Seattle Aquarium Hawaii reef research report

2016 marks the eighth consecutive year that Seattle Aquarium staff members have conducted reef fish surveys at eight sites along the northwestern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Below, Curator of Conservation Research Dr. Shawn Larson shares her journal from this year’s surveys.

Day 1: January 30, 2016

Arrived at the home of our hosts, Dom and Marie Addario, in Puako late last night after a flight delay and unplanned stop in Portland. Regardless we were ready to go by 7am Hawaii time. The weather was beautiful and the water was relatively calm with 2–4’ waves. We looked at Puako sites 1, 2 and 5 and the ocean was a little rough so we drove 30 minutes north to sites 6 and 7 in Mahukona. The water conditions were good and, as long as we timed our dives, we had no problem accessing the sites and getting into and out of the water with all of our gear—which consisted of full-face masks, communication units, reels and cameras.

Day 2: January 31, 2016

Today the ocean conditions are even better. Little swell and no wind waves. We feel very lucky because our partners in Hawaii, the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), have been unable to dive and do their underwater surveys for over a month. In fact they suggested we postpone our trip until the end of February. We decided we couldn’t do that because the house that we were staying in wasn’t available to us later and we just had to take our chances. We were in luck and able to survey sites 1 and 2 in Puako today. Site 1 is the turtle cleaning station and we saw many turtles there! Site 2 is the most difficult to access from shore and all of us sustained minor injuries because of it—urchin spines and twisted ankles and skinned knees. Even so it was a very productive and good day and we were well on our way to getting most of our work done.

One of many turtles we saw at the turtle cleaning station on Site 1.

Day 3: February 1, 2016

Today we dove with Captain Pete McCormick off his boat the Hapuna. We’ve been doing this for four years and it’s always a treat. Diving off Pete’s boat makes the surveys at sites 3 and 4 off of the Old Kona Airport in Kona a breeze. These used to be our longest surface swims, when we had to access it from shore. Today, there was a gentle swell and our dives went very smoothly. Afterward we motored south past Kona-Kailua to site 8 where the newly discovered Acropera corals live. We surveyed it for just the second time since 2014, as we couldn’t access it last year because of the high surf conditions. There were lots of fish but unfortunately several of the Acropera coral heads were dead. This is due to last summer’s coral bleaching event: unusually warm water temperatures in Hawaii caused bleaching of the corals and sometimes death. Over half of the corals that we saw seemed to be dead.

Over half of the corals we saw seemed to be dead due to unusually warm water temperatures in Hawaii, which caused bleaching of the corals and sometimes death.

Day 4: February 2, 2016

Our luck finally ran out and today the swell was too big to dive our remaining site, 5, in Puako. So we took it easy and swam around checking out site 1 more closely and prepared to give a talk about the research and our findings to the Puako homeowners association at the old historic church on Puako Road.

Day 5: February 3, 2016

Finally we were able to get site 5 done! The waves were still a bit large but this was our last day of diving so we just had to go for it. It was a little stressful timing the waves sets so we didn’t get hammered going out and coming back in but no one got hurt and we were able to survey all our sites. The last duty of the day was to give our talk to the homeowners association about our work and what we have found. We spoke for over an hour to about 20 interested Puako residents discussing our work, coral bleaching and ways to keep the reef healthy.

Day 6: February 4, 2016

This is our non-diving de-gas day so we can purge all the nitrogen that we built up in our tissues from our week of diving preparing for the flight home. To use the time wisely we met with University of Hawaii, Hilo marine biologist Tracy Weigner, a marine ecologist who studies water quality from septic systems and other point sources in Puako and the potential deleterious effects on the reef. Dr. Weigner and her colleagues would like to partner with us on both water quality monitoring as well as the sharing of reef data. It was a very productive meeting and look forward to working with our new partners.

Day 7: February 5, 2016

Today is a travel day and after dropping off all of our scuba gear we headed back to Kona to briefly meet with Dr. Bill Walsh with DAR to share our data and check in before heading to the airport to fly home. Aloha, it was a great trip!

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