The tone poem Kumulipo Reflections was composed by Anders Paulsson, based on the Hawaiian creation chant where the coral polyp is the first creature to be born. Photo: M. Haeggman

The tone poem Kumulipo Reflections was composed by Anders Paulsson, based on the Hawaiian creation chant where the coral polyp is the first creature to be born. An abridged version was performed during the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Coral guardians

A symphony for the coral reefs

The centre’s contributions span from research to symphonic music at the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu, Hawaii

Story highlights

  • The tonal poem Kumulipo Reflections was composed by Anders Paulsson based on the Hawaiian creation chant Kumulipo.
  • An abridged version was performed at the International Coral Reef Symposium.
  • Hawaii Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere of the piece on 1 and 2 April 2017.

The 13th International Coral Reef Symposium took place in Honolulu, Hawaii, in June 2016. The symposium is held every four years and gathers leading coral reef experts from all over the globe. This year extra focus was given to including practitioners and policy makers. Many of the presentations were action oriented and in parallel to the conference sessions a ”leaders summit” for policy and decision makers took place. The President of Palau opened the Symposium as its first plenary speaker.

”At the same time as knowledge about coral reefs is growing exponentially we are seeing an exponential decline in their status,” said Robert Richmond, convener of the symposium and Director of Kewalo Marine Laboratory in Honolulu. “This is why we chose to invite not only researchers but also policy makers and people working with management to the conference. My hope is that we will be able to really spark action in coral reef management and that we will soon see a shift in these trends.” 

From the nitty gritty to global change
Close to 2500 participants gathered and over the course of five days sessions ran in parallel from morning to evening. Presentations covered topics ranging in scale from the reproduction patterns of specific coral species to global drivers of change that are currently threatening the reefs.

Centre PhD student Jean-Baptiste Jouffray presented his research on what drives regime shifts on Hawaiian coral reefs. As part of an international collaboration and together with Centre researchers Magnus Nyström and Albert Norström, he has studied the relative influence between human and “natural” environmental factors that cause changes to the reefs.

“There is little a manager can do about wave exposure, for instance, so  identifying “manageable” factors that can be used as potential leverages is crucial to avoid regime shifts,” said Jouffray. “It is never a question of a single driver causing the changes but rather an interplay between many different drivers. Recognizing and understanding this  means that we can design better management actions.”

Current events
The massive coral bleaching event that has affected Australia’s Great Barrier Reef this year was of course a hot topic. As professor Terry Hughes from James Cook University took the podium to present the course of events and give the most recent updates on the status of the reef he did so in front of a packed room where people crowded in for standing room to hear the news. 

”The northern part of the Great Barrier Reef will not again look like it did in February this year in any of our lifetimes,” said professor Hughes. Rising water temperatures caused by climate change in combination with this year’s El Niño event caused 81% of the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef to bleach, and scientists expect that more than a third will not recover.

Hughes stresses the severity of the situation but remains hopeful, he told the Guardian in an interview: “I do believe we can save the Great Barrier Reef, but we do have to try harder”.

Spurring hope
Coral Guardians, a project jointly hosted by the centre and Albaeco since 2011, had a key role at the International Coral Reef Symposium. Coral Guardians is an initiative highlighting successful coral reef stewardship around the world. By organizing integrated science and music events the project aims to stimulate creative solutions and strengthening successful coral reef initiatives from local to global scales.

In preparation for the symposium Anders Paulsson, soprano saxophonist and co-founder of Coral Guardians, composed a Symphonic Tone Poem, Kumulipo Reflections. The tone poem is based on the Hawaiian creation chant the Kumulipo, in which the coral is the first creature to be born and all other beings, including humans, its direct descendants.

In December of 2015 Paulsson spent a month in Honolulu under the mentorship of Maestro Aaron Mahi, a Hawaiian Kahu (priest) and also Christian priest. For one month Mahi tutored Paulsson in Hawaiian traditions and culture and Paulsson then returned to Sweden to spend the next six months composing.

At a public event as well as during the conference dinner an abridged version of the piece was performed by Anders Paulsson on soprano saxophone, Aaron Mahi chanting and Chyne Camacho playing a traditional Hawaiian temple drum. It was also announced that the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra will be preforming the world premiere of Kumulipo Reflections on 1 and 2 April 2017, conducted by Grammy Award winner Maestro JoAnn Falletta.