Monday, May 2, 2016

CEP: Community Education Program Interview with Casey Ching

Name: Casey Ching
Title: Kupu Americorps Intern/CEP Program Lead

What is the Community Education Program?
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology’s Community Education Program on Moku o Lo’e (Coconut Island). Its purpose is to bridge the gap between the science at HIMB and what it means for the community. The program allows the community insight and access to the facility through tours, outreach, overnight programs, labs, school programs and homeschool programs. Hands on labs and activities allow the community to get a marine biologist experience while spreading awareness about how it benefits the community.

“We really appreciate learning about the ocean. We gained a new respect for Marine Life! Mahalo!” – 7th grade class, Hawaii

“Thank you for giving us your time. In addition to marine life, I learned that you also study how humans affect the ocean. I was excited to learn about fish, animal behavior and the marine environment; I am thinking of becoming a Marine Biologist myself now!” – Alisha, Hawaii

Why should the community be excited about the Community Education Program?
The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology is an amazing place. It is the only tropical research institute  in the world where researchers are right on a coral reef. They can collect samples from the reef and run the entire genetic sequence in our state of the art facility immediately after. These are some of the best scientists and marine science on the planet. And the Community Education Program reflects this. These programs gives students and the public the opportunity to participate and understand the science our research institute. The program has an activity for everyone. Whether you are interested in learning the history of the island, seeing animals or learning how to do science.  

“Thank you so much for our incredible trip to Coconut Island. All six of us, grandparents, parents and kids – will remember the tour, the shuttle boat, sharks, sunshine and your friendliness for years to come!” – Mike, Oregon

How can a tour or activity be requested?
Through an email or phone call, inquiries about services offered can be requested.
Email:, Phone: 808 235 9302

“Wow! Yesterday at Coconut Island will definitely be high on our Oahu list of favorite memories. We were educated and highly entertained throughout the day!” - Linda

What is HIMB’s end goal with the Community Education Program?
We want to create a training pathway for our local students so that the become the next generation of marine scientists, managers and conservationists. We want the public to support them. Our Community Education Program strives to protect and maintain the surrounding eco systems, making them pristine for research while increasing interaction with the community.

“It was great seeing the children so excited and engaged outside the classroom, they loved every minute. It was perhaps the best field trip ever!” – Beth and Students, Hawaii

What is a favorite memory for you?
It is every time I see a face light up when a connection between local eco systems and the science behind it is made. The excitement that comes from the experiments during plankton labs, where students see the microscopic creatures close up is very rewarding. Also, being so close the eco systems provides opportunity to learn something new each day.

“A wish can be very powerful for a child who is facing a life threatening medical condition. It is a positive, uplifting experience and its benefits extend far beyond the wish itself. Thanks to your support, we were able to provide Annie and her family with memories that will last a life time. We truly appreciate your support to grant the wishes of as many eligible children in Hawaii as possible. Mahalo!” – Stephanie  

Interviewed by Miranda Chilelli

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Interveiw with Adam! Graduate Researcher & Student Resident on Coconut Island

Meet Adam, he is a graduate researcher and student resident here on Coconut Island with the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology. His main area of focus is marine mammal’s use of sound, their hearing capabilities and bio sonar. 

Adam | Graduate Researcher & Student Resident

According to Adam, “Bio Sonar is the emission of an acoustic signal and the reception of the signal echoing off an object in the environment. The animals use that echo to visualize their surroundings; kind of like seeing with sound.” 
He focuses on the Risso’s Dolphin; they can be found all over the world in tropical oceans, including Hawai'i.  The Risso’s dolphin is unique because it has a crease on its forehead. It’s the only species that has this feature; Adam strives to research how this crease could affect its acoustics. Often, when characteristics evolve on the head of a marine mammal, it relates to some unique feature or ability specific to the creature

Why should the community be excited about your research?
Adam’s research will aid conservation and technology! 

“The noise we create affects the ocean mammals. Humans don’t understand if too much noise negatively affects creatures in the ocean.” Through Adam's research we will better understand our environmental impacts

He is interested in testing untrained mammals.

“Measuring the hearing of a beached animal is a great way to get an understanding if noise could have impacted the animal’s stranding.” For example, Adam was able to travel to Philippines to measure the hearing of stranded animals. It was found that they were completely deaf; something that could have been caused by dynamite fishing. It gave locals insight into a growing problem.

His research can also aid military technology through the use of sonar. 

“Humans are nowhere near replicating the amazing capabilities these animals have, they are unmatched to anything we have today. The natural sonar of a dolphin is significantly greater than man made technology. Understanding these animals would open up a magnitude of opportunities for technology.” 

What is your end goal?
“Understanding why and how the crease evolved on the dolphin’s head would provide great insight to research. We don’t know why marine mammals evolved bio sonar. There are different reasons why certain animals have bio sonar, like bats for example, but humans have yet to fully understand marine mammal’s capabilities.”

What is your most memorable experience at Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology? 
Dolphins can see with sound essentially, and viewing their behaviors is amazing to Adam. 

“Watching the animals each day has proven how incredible these mammals’ capabilities are; and how much we still have to learn!”

Interviewed By: Miranda Chilelli 

Interview with Mike! PhD Student with University of Hawai'i - Research Associate Smithsonian Conservation

Meet Mike, he is a passionate PhD Student with a very important message about our coral and how successes can be measured as a species saved, an eco-system saved or human behaviors changed. Humans play the most important role in this urgent situation. We had the chance to chat with Mike, read the interview below! 

Mike. PhD Student with University of Hawaii - Research Associate Smithsonian Conservation 
 “Conservation means different things to different people. Any reason to conserve is an important reason. When we lose something from an eco-system, it is a detrimental loss to society."

“It is important to focus on small successes and the positive side to conservation because the negative is already widely known.” Kaneohe Bay is the perfect example of ocean recovery. Years ago the bay was in poor health; but efforts from the community slowly brought it back to better health.
Mike was very passionate about all environmental issues; from “a small piece of the rain forest being saved to an animal being reintroduced to an eco-system, any positive impact is a success to our environment.” 

We can change this urgent situation; it’s not too late if we can unite as a community. Our lives are connected to the ocean, even if we don’t know it!

What do you do at HIMB? How does your research affect the community?

Mike studies coral reproduction; the time of year they spawn and how this can be used to conserve the coral. Corals are the foundation for ocean health. According to Mike, “[coral] impacts, medicine, ecosystems, food, shoreline protection, economy and much more. In the last years there has been a significant decline in coral reefs all around the world. It's important to conserve what we have left and rebuild what we can.  It's in everybody's best interest, not just those who live close to the ocean.”

"Coral's are living animals, once they are gone from our ecosystem, they are gone." If we were to lose a specific type of coral reef that has the ability to cure a disease, they will be lost forever; along with the cure.

“I work to help my advisor, Dr. Mary Hagedorn, and our team to bank genetic material and chryo preserving so that there can be access to coral's genetics in the future.”  He strives to promote conservation; getting a single person to change their ways is a success in Mike’s eyes.  

“We can address this problem through changing the way we interact with the ocean. It is important to come together as a community; to bring awareness harmful practices and protecting certain areas of the island from over fishing or destructive practices.”

“Our interaction with the ocean is what will determine its health. Corals today are stressed, we see this through coral bleaching and sick corals. Our roles as humans are very important for the recovery of coral.”                                                                                                                                              

What is your end goal?
“My end goal is to understand the ecology and restoration of coral reefs, through natural and human causes.” He is interested in how a reef recovers; and how we can apply this information to help our everyday lives. Mike stresses the urgency of the situation we are in; but it is never too late to take action.

Most memorable experience to date?
Mike’s passion for coral started during a scuba diving trip in Mexico; he quickly change his area of focus from the study of reptiles to coral after discovering what seemed like an “entirely new world under water!”

“Seeing a coral spawn naturally was a truly amazing experience; it looked like it was snowing under water.”
Having access to the amazing coral at his fingertips, is one of Mike’s favorite things about HIMB. 

“The close proximity to the reef and lab facilities are ideal for my work. The biodiversity in Hawai'i is incredible.” 

Interviewed By: Miranda Chilelli

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Humuhumu nukunuku ā pua‘a

If you enjoy snorkeling around Hawaii's reefs, you have probably encountered the state fish of Hawaii, the humuhumu nukunuku ā pua‘a also known as the wedgetail triggerfish (formerly known as the reef or Picasso triggerfish) or Rhinecanthus rectangulus .  The name is sometimes said to be longer than the actual fish!  The Hawaiian word "humuhumu" means "to stitch together", perhaps relating to their geometric color patterns (1), while "nuku" means nose and "puaa" means pig, referring to their trademark pig-like snout.  Thanks to the larger than average distance between their eyes and mouth, they are fit to feed on spiny invertebrates such as sea urchins without being hurt.  The grunting sounds they create while feeding (2) or threatened resemble pigs as they they blow jets of water out of their mouths into sand to locate tiny invertebrates such as shrimps and crabs.

Reef Triggerfish locking into a crevice.

Their most distinguished feature is a double spine, or "trigger", which they can extend to lock themselves into crevices keeping them safe from predators.  Known for his studies on reef fish ecology, Dr. E.S. Hobson found that their main survival technique relies on not just their trigger, but on other reef fishes as well.  When large schools of fishes enter the area, the reef triggerfish will discretely crawl out of its crevice and not be noticed by other predators (shark, eels, etc.)  This is a common behavior among reef fishes that find shelter in small spaces, such as slits and cracks in the reefs.  

 The humuhumu's compressed body facilitates a distinct type of swimming called Median Fin Propulsion (MPF).  While a majority of fishes swim by creating a wave-like movement along their entire body, MPF swimming only involves the movement of the dorsal and anal fins keeping the rest of their body rigid.  This unique technique allows for greater agility, stability for feeding, and flight from predators.

A professor at the Univeristy of Toronto, Rick Winterbottom, performed studies in 1974 which showed only two muscles in their fin rays.  Whereas, Dr. Laurie Sorenson, a researcher under Louisiana State University discovered that reef triggerfish have developed 2 more muscles in their fins in the last 40 years aloneHer main focus was on their movement abilities and anatomy, coming across this discovery while working with the Hawaii Pacific University.  The efficient MPF swimming and fast development of fin muscles demonstrate a quick evolutionary scale for a single species.
Reef Triggerfish with its trigger exposed.
Triggerfish become very communicative when threatened.  Bethany Coffey, a Ph.D. student in the Tricas lab is currently researching this type of behavior.  Upon speaking with her, she explained that  reef triggerfish are known to produce different types of sounds which can be a pectoral fin drumming noise or a clicking sound made with their jaws. Coffey is attempting to better understand the function of the different sounds these fish make.  To do this, she is comparing the vocal behaviors used in aggressive interactions like those with an undulated moray eel. It is possible that the different vocalization types convey different information depending on what the fish is interacting with, but the data has yet to be analyzed.

Coffey's work reflects a study done back in 1968 where researchers found that the pectoral fin drumming sounds were correlated with stressful interactions.  These sounds imparticular were created when the reef triggerfish was being held underwater or in the air, while confronting an intruder, or when being chased.  This may mean that humuhumus produce sounds to startle predators and the drumming action is another survival mechanism to compensate for them being a relatively slow-moving species. 

There's a lot more to the Humuhumu nukunuku ā pua‘a than just being Hawaii's state fish!  Hopefully, in the near future we will read about Coffey's results and gain a deeper understanding on their means of communication.

Written by Nikki Estrada and Casey Ching


Pers. Comm. Bethany Coffey

Hoover, John P. The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. Hono lulu: Mutual Pub., 2008. Print.