Wish you had a reason to travel to Hawaii during Seattle’s chilly and wet winters? Then you might envy the Seattle Aquarium biologists who travel to the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island every winter to conduct annual reef surveys, a research project that launched in 2009.
Survey sites are located in both marine-protected and non-protected areas, and the surveys themselves are conducted with underwater video shot by Aquarium divers. After returning to dry land, Aquarium staff members count the fish in the videos, and the resulting data is used to determine significant changes in species diversity or abundance over time, and between protected and non-protected areas.
Coral reefs and their associated fish assemblages are threatened and disappearing worldwide. Monitoring reef fish and coral health stability, growth or decline is important for the management of these fragile ecosystems.
Although there is variability in the counts from year to year, overall most fish species have increased slightly over time the monitoring began in 2009.
A total of 27 transects were recorded at seven sites, resulting in almost five hours of video. From these, the following counts were made:
Shannon diversity index (H’)*
*Commonly used to characterize species diversity in a community.
** Surveyed during high seas, resulting in very low visibility.
Results over time
Both number of species observed and Shannon diversity index from 2009 through 2017:
Figure 1: Average number of species observed in transects moving forward, across eight sites from 2009 to 2017 on the Big Island, HI. *Site 5 in 2017 was surveyed during high seas, resulting in very low visibility.
Figure 2: Shannon diversity index (H’) over eight sites from 2009 to 2017. This index takes into account both the number of species present and evenness of species in relation to one another. High values indicate more diversity.
Up-close look at increases in kole tangs over all sites and years:
Figure 3: Kole tang numbers
What do the results mean?
The numbers of fish species observed on transects over time remained relatively stable with gradual increases over time, and with dramatic increases in some species such as kole tangs. Plus there has been stable diversity of fish at most sites—with increases in diversity noted at sites 3 and 4 particularly. In other words, this is very good news!
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The Seattle Aquarium’s Connections program, which provides complimentary admission tickets through a network of over 300 community partner organizations, was launched through the Aquarium’s work to be inclusive and welcoming to all—and belief that our audience should reflect the diversity of our region.
The program’s goal is to provide opportunities to experience the Aquarium to those in our community who might otherwise experience barriers to engaging with us. Through these opportunities, we aim to create authentic, mutually beneficial relationships that build trust among the Aquarium and our partner communities, and provide quality, culturally relevant marine conservation educational experiences to all.
One of our many partnerships is with Seattle’s Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), a nonprofit, multi-ethnic organization that provides refugee and immigrant women and their families with culturally and linguistically appropriate services while promoting inclusion, independence, personal leadership and strong communities.
As it turns out, the partnership not only furthers the Aquarium’s mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment—it furthers ReWA’s mission as well. “The nature of the partnership is really unique,” says ReWA Director of Early Childhood Education Operations and Volunteer Service Susan Lee. “The Aquarium really gets our mission and what we’re trying to do.”
For example, Susan found that parents served by ReWA were often hesitant to accompany their children on field trips, due to language barriers, cultural boundaries and other factors. Additionally, income limitations made it challenging for the families to visit cultural institutions like the Aquarium on their own. So ReWA and the Aquarium worked together to develop opportunities for parents and preschool-aged children to experience the Aquarium together.
The first such opportunity was in 2014, at the Aquarium’s Open House—an annual event which welcomes families who work with our Connections partners for an evening of exploring the Aquarium, listening to bilingual talks, and participating in special activities. After learning through post-event feedback that transportation was the single largest obstacle in getting families to participate, the Aquarium was able to provide transportation to and from the event in subsequent years. “That transportation assistance was invaluable,” says Susan. “For the underserved, just getting to the Aquarium is a challenge.”
Through events like Open House and other opportunities, parents can learn alongside their children—and also develop the confidence to chaperone field trips as their kids progress through school.
In another example, our beach naturalist program partnered with ReWA last summer for a field trip to a local shoreline, with educational, pre-trip classes for youth as well. “It was incredible,” says ReWA Youth Program Manager Emily Tomita. “A hands-on, tactile experience, and brand new to the kids—for some, this was only their first or second visit to the beach.” Adds Susan Lee, “The Aquarium has been instrumental in opening many doors, opportunities and aspirations for the families at ReWA, providing a sense of community and lasting memories of a fun learning experience.”
Seattle Aquarium members and donors, thank you for the support that makes the Connections program—and our partnership with ReWA—possible!
All of our divers have wish lists, but more than anything, they want to help you have a plastic-free holiday! Below, see some of their tips on how to be an ocean hero now, and in the future:
Diver Reindeer Lindsay wants a plastic-free ocean so that spiny Pacific lumpsuckers can have healthy habitats to live in! By choosing reusable gift bags, bows and recyclable wrapping, you can help reduce the amount of plastic and glitter that ends up in the ocean.
Diver Elf Katie would love everyone to be ocean heroes and help reduce single-use plastics. Since Katie loves to bake, she’s using reusable containers when she passes out her goodies to friends and family!
What Diver Reindeer/Elf Roberta really loves about the holidays is sharing gifts that keep on giving—to the ocean! Reusable items like insulated metal mugs and water bottles, reusable straws and shopping bags are some of her favorite gifts to give.
Diver Reindeer/Elf Kim can’t wait to dive with Santa this year, and spend more time watching our amazing rockfish perch and nap on blades of kelp! Kim loves to give and receive the gift of experiences with her friends and family. Join Kim and be an ocean hero this year by giving gifts such as special events or shared meals to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that may end up in the water. Another great holiday tip from Kim: if you are wrapping gifts, use ocean-friendly recyclable and reusable materials!
Bird and mammal team member Julie loves being green—from caring for plants to giving ocean-friendly holiday gifts. This year, Julie’s biggest holiday wish is for a healthy ocean! She’s giving handmade gifts to reduce the amount of waste that often comes with store-bought presents.
Join the Seattle Aquarium and be an ocean hero this holiday season by considering ways to eliminate single-use plastics!
Longtime Aquarium Aquarist Chris Van Damme joined forces with Associate Curator of Life Sciences Joel Hollander and Aquarium volunteer Eva Funderburgh Hollis to create a beautiful and authentic-looking piece of rockwork that was recently unveiled in our Puget Sound Fish exhibit. Below, Chris shares his thoughts about the project and how the process of creating the rockwork played out:
The inspiration for this project came from wanting to create some rockwork that mirrored the geology up in Neah Bay, which is where we do our collecting. In particular, I wanted some verticality and a swim-through feature that the fish could use; something beyond just a tumble of rocks against the backdrop.
I researched products with which to build it, started working with the material—and then discovered that Eva, one of our volunteer divers, is also a sculptor. Joel mentioned the project to her and she expressed interest in it. We met, did some clay modeling and discussed what we wanted to create.
We landed on a concept and I then built a spine for the structure. Next, we started laying Styrofoam—Eva glued it on and carved it down. When we achieved the shape we’d agreed upon, we applied the epoxy, and the product turned out really well.
However, when we tried to put it in the water, we found out it floated because there was so much Styrofoam inside it. We then had to remove the Styrofoam, which ended up requiring us to cut access holes in the base and chip and vacuum it all out. We then put it in the main exhibit area here for about three weeks or so to verify that it would sink, and to season it as well. We also painted it, with help from staff member Lindsay Holladay, to simulate coralline algae so that it wouldn’t go into the exhibit space without looking like it belonged.
Now that it’s been there a while, it has creatures on it—anemones and different invertebrates. It’s starting to create that habitat that we’d envisioned and it’s only going to get better with time.