preserves.

  • Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve: This marine reserve on Maui’s southwest coast is home to extensive coral reefs and diverse marine species. Snorkelers can explore the underwater beauty of Ahihi Bay and Kanahena Cove, where coral reefs thrive.
Teralani at Honolua Bay

Teralani at Honolua Bay

Makena Landing Beach Guide Overview

A small park with good facilities and easy access to snorkeling and paddle boarding.

  • Makena Landing: Located near Makena Beach State Park, Makena Landing is a popular spot for snorkeling enthusiasts. The area features a coral reef both close to the shoreline and farther out, offering opportunities to see various coral formations and colorful reef fish.
Olowalu Mile Marker 14 Beach Guide

Explore Maui’s “mother reef” with easy beach access and typically gentle waters.

  • Olowalu Reef: Situated between Lahaina and Maalaea, Olowalu Reef at Mile Marker 14 is another hotspot for coral viewing in Maui. The area is home to what scientists believe to be the “mother reef” that seeded all other reefs around Maui Nui. The reef’s shallow, seasonally calm waters harbor a diverse array of corals and colorful reef fish.
Maluaka Beach Guide Overview

A family friendly, long and sandy beach with good snorkeling and facilities.

  • Maluaka Beach: Maluaka Beach is another excellent snorkeling spot in South Maui. The beach’s usually calm and shallow waters provide a perfect environment for coral growth, and snorkelers can encounter a variety of corals and marine creatures.
Kapalua Bay Beach Guide

Popular bay that offers some shelter from wind/waves for snorkeling, paddle boarding, and family beach days.

  • Kapalua Bay: This sheltered bay in West Maui offers excellent snorkeling opportunities with plentiful coral close to shore. Snorkelers at Kapalua Bay can observe colorful corals and marine life right off the beach.
Snorkeling off the coast of Lanai

Snorkeling tours offer access to spectacular snorkeling off the coast of Maui’s immediate neighbor, Lanai.

  • Manele-Hulopo’e Marine Life Conservation District: Lanai, a.k.a. “Pineapple Isle,” has pristine waters teeming with diverse marine life and vibrant coral reefs, making it a paradise for snorkelers. Snorkelers will find spectacular spots for coral viewing around Lanai in Manele and Hulopo’e Bays. Here, snorkelers can explore a stunning underwater world filled with diverse coral gardens. The clear waters offer excellent visibility, allowing snorkelers to observe an array of marine species. Plus, the area’s protected marine status ensures that its coral reefs remain healthy and thriving, providing an unforgettable snorkeling experience for visitors to Lanai. Book a tour of Lanai’s underwater beauty online at Auntie’s best price guaranteed!

While these locations are famous for their coral abundance, these and other coral reefs worldwide are facing imminent threats from climate change, pollution, overfishing, and other human impacts. Responsible snorkeling practices, such as not touching or damaging coral, using reef-safe sunscreen or just covering up with wetsuits or water clothing, and supporting conservation efforts, are crucial for preserving these fragile marine ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

About Auntie Snorkel

Auntie Snorkel shop has been serving Maui’s fun seekers for over 33 years, established in 1985. We're the original South Maui Snorkel Shop. When I bought the shop 10 years ago from Auntie, we decided to keep the name. The name "Auntie" is a term of respect here in Hawaii. I'm living my dream. I get to meet awesome people from all over the world and share with them my love and knowledge of this magical island that I get to call home. We know all the spots. I have lived here since 2001. We're the true definition of a family owned and operated shop. I answer the phones and work the shop along with my family. When you shop with us you're supporting my ohana and for that I thank you!! Why go anywhere else? We're the friendliest, fastest, cheapest and our location is the most epic! Mahalo and Aloha”. ~Mark Noble (Owner & Maui Fun Expert)

Leave a Reply