The emphasis of the Coral Reef Ecology Lab research is diverse and multi-faceted. We conduct assessments and monitoring of coral reefs statewide, field experimentation, manipulative experiments relating to local and global impacts to coral reefs, and conceptual analyses of coral physiological processes. Our applied research contributes to management strategies and legislative action. We frequently include students and interns in our research projects and conduct numerous outreach and educational activities.

Our objective is to continue the legacy of our pioneering founder Dr. Paul Jokiel through research on the responses of coral reefs to climate change and to perpetuate the long-term statewide monitoring program established by this lab.



Dr. Paul Jokiel  1941-2016

The Coral Reef Ecology Laboratory has a long and successful history beginning in the 1960’s when our founder Dr. Paul Jokiel expanded the small one room shack at the far eastern point at HIMB into the currently existing labs and offices. There he designed a world-class mesocosm facility that has been used for manipulative experimentation for over 50 years (see: Facilities) and conducted research that was in the forefront of the field.

Over the span of his 50 year career Dr. Jokiel was always well ahead of the times whether it was describing thermal stress in the 70s, U/V light, photo-inhibition, and dispersal in the 80s, water motion, monitoring, coral physiology, and, community metabolism in the 90’s and more recently helping us understand the impact of humanity and climate change.
040His contributions to Hawai‘i were frequent and extraordinary. He was instrumental in the diversion of the sewage and the prevention of the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kāne’ohe Bay. He developed the first widespread monitoring program in the state, the Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (www.cramp.wcc.hawaii.edu) that continues today in partnership with the Division of Aquatic Resources. His research and testimony provided the scientific data for landmark court decisions on reef destruction and water rights. Numerous legislative actions, management strategies, and educational curriculum surrounding the marine environment are based on his research and guidance.

The reach of this brilliant, prominent scientist also extended globally. He developed or refined buoyant weighing of corals, clod cards for measuring water motion, and CO2 dispersion techniques as well as other techniques used worldwide. His groundbreaking development of the vortex model in the field of biogeography served as a basis for later connectivity  work. Major breakthroughs include the well-established “rafting theory” that explains how corals travel long distances and the “Proton FluxModel” that provides us with a better understanding of coral metabolic responses as they relate to ocean acidification (see: Publications). His early research on tolerances of corals to temperature was developed as an applied science application that later turned out to ek_0013be valuable for interpreting major coral bleaching occurrences. NOAA and others currently use this concept as the basis in predicting thermal thresholds for global bleaching alerts. Dr. Jokiel’s models continue to guide and aid management and research such as the Coral Mortality and Bleaching Output model (COMBO), a method to predict different climate change scenarios, and the Ecological Gradient model (EGM) to determine reef “health” and compare Hawaiian reefs. He was definitely a man ahead of his time that understood the future of our reefs. His predictive models forecasted future climate change a decade before global bleaching events occurred. He was in the lead in research involving coral restoration, reproduction, dispersal, physiology, photo-inhibition, community metabolism, and local and global impacts on coral reefs.

img_0902The hundreds of publications he authored have been cited by scientists over 7,000 times. He provided exceptional mentoring to graduate students who continue his legacy at the positions they hold in higher education, federal and state government, and management agencies through the management decisions and research they conduct. This mentoring extended to those struggling with addiction in the 12-step program he was involved in for over three decades. He made a meaningful and lasting contribution to marine science and all humanity by serving a cause greater than his own. Dr. Paul Jokiel left the Hawai‘i he loved and the world a better place for us all. The Coral Reef Ecology lab continues his research and lifelong goals.

Five most prominent accomplishments per decade


First research on thermal tolerances for Hawaiian corals

Foremost research on freshwater impacts to coral reefs

Initial research on response of corals to light

Early key research on the effects of temperature to photosynthesis and respiration of corals

Development of the principal coral buoyant weighing technique to determine growth


 Development of tools to measure water motion

Planned hydrothermal power plant in Kāne‘ohe Bay halted

Determination of effects of sedimentation on coral reefs

Primary research on the effects of ultraviolet radiation on coral reefs

Development of the key “rafting theory” for how corals originally dispersed to Hawai‘i


First research on ocean acidification effects on Hawaiian corals

Original integrated statewide monitoring program established

Development of the principal vortex model of biogeography

Evaluation of abundance and distribution of invasive algae

Research on the effects of trampling on corals


First quantitative links between watersheds and reefs statewide determined

Identification of biological indicators for coral reefs

Genetic and grafting methodology comparisons to identify coral clones

Earliest documentation of Hawaiian coral skeletal strengths

Development of monitoring programs for communities


Development of tool to assess health of corals

Theory development for the coral response to ocean acidification

Foremost accounts of acclimatization/adaptation of Hawaiian coral to increased ocean temperatures

Evaluation of first community based management strategies

Evaluation of contemporary and traditional approaches to management


The Paul L. Jokiel Endowed Scholarship Fund

The purpose of this fund is to provide continuous support for undergraduate or graduate OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstudents pursuing a degree at HIMB, who are conducting research on impacts of climate change on coral reefs. Other areas of research may include coral reef ecology and coral reef monitoring. Funds shall be used for costs associated with attendance (e.g. tuition, books, fees, etc.) and/or research equipment, supplies, travel related to research, publishing or vessel costs, or conference registration fees and travel. The funds in this endowed scholarship are intended to continue the legacy and research of Dr. Paul L. Jokiel.

2017 Paul L. Jokiel endowed student scholarship fund recipient

Suitably, Stacie May became the first recipient of the Paul Jokiel scholarship. Stacie was an undergraduate at Windward Community College when she joined the Coral Reef Ecology Lab as an Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) intern. Her research was directly in line with the goals of the scholarship.
Her project entitled, “Defining coral thermal tolerance changes over the past half century to determine acclimatization to increased global seawater temperatures” replicated the seminal thermal tolerance research conducted by Drs. Paul Jokiel and Steve Coles in 1970 that formed the basis for all subsequent coral bleaching research throughout the world. This groundbreaking research on the thermal tolerances of corals is still being used today by climate change modelers and government and state agencies for conservation purposes. There was currently conflicting research on whether corals have acclimatized/adapted to increased temperatures. Therefore, this 1970 experiment serves as an exceptional baseline from which to study the current state of the same species of corals from the same environment at the same lab following nearly 50 years of increasing sea surface temperatures due to climate change.
This research published in 2018 in the journal PeerJ lead to a press release with the caption, “Scientists replicate landmark study to determine changes in coral sea temperature tolerance over time. In the three species of Hawaiian corals retested, bleaching occurred later, with higher survivorship and growth rates than the same species of corals in 1970. However, scientists warn that temperatures are rising faster than corals can change.” Over 15 media publications followed including the prominent media outlets Newsweek and Science Daily.

SL Coles, KD Bahr, KS Rodgers, SL May, A McGowan, A Tsang, J Bumgarner and JH Han. 2018. Evidence of Acclimatization or Adaptation in Hawaiian Corals to Higher Ocean Temperatures. PeerJ. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.5347.

Donations can be made to the UH Foundation Paul L. Jokiel Endowed Scholarship Fund.