2018 marks the tenth consecutive year that Seattle Aquarium staff members have conducted Hawaiian reef fish and coral health research along the northwestern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Follow along as Seattle Aquarium Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson recaps the experience.
Day 1: Monday January 22—arrival!
Landed in Kona at 5pm. Made a short stop to get gear totes and drove north about 30 miles to Puako, where we’ll be staying at the home of Mike Budd. Very nice place. We unloaded our bags and went shopping for food. Went to bed early as tomorrow we need to set up gear, get tanks and start surveys.
Day 2: Tuesday, January 23—first dives
Gear set up and tank run in the morning. The waves at Puako are 2–3’, which isn’t bad compared to past years when the surf was 4–6’. We checked the conditions and site 1 at Puako looked divable from shore. We jumped in and were able to get four underwater surveys done by lunchtime.
Puako is a fish replenishment area (FRA) which means there is no fish collecting for aquariums and fishing is limited to traditional methods such as throw and spears. The fish are doing well here but the coral is still recovering from a bleaching event in 2015–2016.
After lunch we headed north to Mahukona to get sites 6 and 7 done. This is an area open to all types of fishing and collecting but since 2009, when we first started coming here, the fish numbers are increasing!
Day 3: Wednesday, January 24—surf’s on our side
We have three sites done and it’s only our second day! Today we remained diving in Puako to survey site 2 and site 5 at the end of Puako road. The waves were 1’ today and that was great because both sites 2 and 5 are very difficult to dive from shore if the waves are 4–6’. Three times in the past 10 years we’ve had to dive these sites from boats—not shore. But not this year! We got site 5 done before lunch and site 2 done after lunch. Both were beautiful and full of fish!
In the evening we gave a talk to the Puako homeowners association at the old Puako church. About 20 homeowners attended our discussion about the Aquarium’s history with Hawaii fish, which we’ve been exhibiting for over 35 years; our plans for expansion with the new Ocean Pavilion showcasing Coral Triangle biodiversity; and the results of our research, which shows many species of fish increasing at all of our sites. We also shared the results from our first year of water quality testing, which shows water quality at depth where our surveys are is relatively good compared to surface water samples.