Archive for the ‘Marine Life’ Category

Conservation commitments

July 18th, 2014

Kai ceremony celebrating commitments to the environment by Maui Nui Makai Network. Photo by Sean Marrs.

Kai ceremony combining ocean waters celebrating commitments to the environment by Maui Nui Makai Network. Photo by Sean Marrs.

The Hokule‘a Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage received new commitments by members of the Maui Nui Makai Network on Wednesday, July 16.

In a kai ceremony at noon, six communities of the newly formed Maui Nui Makai Network pledged new commitments to members of the voyage at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The ceremony followed an hour-long presentation by members at the 2014 annual Hawai‘i Conservation Conference.

Kahu Sam Ohu Gon III combined ocean waters from each site as a symbol of shared commitments to community-based management of the six communities that make up an ahupua‘a on Maui. These commitments were recorded in a book that will be carried on board the Hokule‘a, which are to be completed by the voyage's conclusion in 2017.

Among the Network's commitments to one another:

>> Protect and restore healthy ecosystems

>> Share and learn from their diverse experiences

>> Help one another malama (care for) their areas

>> Perpetuate Hawaiian values, including kuleana

"We are a group of like-minded people who have shared aspirations to care for our marine resources," said Ekolu Lindsey of Palanui Hiu, current chair for the network. "The ocean is the foundation of our island culture and we need it to be healthy and sustainable. We are working toward sustainable reefs and fish for our future."

Members of the Network currently include: Kipahulu ‘Ohana and Na Mamo O Mu‘olea in east Maui; Wailuku Ahupua‘a Community Managed Makai Area in central Maui; Palanui Hiu in Lahaina; Hui Maalalama O Mo‘omomomi in Molokai; and Maunalei Ahupua‘a Community Managed Makai Area in Lanai.

Members of the Maui Nui Makai Network with Polynesian Voyaging Society president Nainoa Thompson. Photo by Sean Marrs.

Members of the Maui Nui Makai Network with Polynesian Voyaging Society president Nainoa Thompson, fourth from left, and Kahu Sam Ohu Gon III, right. Photo by Sean Marrs.

‘Opihi discoveries

July 5th, 2014

Scientists are mapping and monitoring the ‘opihi population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island and believe hybridization is occurring between the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Scientists are mapping and monitoring the ‘opihi population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island and believe hybridization is occurring between the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Scientists on a recent expedition to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument have discovered a mingling of the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi on Mokumanamana. The good news is that the hybridization means ‘opihi, a prized delicacy in Hawaii, may be more resilient against the effects of climate change and other disturbances.

For the sixth consecutive year, members of the intertidal monitoring expedition examined the rocky shorelines of Nihoa, Mokumanamana and French Frigate Shoals. It involved walking, crawling, swimming and clinging to rocks to count, size and record all ‘opihi around the islands.

The data collected will provide good baseline information to compare with data being collected in the more populated main Hawaiian islands, according to NOAA acting deputy superintendent Hoku Johnson, who led the expedition. It will also be turned into spatial "heat maps" depicting ‘opihi abundance, size and species on each island.

In the main Hawaiian islands, ‘opihi is is serious decline.

Scientists are trying to better understand their spawning patterns, gene flow and the rate of evolution of the three species endemic to Hawaii to better manage shorelines near populated areas.


World Oceans Day at Honolulu Museum

June 3rd, 2014

med_logoWorld Oceans Day is Sunday, June 8.

World Oceans Day was conceived in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and born following the passage of a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 2008. For those of us who live in Hawaii, surrounded by ocean, the day should have more than a passing significance.

This year, the Honolulu Museum of Art is teaming up with PangeaSeed to present World Oceans Day Hawai‘i — a multimedia event from June 6 to 12 connecting local marine conservationists with filmmakers, scientists and ocean enthusiasts. The Conservation Council for Hawai‘i presents the sea keiki fun zone 9:30 a.m. June 8 at Doris Duke Theatre for kids ages 7 to 11.

There will  be art exhibits, Sleep with the Fishes: Kozyndan and Olek (June 6 to 12, Honolulu Museum of Art School), as well as a film festival exploring the ocean depths, conservation issues and all the life in it, followed by panel discussions.


Check out "Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache," "Sushi: The Global Catch," "Revolution" (see trailer above), "Shadow Reef," "Sustainable by Design: Volcom Pipe Pro 2013+2014," "Malama Maunalua, "Mantas Last Dance," "Plastic Paradise" and  "Extinction Soup," among many others.

For updates, visit World Oceans Day Hawaii on Facebook.


Empty the Tanks protest at Sea Life Park

May 27th, 2014

Eight-year-old protestors hold up signs Saturday (May 24) across from Sea Life Park for the international Empty the Tanks movement. Courtesy Empty the Tanks FB page.

Eight-year-old twins Tristan and Aidan Smith hold up signs Saturday (May 24) across from Sea Life Park for the international Empty the Tanks movement. Courtesy Empty the Tanks FB page.

Local protestors took part in an international Empty the Tanks event on Saturday, May 24, across the street from Sea Life Park to raise awareness over marine animals in captivity.

It was the second annual Empty the Tanks event, with this year's protest represented by organizations including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, PETA, Ocean Defender Hawaii, Pangea Seed and Deep Ecology Dive Center.

EmptytheTanksThe movement is gaining momentum after the release of the documentary, "Blackfish," by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, which screened at Kahala Theatres last August and on CNN. It's amazing how this low-budget documentary has made an impact on people, prompting lawmakers in California to consider a bill banning Seaworld orca shows.

My first thought upon seeing the documentary, was, "Well, we don't have orcas in captivity in Hawaii." We have a multi-million-dollar tourism industry centered around observing Hawaiian humpback whales in the wild, with federal regulations in place to protect them. But we do have dolphins and pilot whales in captivity at Sea Life Park on Oahu. And dolphins at resorts for the popular DolphinQuest swim-with-dolphins programs that I've had friends and family rave about.

What makes that any different? I'm not so sure, really.

Before "Blackfish," another documentary (Academy Award winning) called "The Cove" came out in 2009, detailing the annual, bloody slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, where some are captured and sold to amusement parks. Former Flipper dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry is a convert, telling people not to support any of these programs. I think before "Blackfish," people tended to say, "Oh, it's those animal rights people" again. But now it's more mainstream. If anything, there's more awareness.

The thing is that people go to see dolphins and whales because they're curious about them, and from a distance, also, because they love animals. If these marine mammals can't go back into the wild and survive, though, where could they stay and how would that be funded? Philanthropical foundations?

Sea Shepherd crew member Deborah Bassett said in a press release: "I have been to the infamous killing cove in Taiji, Japan to oppose the brutal slaughter of dolphins that take place there annually. People need to make the connection between dolphin captivity and the slaughter, an issue that was highlighted in the Academy Award winning film 'The Cove.' The message we want to get across to both locals and tourists here in Hawaii is do not buy a ticket to these shows or support any establishments with captive whales or dolphins, including Sea Life Park. After all, nature has given us the great fortune of seeing these amazingly intelligent animals across our island chain; there is simply no justification for this type of enslavement here or anywhere on the planet in 2014."

Sea Life Park issued the following statement through their public relations firm:

"As a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, we are dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals in order to provide an enriching educational experience for our park guests. Our animals receive constant attention and affection, and the best food, shelter and veterinary care, including on-site professionals and world-renowned experts who are on retainer to the Park. None of our dolphins on display at Sea Life Park have been acquired through drive hunts. The majority of our dolphins were born in captivity through a responsible breeding program."

True, Sea Life Park, which has been around 50 years, does a lot of educational programs and has a green sea turtle breeding program which regularly releases baby turtles into the wild. I wrote about it once.  And once, a few years ago, I went to Sea Life Park as part of an Earth Day event after a beach cleanup.

But I think twice about it now.  What do you think about dolphins and whales in captivity?

Thanks, Kermit

March 9th, 2014

Kermit the monk seal with National Geographic crittercam mounted on his back at White Plain Beach in February 2014. Photo courtesy Barbara Billand, Monk Seal Foundation volunteer.

Kermit the monk seal with National Geographic crittercam mounted on his back. Photo courtesy Barbara Billand, Monk Seal Foundation volunteer.

First of all, let's say thanks to Kermit the monk seal for giving us a peek into his under-ocean life.

Kermit, an approximately 20-year-old male monk seal who hangs out on the leeward side of Oahu, is part of a three-year National Geographic crittercam project conducted by NOAA Fisheries. The camera was mounted on his back between Feb. 7 and 14.

Students in Castle High School teacher Dani Padilla's marine science class got to get the first peek at footage gathered from Kermit's crittercam in February. You can get a peek, too, via this link courtesy National Geographic and NOAA Fisheries.

While five groups (of about four students each) watched 30-minute video clips, the project will gather more than 200 hours of footage to pore through (swimming, sleeping, playing, eating). The students are enlisted to help scientists put together a short video to present to the community as well as to be the future voice of monk seals.

It's a great idea — taking science out of its "scientific research bubble" and out into the community.

"I think the main takeaway for my students was the first hand experience watching un-touched footage," wrote teacher Dani Padilla in an e-mail. "They got to DO rather than be told. They were not just having the 'facts' fed to them through the grapevine. Instead, they were the ones collecting the data and watching a monk seal pass up hundreds of fish before he decided to eat anything...."


Castle High School teacher Dani Padilla with students as they examine footage taken from the National Geographic crittercam mounted on Kermit the monk seal's back. Photo by Craig Kojima.

Only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals, known as ilioholoikauaua (dog running in the rough seas in Hawaiian) remain in the isles today, with their population in decline. They are a native species found only in Hawaii, and protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. The state of Hawaii considers the intentional harm or killing of a seal a third-degree felony.

Now, back to Kermit. You can't help loving Kermit when you see him. Monk Seal Foundation volunteer Barbara Billand, who provided the courtesy photo above, admits he's her favorite of the many monk seals she keeps tabs on. He's often found at White Plains Beach, snoozing in the sun.

"He's a very cool seal," she said. "Very laid  back, a gentleman."

Monk seals can live between 25 to 30 years, dive for an average of 6 minutes when feeding and eat a varied diet of fish, octopus, crabs, shrimp and lobster. They grow up to seven feet long and weigh 400 to 600 pounds. They can also travel long distances.

While the monk seals may not be keen about having these crittercams attached (who knows what they would say if they could?), NOAA scientist Charles Littnan said in a Feb. 12 FB post that the new technology will provide valuable data about their foraging behavior (more than satellite tags and scat analysis can offer) as well as their habitat. It also offers potential solutions for fisheries.

It can also help dispel myths about the critically endangered monk seals, one of them being that they consume a lot. First-hand footage can show, rather than just tell the community these facts. "I'm not trying to create love for the seals," said Littnan, "Just knowledge, with the facts."

Here's a great link to Hawaiian monk seal myths vs. facts.

If you're interested in learning more about Hawaii's monk seals or volunteering, check out the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page. If you see a monk seal sleeping on shore, do not approach, touch or feed it. If you see one in distress, call 888-256-9840.

Mother and baby whale

March 3rd, 2014

Capt. Dave Anderson of Dana Point, Calif., captured this beautiful footage of a mother and baby Hawaiian humpback whale off the waters of Maui during a recent trip in February. Stay tuned to the second half of this five-minute video, which starts with a dolphin stampede in Dana Point.

He captured the footage by drone – or quadcopter — during a vacation on Maui. The mother and baby approached his boat off Maui, says Capt. Dave, and he made sure to maintain a respectful distance while capturing the footage.

"Putting it together the way I did will, I hope, raise awareness of these animals in a way that hasn't been done before," said Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave's Dolphins & Whale Watching Safari.

Anderson, who produced the documentary "Wild Dolphins & Whales of Southern California," also says it shows the great potential drones can have for wildlife filmmakers. He's excited about the possibilities the new technology can offer.

"I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat," he said.

Three days after getting a quadcopter, Anderson said he was filming the dolphin stampede off Dana Point, Calif. He also captured some beautiful footage of a gray whale, but had a mishap in which he lost the quadcopter after it nicked an antennae and dropped in the water. Now he makes sure to put a flotation device on his quad.

There is also footage of three gray whales migrating down the coast off San Clemente, Calif.

On Maui, he said he parked his boat a distance from the mother and calf to watch them, spending pretty about a half day out there. A male escort whale was also out there, watching after the pair. He deployed his quadcopter (a DJI Phantom 2 with a small GoPro) four times — at 15-minute intervals each.

From the surface, it looked as if the mother was diving down and leaving her calf behind. From the drone, Anderson saw that the mother whale was just resting right under the surface of the water, with the calf hovering nearby.

"They were just interacting with each other in such an intimate way," he said. "I think the most beautiful part of that film is what I shot in Hawaii."

Anderson, a whale watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience, also warns others to only attempt filming by drone if familiar with whale behavior and laws. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association  is currently reviewing drones and their use around whales.

Learn more at

Saving Waikiki

February 12th, 2014


Volunteers are welcome to help remove three types of invasive algae from the reef behind Waikiki aquarium during public beach cleanups scheduled from February through October.

The Waikiki Aquarium recently received a $43,951 Community Restoration Partnership grant to continue its Waikiki Coastal Restoration efforts and research. The alien algae — Acanthophora spicifera, Gracilaria salicornia and Avrainvillea amadelpha — choke the reefs and crowd out native limu. They're considered a marine menace and threat to the beauty of Waikiki.

Beach cleanups will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, as well as on Saturdays, March 29, May 3, June 28 and Oct. 25.

"This grant allows us to further engage the public in our conservation efforts, which is a very important goal for us in 2014," said Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter. "We encourage everyone who has an interest in the ocean to join us for a rewarding Saturday morning out on the reef."

Volunteers will first  be trained on how to differentiate between invasive and native algae plants followed by hands-on removal experience on the reef using snorkels, paddleboards and buckets. Dr. Celia Smith and her team from the University of Hawaii Botany Department will provide the training. Starbucks and Diamond Bakery are providing coffee and snacks for volunteers.

Waikiki Aquarium's volunteers have removed thousands of pounds of invasive algae from the reef behind the aquarium over the decade in an effort to protect the native marine plants.

Other organizations, including Malama Maunalua, have also worked hard to remove invasive algae from Maunalua Bay (which stretches from Diamond Head to Koko Head) in East Oahu, with hopeful signs that the bay is being restored. Malama Maunalua also offers volunteer opportunities. On the windward side, a Super Sucker, a mobile underwater pump-vacuum, is used to remove invasive algae from Kaneohe Bay.

To voluteer for the Waikiki Coastal Restoration program, call the aquarium's volunteer office at 440-9020 or visit

A monk seal pup to start the year

January 14th, 2014


Monk seal pup P01 near his mama, Honey Girl (R5AY) on Kauai. Photo by Lesley M.

Monk seal pup P01 near his mama, Honey Girl (R5AY) on Kauai. Photo by Lesley M.

Happy news! We have the official birth of the first Hawaiian monk seal of the year, born Jan. 10 near Turtle Bay on Oahu's North Shore. Thanks to the Monk Seal Foundation for posting the video by Lesley Macpherson on Facebook.

The baby monk seal (P01) is the pup of Honey Girl (R5AY) who was rescued after a hooking incident in November 2012 near Sunset Beach on Oahu. Not only has she survived, but she's given birth! Monk Seal Foundation volunteers have been doing all they can to make sure both mom and pup are protected while educating visitors at the site.

Honey Girl beat the odds by surviving a serious injury, which is why the Hawaiian monk seal volunteers and supporters are celebrating. See this post from Monk Seal Mania.

Fewer than 1,100 of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild. Most dwell in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which you can now get a glimpse of via google maps), while 150 to 200 Hawaiian monk seals are believed to have migrated to the main Hawaiian islands.

Welcome P01. May you grow and thrive in the Hawaiian isles!

Voice of the Sea

January 4th, 2014

Learn all about the exciting scientific and cultural work going on in Hawaii and the Pacific on a new, reality-based show, "Voice of the Sea," which debuts Jan. 5 on KFVE.

World paddleboard champion and shark researcher Kanesa Duncan Seraphin hosts the show, which profiles local science and cultural celebrities while inspiring students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The half-hour show was developed in collaboration with the University of Hawaii's Curriculum Research & Development Group, Hawaii Sea Grant Center for Marine Science Education, with funding from the NOAA Pacific Services Center.

The first episode will feature Kimokeo Kapahulehua, president of the Maui Fishpond Association, who will talk about restoration efforts there. Seraphin also interviews experts from the Tara expedition, and experts on aquaponics, oysters, algae and volcanoes.

"Voice of the Sea" will air 6 p.m. Sundays on KFVE (Channels 5 and 1005).

For the love of honu

December 12th, 2013

Hiwahiwa, a female Hawaiian green sea turtle, has made the journey from Laniakea to the French Frigate shoals several times. Here, she basks at Laniakea Beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

Hiwahiwa, a female Hawaiian green sea turtle, has made the journey from Laniakea to the French Frigate shoals several times. Here, she basks at Laniakea Beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

I remember the first time visiting the Hawaiian green sea turtles at Laniakea beach on Oahu's North Shore more than a decade ago. It wasn't as crowded as it is now, with a constant stream of visitors. There were visitors, yes, but not the sheer volume that there is now.

It was magical to see these magnificent creatures basking so peacefully on the shores of the beach. I recall getting into the water as well, and seeing some of the honu feeding on limu on the rocks. I knew then to get out of the way, while still admiring them. It's no wonder that an estimated 600,000 visitors make the trek to the North Shore, park in the makeshift dirt lot across the street and dart across Kamehameha Highway to get a glimpse of the sea turtles, too.

The wonderful thing is that they do so out of curiosity and hopefully, love for the honu, too.

A small bus dropped a group of Japanese tourists off across from Laniakea Beach to get a glimpse of the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Photo by Nina Wu.

A small bus dropped a group of Japanese tourists off across from Laniakea Beach to get a glimpse of the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Photo by Nina Wu.

But they may not know that the turtles are a threatened species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and state laws. And they may not know that you should not feed, touch or sit on the turtles. You should also give them space (at least six feet) to bask in peace as well as a clear path to and from the ocean.

Thanks to volunteers from Malama Na Honu, the turtles are watched over by people who do what they do out of a love for turtles, too, and a desire to see them survive for future generations to see. On a recent visit, a little girl darted past the rope border and in front of a basking turtle to reach her father. Everyone gasped. Luckily, there was no harm done.

Whatever the state Department of Transportation decides to do about the volume of visitors visiting Laniakea and the traffic and parking problems they create, I hope the volunteers will continue to protect the honu, which are also under review for a delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

There are other places to see honu, too. If you see a stranded Hawaiian green sea turtle, call 983-5730 (7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays on Oahu) and page 288-5685 on weekends, holidays and after hours.