Friday, May 5, 2017

Marine Biologist for a day with Make-a-Wish

This week, the Community Education Program helped grant a wish for 17-year-old Destiny.  Destiny and her family traveled from Florida to visit Hawaii to fulfill her wish of being a marine biologist. Make-a-Wish Hawaii has been granting wishes to more than 12,000 children in the past three decades.

Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator
Destiny had the opportunity to visit the Holland Lab and participate in a shark feeding to some hungry hammerhead and sandbar sharks.  View the exciting video below, filmed by Mark Royer.


She enjoyed learning about different shark jaws and tracking methods used by the marine biologists at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology.

Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator
Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator

Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator

Destiny and her brother also conducted a plankton tow around Kane'ohe Bay.  The sample of plankton collected was brought to the lab where they met with our volunteer, Mike, who shared his passion for plankton and explained the importance of plankton in the food web and carbon cycle.  Next, the family was asked to draw and identify individual plankton that they saw under the microscope.  We saw a variety of species, such as copepods, fish eggs, worm larvae, zoea, and ascidians. 
Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator

Destiny's visit ended with a walking tour around Moku o Lo'e, with stops at the black-tipped reef shark lagoon, educational touch tank, coral research labs, and more. 
Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator
Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator
Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator
Photo by Abe McAulton, Wish Coordinator

We really enjoyed Destiny and her family's visit to Moku o Lo'e, and hope to help grant wishes to more Make-a-Wish children in the future.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stoked on Marine Science!

Post by: Cristina Veresan

A group of 7th graders from Le Jardin Academy visited Coconut Island earlier this month for an overnight visit to conduct marine field work. 

To visit the blog post, please click here

Raphael introduces students to the Gates Lab
Leon explains the "Super Sucker" barge that helps remove invasive Gorilla ogo algae from Kane'ohe Bay
Boat ride across to HIMB
Students setting up camp

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sponge Predation by Cowries

Opposed to popular belief, sponges do not actually live in a pineapple under the sea and do not protect secret hamburger recipes from evil copepods. However, we do know that they can often be found nestled in the crevices of coral reefs.

In Kane’ohe Bay, you can find a wide variety of different species of sponge along our coral reefs, but one of these species is of high interest to some of our researchers here at HIMB. This species of sponge, Mycale grandis (Orange Keyhole Sponge) (Figure 1), is an invasive species that was unintentionally brought into our waters as fouling organisms on Australian ships. In other words, the sponge grew on the hulls on these boats and then were brought to Hawaii accidentally. Around 1996, reports began to surface of this newly introduced sponge being found in the Pearl Harbor Bay, but in relatively low concentrations. Soon after, these sponges made their way to Kane’ohe Bay where they were found to have a much more significant abundance and distribution across the coral reefs, specifically in the Southern Bay near Coconut Island.

Figure 1. Mycale grandis, or the Orange Keyhole Sponge. Here, you can clearly see the
“Key Hole” pores covering the sponge.

In 2004-2005, scientists at NOAA performed some research to try and calculate the rate of growth of the M. grandis sponge and found that the sponge abundance increased by about 13% in just the one year. In the second year of research, they came to the same conclusion when they found significant growth at 7 of 11 observation sites, with the most significant growth still being around Coconut Island. This trend has continued throughout the years and can now be seen throughout the Kane’ohe Bay coral reef system.

So, I am sure you are asking, “Why is this important? What’s wrong with this sponge living on our coral reefs?” Well, good thing you asked! As with all invasive species, they create an unnatural competition with native species of sponge and cause a disturbance in the balance of the ecosystem. Here in Kane’ohe Bay, they can be seen growing over some native coral species as well. Simply put, M. grandis moved in to the reefs around Coconut Island and are making the native corals and native sponges uncomfortable!

In effort to stop the invasive sponge from spreading even further into the bay or expanding to other islands, officials tried to remove the sponge mechanically, but found that this method was too time consuming and not efficient as the sponge would grow back very quickly. They also tried to remove the sponge by injecting the sponge with air. This method was very effective but also requires a lot of resources and may not be the most efficient method.

This now brings us to the research being done here at HIMB. Our researchers, Jan Vicente and Andrew Osberg, are considering the possibility of controlling the growth of the invasive sponge by experimenting with Tiger Cowries. These snail-like creatures can also be found along our coral reefs, slowly grazing on algae and sponge. Our researchers are hoping to find out more about the Tiger Cowries preferred diet and if they will eat the M. grandis that is threatening our coral reefs. To do this, they are comparing the M. grandis to various other species of native sponge that can also be found within our coral reefs to see which one the Tiger Cowries prefer to eat. If they have an appetite for the invasive M. grandis, then this could be a big step towards preventing any further growth and expansion of the invasive sponge!

Post by Kevin O'Rourke

Bishop Museum and University of Hawaii–Guidebook of Introduced Marine Species of Hawai’i. N.p., 2002. Web. 2017.

NOAA – Assessment of Invasiveness of Orange Keyhole Sponge Mycale Armata in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii Based on Surveys 2005-2006, Year 2 of Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative. N.p., 2007. Web. 2017.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Building the Ala Loa on Kanaloa-Kaho'olawe

Last month I had a trip of a lifetime, having the opportunity to experience Kaho’olawe for a service project through Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana (PKO).  For those of you who have never heard of Kaho’olawe, it is the smallest of the 8 main Hawaiian Islands, located about 7 miles offshore of Maui, and unexploded ordinances still present a risk.  Access to the island is restricted, due to its long history of being a training ground and bombing range during World War II.   Military used the island to test torpedoes, bombs, projectiles, and other explosives.  This destruction continued on until 1976, when the members of the Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana filed suit in Federal District Court resulting with a mandatory environmental impact assessment to be conducted by the Navy in order to supply an inventory of, and protect, the historic sites of the island.  Surface ordinances were cleared from 10,000 acres, and soil conservation and revegetation programs were initiated.  On March 18th, 1981, the island was listed on the National Register for Historical Places. The Kaho’olawe District contains 544 recorded archaeological/historical sites.  In 1993 Senator Daniel K. Inouye transferred ownership of Kaho’olawe to the state of Hawaii in order to promote environmental restoration of the land and create meaningful safe use of the island for appropriate cultural, historical, archaeological, and educational purposes.

Kaho’olawe was named for the god of the ocean and the foundation of the earth, it is a sacred island that in modern times has served as the foundation for the revitalization of Hawaiian cultural practices.  Restoring the island will provide a lace for the current and future generation to rediscover what it means to be Hawaiian, and how to be stewards of the land.  It is said that you do not choose to come to the island, but rather you are chosen by Kanaloa-Kaho’olawe.  This experience offered me the incredible opportunity to learn and participate in the Hawaiian culture.  Being born on O’ahu, but raised on the mainland, I have always felt a deeper connection with the islands, and considered Hawaii to be my home.  That being said, only moving here in July, I have just recently been able to learn more about the language and culture of Hawaii.  Luckily for me, getting to go to Kaho’olawe was an eye-opening journey and I have found it very difficult to portray in words, but I will do my best.     

First off, I was surrounded by amazing, passionate, and caring people which made for positive energy throughout the trip.  Most of the participants were affiliated with Kupu, so we all had a common interest in environmental stewardship, and were all on the same page with the benefits of working hard to help protect the aina.  We spent three nights on the island, working to restore the Ala Loa Trail which will connect all of the ‘ili (districts) of Kaho’olawe. The goal is to have a path that will go around the entire island of Kanaloa-Kaho’olawe for the observance of the Makahiki Ceremonies that take place on the island.   
Enjoying the view from our hike

On the first night we all met at the Hawaiian Canoe Club, where we had orientation and prepared our bags to be transported to Kahoolawe the following morning. This required several trash bags and a lot of duct tape to ensure that water didn’t leak into our gear.  We slept among the canoes and picnic tables at the park, and had a 2:30 AM wake up call to pack our belongings into the bus and head to our  boat harbors, either Kihei or Maalaea.  We were cold, shivering, and a bit anxious, but we excitedly boarded our boat and were soon out at sea heading to our destination.  The goal was to arrive to Kahoolawe right around sunrise, where we would meet the zodiac which would drop us and our bags, food, water, ect offshore. We followed cultural protocol, and requested permission to pae (land) onto Kanaloa-Kaho’olawe as we approached the island.  We chanted Oli Kahea, and our leader responded with Oli Komo, granting us permission.  After our ride towards the island, we finally arrived as the sun was starting to peek up behind Haleakala (a beautiful sight to behold).  We were all transporting in three separate boats, and mine was the second to arrive, so there were already helping hands in the water to aid in moving our gear from the sea to land.  We got into a line and pushed our floating bags towards shore, where they were piled high.  Although we were anticipating strong winds and rough seas, the weather cooperated and we were blessed to arrive safely with a small swell; it was a perfect landing.  As soon as we walked onto land, the wind went still and I got an overwhelming feeling of belonging, it is very hard to put into words, but it was immediately evident to me what a special place Kanaloa-Kaho’olawe is.  The first thing we did when we were on Kahoolawe, was to gather in a circle, hold hands, and pule (pray).  I could feel the energy and excitement and felt so happy to be in a place with so much mana.  Next, we got into a semicircle facing the sea, and cleansed ourselves of any obligations or worries.  We then headed into the ocean and submerged beneath our waves to finalize the cleanse.  It was a very cool experience.  The remainder of the morning was spent unloading, setting up, getting situated, and preparing an imu. 
Setting up camp for the night 

Preparing the imu

The next two days were dedicated to working on the Ala Loa.  We woke up at 4:30 the next morning to pack an overnight bag, as we would be hiking a few miles to our next site, where we would begin our trail work, stay the night, and resume in the morning.  Before we departed camp, we gathered together and chanted E Ala E with the purpose of aiding the sun in its efforts to start a new day.  This chant is an opportunity to be grateful for the sun and appreciate how it rises every single day, without fail.  We all faced the sea, and began the chant when we first saw the sun, but didn’t end until it completely arose from the horizon.  The sunset was spectacular, with vibrant colors all throughout the sky.  The angle of Haleakala was beautiful, and the clouds made for an outstanding scene.  It was so beautiful it could spark an emotion and really make you stop and appreciate nature and how magnificent it is. 
Sunrise over Haleakala

The hike to Aikupau was gorgeous, and a little tiring.  Carrying tools, overnight gear, and water, we made our way and eventually got to our destination just in time for lunch.  The remainder of the day was working hard to build trail.  Some people went ahead and weed-wacked a path so we knew where we would be building the trail.  We followed behind with rakes to clear away small pohaku (rocks), and moved the larger pohaku to the sides where we would build a wall the next day.  The weather was great, a slight wind and a moderate amount of cloud coverage, so it wasn’t too hot, but it also never rained.  The second day on the trail was dedicated to making the trail more flat and moving all of the pohaku out of the trail, while building a wall on the sides.  The purpose of the wall was so that even if there was regrowth of vegetation, they could still follow the path.  Although it was hard work finding and carrying the rocks to build the wall, it really helped to have such a coherent team that worked together and we accomplished an extraordinary amount in just a few days. 
Beautiful coral reefs on the North tip of Kaho'olawe

Overall, my time on Kaho’olawe was filled with laughter, hard work, and amazing new friends.  Leaving was not easy, and I think I will always have an urge to return to the island.  As my friend and fellow Kupu intern, Julia Espaniola, eloquantly expressed, “Not any words in our human existence [can] describe the way Kanaloa-Kaho’olawe has made me feel. Thank you for cleansing us, as we attempted to cleanse you.  Thank you for accepting us, as you have accepted your history. Thank you for releasing us, as you have released your anger…Life is comprised of many experiences good and bad, but I can definitely say that this has been a service project that has changed my life for the better.  My na’au is shaking in fulfillment, my heart has exploded in purpose.  Thank you God for this magical, beautiful, abundant life!”  



Friday, January 13, 2017

Marine Debris

To bring in the New Year on a positive note, staff from the Community Education Program removed a 200 lb ghost net from the Coconut Island shoreline. A ghost net  is defined as fishing gear that has been lost or discarded at sea, and can often lead to entanglement problems with marine organisms and is a form a marine pollution.  In Hawaii, there have been incidents involving entanglement of humpback whales, monk seals, sea turtles, and other marine species.

Ghost net removed from Coconut Island shoreline 
Modern fishing nets are made out of a synthetic fiber, meanings that it never breaks down, rendering it a type of persistent marine pollution, similar to plastics which are often found on Hawaii's shorelines. In order to reduce the amount of marine debris that reaches our oceans, it is important to make an effort to recycle as much as possible. It is also crucial that we reduce the amount of waste we produce.  It can be as simple as bringing reusable bags to the market, using reusable containers during lunch, or drinking from a reusable water bottle.  When visiting a beach, make sure to not leave garbage behind. You can also participate in beach clean-ups in your area!
floating buoys keep the nets at the surface of the water column, often resulting in animal entanglement

Written by Lyndsey Tanabe

Friday, November 4, 2016

HIMB Shark Research


We are looking forward to our shark dissection tomorrow, led by scientist Mark Royer. The purpose of this dissection is to educate our volunteers about shark anatomy.  We also encourage our readers and volunteers to stay informed about the current research being conducted here at Coconut Island.  The links provided below are a great place to start. Visit each site to learn about the innovative techniques and technologies being used by the Holland research lab. 

Current Shark and Reef Fish Research

NWHI Predator Tracking. Photo by Luiz Rocha
The Holland Lab utilizes innovative tracking techniques to analyze the movements of sharks and fish.  Data from these studies can help with Marine Protected Area design as well as a host of other shark-human interactions.  Most of the research takes advantages of the laboratory's unique setting on Coconut Island, blending laboratory work with field-experiments to investigate the behavior, physiology, and ecology of sharks,

Click here to read more about the current projects being conducted through the lab, including NWHI Predator Tracking, Shark Ecotourism, Tiger Shark Swimming Behavior, and much more.

Meet the Shark Research Team

Click here to learn more about the research team.  Learn about research interests from lead scientist Kim Holland and Assistant Researcher Carl Meyer as well as the PhD candidates.

Shark Research Team Updates

Visit this page to keep updated on new research publications produced by the Holland Shark Lab.
Researchers tag more tiger sharks to track movement patterns off Maui


Videos From the Shark Lab

Video of  a sixgill shark equipped with an accelerometer and camera swims
back down to it's deep water habitat. (credit: Mark Royer, University of Hawaii)

HIMB shark study helps explain higher incidence of encounters off Maui

Shark Lab Publications

Click here to view a list of research published by the Holland Shark Lab.  
Black tip reef shark swimming at Coconut Island

Written by Lyndsey Tanabe

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hawaiian Swimming Clam (Limaria keohea)

File clam collected during our invasive algae lab. Image by HIMB.

The Hawaiian swimming clam Limaria keohea, is one of the most unique invertebrates found in Hawaiian waters.  It can swim, it can drop its sticky tentacles like a lizard loosing its tail, and it lives in a tidy hidden nest it has made out of byssal threads.   

During our invasive algae lab, students are asked to replicate some of the methods used by DNLR's Supersucker.  This includes sorting through the algae for any animals or native algae, and separating them from the invasive gorilla ogo seaweed Gracilaria salicornia.  One of the most spectacular species found in this lab is this Hawaiian swimming clam. A type of file clam, once pulled from the water it appears as an orange gooey blob, but when it is submerged back into the water, it gets lots of "oohs" and "ahhs" as it expands and starts swimming in rhythmic, mesmerizing motions.

The swimming is achieved by opening and forcefully closing the shell valves, ejecting jet-like streams of water from the hinge area to move forward. The tentacles may assist in the swimming and certainly assist the clam as it explores its world. Take a look at the video below.

L. keohea swimming.      Video  L.Tanabe/HIMB

File clam on byssal threads among gorilla ogo seaweed. Image by HIMB
The pink/orange tentacles are also used for defense. They are sticky and can be released to attach to a predator or other threat. A study of a related Limaria clam published by the Journal of Marine Biological Association of the UK found that the mucus responsible for the sticky tentacles is also distasteful to predatory fish. Nothing like having sticky distasteful tentacles stuck to your face and mouth. We don't know for sure if our Hawaiian clams tentacles are distastful to fish, but they are certainly sticky.

The prevalence of the Hawaiian swimming clam living in the alga around Coconut Island is very peculiar. These clams didn't start appearing in our alga labs on Coconut Island until around 2010. Apparently, it was a very good recruitment (settlement) of juvenile clams that year and they have been common ever since. Published literature suggests that this species are more commonly found in old coral blocks or under rocks, which makes their occurrence in an invasive alien alga all the more interesting. They have moved into a new habitat.

In the nest.  Photo by L.Tanabe/HIMB.

As students are pulling apart the clumps of alga, they rarely notice that they are pulling apart the clam's nests. The clams make the nests from loosely spun byssal threads. These are very similar to the threads that mussels use to attach themselves to the rocks, but in this case, the keohea clams use them to reinforce the sides of a burrow or nest in which they live. One study of a related Limaria clam, indicated that the clam creates thousands of nests in and around rocks and sediment on the bottom, suggesting the clams are actually creating biogenic clam reefs! The threads are a silky strong proteinaceous material.

Life in the alga - Limaria keohea embedded in the alien invasive alga Gracilaria salicornia. Video L. Tanabe/HIMB

Like other bivalves, file clams are filter feeders.  They use a siphon to intake water as they filter out food.  This water is also used to obtain oxygen for respiration. Perhaps the invasive alien alga, in a slightly murky food filled lagoon, is proving to be an excellent habitat for at least one Hawaiian endemic animal.

Written by Lyndsey Tanabe, M. Heckman and HIMB CEP Interns.

Donovan, Deborah A., John P. Elias, and John Baldwin. "Swimming Behavior and Morphometry of the File Shell Limaria Fragilis." Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology 37.1 (2004): 7-16. Web.
Eldridge, Jan. "Aquatic Invertebrate Important for Waterfowl Production." Invertebrate Natural History (1990). Web.
Gilmour,  T.H. J. "The defensive adaptations of Lima hians (Molluca, Bivalva). J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K. 47, 209-221 (1967)
Kay, E. Alison. Hawaiian Marine Shells. Honolulu, HI: Bishop Museum, 1979. Print.
Morton, Brian. "Bivalve." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.