Researchers are seeing bleaching affect at least half the coral reef at Molokini Crater near Maui as a result of warmer ocean water.

Researchers with the Department of Land and Natural Resources on Thursday continued a monitoring project that has been going on for three years, according to KHON-TV and KITV-TV.

Division of Aquatic Resources special projects coordinator Darla White led the dive team as tourists from more than a dozen commercial boats snorkeled in the area.

“When we jumped in the water, it looked like a scene out of an early winter snow,” she said. “Pretty much everything is white or lightly dusted in white.”

White said she hopes tour guides are explaining to people that the whitening coral reefs, while beautiful, are a result of climate change.

“Conservatively, at least one half of the corals at Molokini are currently bleached, probably more,” she said.

She said the reefs are tied to Hawaii’s economy and culture.

“We’re looking at a future where warming issues we’re going to see events like this a lot more frequently. So, yes, it’s going to affect tourism,” said White. “More importantly, if a reef isn’t growing, its eroding and if we continue to see mortality, we’ll be looking at more and more less structure out there. It turns a three dimensional habitat into a two dimension habitat.”

People can help, White says, by changing everyday habits to reduce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Photo Credit: A diver at the Molokini reef in 2008. LuxTonnerre / Flickr