Monday, April 21, 2014

Earth Day and HIMB Science Fair Award Winners

A couple of thoughts for Earth Day. First off, I like the comment I heard from Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods." He did a presentation at a conference I was at last year, then passed the microphone. Folks in the audience proceeded to share a wide variety of horror stories of  kids not connected to nature and how things are just going to keep getting worse.
Richard finished with a very telling remark though, he said. "If our children cannot imagine a future that they want to live in, then we have lost."
Last year I initiated some awards from HIMB to science fair kids at the State level. With Richard's remark in mind, I picked my winners for this year's Junior Research division. I  intended to give out only two awards, but - the kids were so into it and their projects so entertaining that I had to add another in.

Emily Aiko Kurth (8)
What Killed the Fish In Honolulu Harbor? The Effect of Molasses On Dissolved Oxygen Levels In Salt Water.
Malia S Splittsoesser (6); Pierce A Bivens (8)
Plankton Population Across Kauai
Brycen Kawamoto (8)
PH Effects on Halimeda Sand 
It was very interesting to talk with the students about their work. One of the projects did not come out the way the student hoped at all. Another got part of an answer but not all. The plankton mapping team was visibly excited about their project and couldn't wait to talk about it.

HIMB's Carlie Weiner and Dr. Judy Lemus also gave an award for the Senior Research Division. Their winner was Castle H.S.'s Sarah Wieble for "How well Batis maritimea and Sesuvium portulacastrum will grow in a static hydroponic system under conditions encountered on the Hokule'a. This was also a wonderful project.

Overall, these students all had very different personalities, they did not all think the same way, they approached their subjects slightly differently but - they all thought through their problems to the best of their abilities and - they all had great brains!

They helped me imagine a future that I want to live in.

Have a great EARTH DAY!



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Aloha to Keala - Groundskeeper Extrodinaire

Keala Palencia, our wonderful grounds keeper has moved on to Enchanted Lakes Elementary.

People were always amazed when we told them that we were down to a single groundskeeper for the whole island. That would be 22 acres of jungle, weeds and lawns that for one person.  The reason the island looks as good as it does is that Keala never stopped.

We wish her luck and happiness at her new position as Head Custodian. We will miss her!



Sharks in the News - No Neanderthals Here

Shark evolution has just hit the news and here is a "shocker," it appears that sharks have continued to evolve over the last millions of years despite the popular press stressing how "primitive" they are (actually, if they had not evolved at all for the last 325 million years, that would be much more astounding).   

What is interesting is that what appears to have evolved most visibly in the new study is a change in the way the gills and jaws articulate.

From Sci-News, Sharks are traditionally thought to be one of the most primitive surviving jawed vertebrates. And most textbooks in schools today say that the internal jaw structures of modern sharks should look very similar to those in primitive shark-like fishes. But we’ve found that’s not the case. The modern shark condition is very specialized, very derived, and not primitive,” said Dr Alan Pradel, who is the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

Basically, if the finding holds and the ancient shark is a reasonable example of what shark ancestors looked like (and not a one-off oddity), then modern sharks have gill structures and associated jaws that are quite different and refined from the ancestral "primitive' state, allowing, among other things, more flexibility in feeding - always an important feature.

I like this quote from the Science Recorder: “The best analogy I can come up with is this: It’s like comparing a Model T Ford with a modern automobile,” said researcher John Maisey of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in a statement. “They are both recognizably the same kind of thing. But they are completely different under the hood. We found the Model T of sharks."

With this new twist for the popular press, will sharks continue to redeem their image? Will they go from being viewed as primitive brutish eating machines that take out terrified fish, turtles, innocent seals and maybe small coastal villages, to thoughtful, evolved cosmopolitan epicures that carefully excise the weak and sickly to keep the ocean stock vibrant and healthy? After all, they are no longer "primitive."   Are we getting a better concept of what nature is really all about?  Let me know what you think.



You can check out more on the story at NPR -


Friday, April 11, 2014

Education Clean up

Part of being good island stewards is picking up after ourselves and keeping our corner of the universe nice.

I notice that all of our volunteers tend to pick up the trash and such they see on our roads - and this is much appreciated.

Yesterday Leon and Bruce (a new volunteer) pitched in a couple of hours to do some extra clean up around the Hawaiian Gardens, the Classroom and the Retreat. They cleaned gutters, cut branches and pulled old bits and pieces out of the bushes (including some old and broken up surf boards). It always amazes me what we find around here!

We will have more clean up days coming up if you are interested.

Many thanks!


Thursday, March 6, 2014

"A 'shark's eye" view: Witnessing the life of a top predator" - repost from Kaunānā

Aloha, Check out this repost from Kaunānā, UH's  online research magazine.

A “shark’s eye” view: Witnessing the life of a top predator

Instruments strapped onto and ingested by sharks are revealing novel insights into how one of the most feared and least understood ocean predators swims, eats and lives.
For the first time, researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the University of Tokyo outfitted sharks with sophisticated sensors and video recorders to measure and see where they are going, how they are getting there, and what they are doing once they reach their destinations.
Scientists are also piloting a project using instruments ingested by sharks and other top ocean predators, like tuna, to gain new awareness into these animals’ feeding habits. The instruments, which use electrical measurements to track ingestion and digestion of prey, can help researchers understand where, when and how much sharks and other predators are eating, and what they are feasting on.
The instruments are providing scientists with a “shark’s eye” view of the ocean and greater understanding than ever before of the lives of these fish in their natural environment.
Applying a tag to a shark
Carl Meyer applies a tag to a shark.
“What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean,” said Carl Meyer, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. “It is all about getting a much deeper understanding of sharks’ ecological role in the ocean, which is important to the health of the ocean and, by extension, to our own well-being.”
Using the sensors and video recorders, the researchers captured unprecedented images of sharks of different species swimming in schools, interacting with other fish and moving in repetitive loops across the sea bed. They also found that sharks used powered swimming more often than a gliding motion to move through the ocean, contrary to what scientists had previously thought, and that deep-sea sharks swim in slow motion compared to shallow water species.
“These instrument packages are like flight data recorders for sharks,” Meyer said. “They allow us to quantify a variety of different things that we haven’t been able to quantify before.”
“It has really drawn back the veil on what these animals do and answered some longstanding questions,” he added.
Meyer and Kim Holland, a researcher also at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, are presenting the new research today at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and OceanographyThe Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union.
Sharks are at the top of the ocean food chain, Meyer noted, making them an important part of the marine ecosystem, and knowing more about these fish helps scientists better understand the flow of energy through the ocean. Until now, sharks have mainly been observed in captivity, and have been tracked only to see where they traveled.
These new observations could help shape conservation and resource management efforts, and inform public safety measures, Holland said. The instruments being used by scientists to study feeding habits could also have commercial uses, including for aquaculture, he added.
Tagged tiger shark
Tagged tiger shark swimming away (Photo credit: Mark Royer, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology)
The researchers on these studies gave oral presentations about their work on Thursday, February 27, 2014.

Useful information re gill nets and box jellies

My friend Suzanne is, among other things, an ardent ocean swimmer and an impressive protector of the ocean habitat. A couple of her recent emails had information that I would like to pass along. The first is from Dr. Angel Yanagihara, a UH researcher on box jellies and their toxins.

She is trying to get the word out on a couple of important things NOT TO DO in case of box jelly stings (basically - do not use an Epi-pen - it just makes things much worse).
Her email to Suzanne:
From: Angel Yanagihara <>
Subject: Re: Photos Questioning the dangerous change at Hanauma Bay 2/28/14
Date: March 1, 2014 12:30:28 PM HST
Reply-To: Angel Yanagihara

Aloha Suzanne,

Thank you for your email! It is extremely worrisome that the public is potentially left to assume that there is an acceptable risk in Hanauma Bay despite the presence of beaching Alatina alata box jellyfish.  Thank you for the photos. Do you all also wear hoods, gloves and booties?

I am concerned that there are some persistent misunderstandings about box jellies.

1. The response to the sting is not an "allergic" reaction. It is not at all like a bee sting. The venom of the box jelly contains ancient pore-forming proteins structurally similar to anthrolysin O and streptolysin O, the pore-forming toxins of anthrax and strep. People are not "allergic' to these pathogenic bacteria either. Our blood cells are uniquely vulnerable to box jelly porins and to bacterial porins. There is no "immunity" or "resistance" - it is a question of the dose delivered. Unfortunately, thinner skin areas of the body will allow a greater dose to be delivered. Women and children have thinner skin. So if an adult man is stung over thicker skin a smaller amount of venom will reach the blood stream than a sting of a child over a thinner skin region, such as face or neck.

I cannot stress this enough. I am conducting studies now involving box jelly venom injection into piglets. The data clearly show as our human whole blood studies show that the venom itself causes a massive rise in plasma catecholamines - EPI and NorEPI; this is well reported in the clinical literature as a "catecholamine surge". Adding an EPI injection on top of that situation is like adding fuel to a fire. In fact the losses of life that have occurred from box jelly sting have almost always involved well intentioned EPI administration. My studies are not yet published but please be advised that the use of EPI pen is an extremely dangerous practice and yields no therapeutic benefit whatsoever. I am happy to share my unpublished data with local medical decision makers. A Japanese tourist recently died after a sting from the same influxing box jellyfish species we have here (Alatina alata) in Saipan. Emergency treatment included EPI administration. I conducted 2 field surveys this year off Saipan and collected samples to send to our phylogenetic colleagues at the Smithsonian. They confirmed the species off Saipan is that has the same lunar synchronized spawning influx behaviour as our species is the same Alatina alata.

For more information please see:

I have prepared a little flyer to summarize Box Jellyfish safety and attached it here as a word doc open for editorial additions. I would be happy to collaborate with  Hanauma Bay folks with them taking this information  to prepare a version under their auspices. I also attach here a print ready PDF of this current version.

Thank you for your strong community voice and leadership Suzanne!


Topic Two - One day, Suzanne noted some people laying what appeared to be a illegal gill net along a windward beach. Rather than approaching them directly, she discretely took images and verified the net, then sent in the information. The response from Ken Lesperance of the DLNR is informative.
Date: February 28, 2014 1:28:04 PM HST
To: suzanne

Aloha Suzanne,

Bravo for the detailed information and how you were able to obtain photos without detection.  The only way to effectively protect our resources is through teamwork.  That said, please be careful.  Your safety is paramount.  Many people I have charged with lay net violations were methamphetamine users.  Additionally, when you are in the water around a lay net, be very careful.  I have become entangled on many occasions while pulling nets.
Lay nets are incredibly destructive to fish, marine mammals and turtles.  If you see an unregistered or otherwise suspicious gill net, call our dispatch at 453-6780 as soon as practical. ...  Laws regarding lay gill nets (do not apply to surround nets):
No more than 125’ long, 7’ high (and cannot be strung together to make one over 125’)
2 ¾ stretched mesh eye size
Must have registration tag on all four corners
Can only be laid 4 hours per day
Cannot be at night
Must be attended every 30 minutes and completely checked every 2 hours
There are a few other restrictions, I listed the common, easily detectable.
The detail you provided, with approximate time and photo of the house will make catching them far more likely.  I will get the info to my supervisor and we will come up with a plan.
Mahalo for your vigilance (as opposed to vigilantism),
 Here is a nice image of a gill net - (MH)
Image of gill net from Honolulu Advertiser article on drowned monk seal pup and proposed gear restrictions from 2006

Monday, February 24, 2014

Check out the blog, "The secret life of whales"

Pilot pod
One of the short-finned pilot whale pods studied today. All marine mammal photos taken under NOAA NMFS Permit No. 14682. Credit: Leighton Rolley
 Aloha all,
Go check out, "The Secret Life Of Whales." I like this link as a way into this blog that follows a student led research effort on deep diving beaked whales. You may see some familiar faces from HIMB! Very cool.
And/or  for a couple of great segments. Click on the videos for each day.
Loading for the cruise at the dock in Honolulu. Credit: Jessica Chen
From Marcie:
"Aloha Teachers,
Scientists from the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) have been granted over 100 days at sea, spread out over the next 6 months, aboard the R/V Falkor, the oceanographic research ship belonging to the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI;  SOI is a private non-profit established to advance oceanographic research, discovery, and knowledge, and catalyze sharing of information about the oceans.  

In the spirit of sharing information and passion for ocean exploration, the researchers on the upcoming cruises will be blogging daily activities and new findings.  
The first cruise (Feb. 16 - 22) is the first ever student-led cruise on the R/V Falkor.  UH PhD candidate Adrienne Copeland is the chief scientist for this expedition which will focus on the feeding behavior of whales, specifically, sperm, beaked and short-finned pilot whales.  Read more about the cruise here: 

Follow along as the scientists share blog posts, including video and photos, on life at sea, what it takes to research whale behavior, and what they learn along the way.

Email me ( to sign-up your class to follow our blog now!  The first three classes to sign up will receive a class visit by the scientists on this cruise. Oahu-based classes will be visited in person.  Researchers will do a Skype call with neighbor island classes.