Seattle Aquarium heads to the Big Island! Part 1 of 2



The Seattle Aquarium recently completed its seventh year of a research project off the northwest coast Hawaii’s Big Island: monitoring reef fish abundance. Data is gathered using a method similar to the one used in our temperate fish surveys: non-invasive monitoring through diver-performed video sampling. This work is being done in cooperation with Washington State University; California State University, Humboldt; and the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources.

Says Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson, “We are searching for shifting baselines, which are an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities.” Data collected has shown a steady increase in fishes in our study sites and has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.

Below, Dr. Larson shares her journal entries from the first three days of the five-day research trip.


Day 1: Tuesday, February 3


Arrived at our hosts’ beautiful house in Puako late last night. We spent the morning getting all our gear together and picking up tanks. In the early afternoon we were able to get our survey dives done at site 1. It was beautiful and we saw many fish that we hadn’t seen at this site before. Plus there were many juvenile fish of all species. It was a great dive.


Day 2: Wednesday, February 4


The waves were too big for us to access our sites from shore so no diving today. After we were shut out by the surf at Puako we headed 20 miles north to try our research sites at Mahukona. When we got there the waves were just as strong as down south—but what killed our hopes of diving here was the fact that the ladder that we relied on to get into and out of the water was gone. Two weeks ago the north side of Hawaii experienced record high tides combined with very heavy surf, and many nearshore areas were damaged, including our entry sight at Mahukona. Frustrated, we headed back to the house and spent the rest of the day preparing for our talk at the historic church in Puako at 6pm, which was attended by approximately 30 people and very well received, with lots of good questions and interest in our work.


Day 3: Thursday, February 5


Today was our day in Kona (about a 30-minute drive to the south of Puako) to dive with Captain Pete McCormick off his 25-foot Parker motorboat. We were hoping to be able to dive on Sites 3, 4 and 8. However the swells were pretty big and after we surveyed sites 3 and 4 in Kona, we tried to make it down to site 8 (another hour boat ride) but it was too rough. We’ll try to pick up site 8 again Saturday.

Check back soon for part 2 of our Hawaii research trip 2015 series! In the meantime, for details about the Seattle Aquarium’s other research projects, visit our website.

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