Conservation Oceanography

This past week marked the beginning of our second course: Conservation Oceanography with Drew Harvell and Chuck Greene! Drew and Chuck came to Wai`aka on Sunday night for a course overview, and everyone got very excited for a week of snorkeling. On Monday morning, we had a quick introduction to the primary invertebrate phyla we would be seeing in the intertidal zone and on the reefs. Drew promised we would know them well by the end of the day, but some people had their doubts. We headed out after lecture and ate lunch on the beach before exploring the Hualalai intertidal zone. Discoveries were abundant—sea cucumbers big and small, urchins that poked back, an adorable sea hare (photographed by Reyn and pictured below), sponges and corals—even a Honu! After tide-pooling, we drove over to Mau`umae for a quick snorkel on the reef. We learned some of the most common corals in Hawaii, and explored a little as well. On Monday night, Drew went over the work that we would be doing to collect data on the reefs and the resulting research papers we’d be writing in our newly assigned groups—our “pods”.

On Tuesday morning we ventured back to Mau`umae and practiced the fieldwork that we would be doing all week. After a quick practice round, we swam back to the beach, nibbled on snacks (9:30am felt an awful lot like lunch time all week!), and divided into three data collection teams. The “fish people” were to enter first, swim along three 25-meter transects set by Drew and Nathan, and record the number and type of herbivorous fishes swimming within 2m of the transect. Next, the coral and urchin teams set quadrats at 5 locations along each side of each transect and determined the coral makeup and urchin counts in each one. Coral people recorded cover by species, number of colonies, and disease prevalence and urchin people searched the nooks and crannies of the corals for hidden urchins. I may be biased, but Team Urchin definitely had the best job! Unfortunately, the surge picked up quickly and Drew made the call to get us out of the water before we were able to collect all the data we needed at Mau`umae. We played around a bit in the waves near the beach and headed home early. In the evening, Drew came over and showed us amazing photos from her recent trip to Indonesia. It was really exciting to see healthy, flourishing reefs and to hear about her research.

Wednesday was an incredibly exciting and action-packed day. We left early to get to a marina, where we hopped on a boat with our friend Denise from Blue Wilderness Dive Adventures and headed out on an hour long boat ride to Kealakekua Bay, just south of Kona. All 22 of us crammed into a hard-bottom inflatable, most of us straddling the sides of the boat for added adventure. It was a really great experience to see the west coast of Hawai`i from a new perspective. Kealakekua was crowded with snorkelers and kayakers, but we were able to get good data with time to spare for fun. The reef is stunning, healthy and full of life. It is located at the bottom of a massive cliff and is only accessible by boat or 2-mile hike. I used my underwater video camera for the first time, and it’s a good thing too because hidden away in a natural arch built into the cliff’s edge was a 5-foot-long white tip reef shark! Sharks are rare on the Big Island due to overfishing issues, so the experience was incredible in many ways. Although many of us would have loved to stay at Kealakekua all day, we were headed back to the marina in the early afternoon. But the excitement wasn’t over! About halfway into the boat trip back, we were blessed with the arrival of several kohala—humpback whales—swimming very close by. We watched the kohala blow, wave their flukes and breach several times, only a couple hundred meters away. It was whaley an unbelievable sight and a great end to an exciting outing.

On Wednesday evening, Lehua came over with bamboo so that we could begin working on kihei stamps. A kihei is an ornamental piece of clothing that serves as a spiritual representation for the person wearing it. We will each make our own for the Pa’ina celebration at the end of the semester. We chopped the bamboo with machetes (which some of us found far too fun), and carved out our blank stamps. Lehua looked over and critiqued our designs so that we could edit them before the time comes to carve them into stamps.

Our schedule was adjusted on Thursday due to dangerous surf conditions at the reef we were supposed to visit. Instead, we headed back toward Kona and went to Honaunau Bay to collect data. We had a lecture on corals and climate change in the evening. On Friday we were hard at work on our research projects in our pods. Craft supplies started flying around as we began preparation for Saturday’s Invertebrate Ball! In the afternoon, each pod presented their hypotheses and data analysis to the rest of the class. In the evening we gathered in the living room for a viewing of Finding Nemo to further our reef education.

On Saturday morning we got to collect one more set of data at Puako. The reef was definitely different from the others. The entry point from the beach was narrow, and we had to time our entrance with the waves. At first, the reef appeared less healthy than the others we’ve seen, but it ended up being very lively. We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to focus on our papers, but people were getting excited about the Invertebrate Ball. The Invert Ball was a classy event featuring the latest in invertebrate fashion. Everyone dressed in their Saturday night best as their favorite invertebrate. Urchins and jellyfish were aplenty. Some of the more risky costumes paid off—a nudibranch, a conductor crab, a flatworm, a Christmas tree worm. Others were off after 10 minutes—I won’t mention any names. Eric was a collector urchin, and spent the evening swiping parts of other costumes to tape onto his shirt. Kumu came as “marine debris”, covered in the trash that litters the ocean. The winner of the costume contest was Ms. Aubrey Coon, a beautiful bubble coral. Activities at the ball included “pin the tube foot on the starfish” and “musical find-a-spot-on-the-reef”. The inverts danced their vertebrate-less bodies until midnight.

On Sunday morning, we had our second Wa`iaka Field Day. The theme: Gallus Gallus Moolah. The costumes: chickens and gangsters. The mood: slightly confused. The highlight: In search between the dryer and the wall for a recently lost sock, PA Nick Lucia discovered a sock that he had lost no less than three years ago. It was reunited and Nick was ecstatic.

The chickens have arrived after a week of preparation by Kumu Alex and some helpers—they are simply delightful and we can’t wait for some chick therapy next week!




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