Saturday, April 13, 2013

TNC Super Sucker

Image by L. Stamey
     Earlier this week volunteers and staff from the Community Education Program were able to join The Nature Conservancy's Super Sucker crew for an inside look at life on the barge.  We cruised out to patch reef 15 in Kaneohe Bay to assist with invasive algae removal.  Vivian helped Samson at the sorting table while Mark, Larry, and I jumped in to collect algae by hand with Ryan.  Aside from the surprisingly strong and sticky cuvierian tubules discharged by an excited sea cucumber, the adventure was good clean fun.

Image by L. Stamey
     For those who aren't familiar with it, the Super Sucker is a water-based vacuum cleaner that is utilized for the systematic removal of the invasive algae.  The barge is a 33-foot long pontoon boat which is accompanied by a miniature 6 x 9-foot pontoon vessel.  Two divers, each armed with a 4-inch diameter hose, hand-feed the invasive algae into the Super Sucker.  The algae is sucked through the hose, passed one of the two pumps on the Mini-Sucker, and deposited on the barge's sorting table.  The algae is sorted through to remove and return any bi-catch that may have accidentally been picked up.  After being looked over, the invasive algae is bagged up and given to local farmers to be used as fertilizer for their fields.

Image by L. Stamey
     The crew of six: Jason, Justin, Ryan, Samson, Eva, and Hank can collect an average of 10,000 lbs of seaweed in a day, and clear the area of an acre in ten days.  Currently their collection record stands at a whopping 20,000 lbs of invasive algae in a single day.  That's a lot of limu!
     The main objective of the Super Sucker is to clear the northern part of Kaneohe Bay of the Kappaphycus spp, also known as "smothering seaweed."  This alien algae has been working its way up from the south end of the bay.  If the Super Suckers are able to remove it from the northern patch reefs, they should be able to contain the algae, preventing it from reaching the rest of Oahu.
     To help with this effort, TNC has enlisted thousands of collector urchins, Tripneustes gratilla, to keep the smothering seaweed at bay.  These little herbivores have proven themselves quite capable of cropping Kappaphycus.  To demonstrate their effectiveness, the TNC crew will be clearing a small patch reef, but only planting the urchins on half.  This previously tested experiment shows how well the urchins prevent the re-establishment of Kappaphycus on the area of the reef in which they occupy.   As in the past, small algae fragments missed by the Super Sucker will quickly regrow in the absence of grazing animals, causing a distinguishable difference between the two areas of the reef.  The evidence should show that the Occupy Patch Reef movement is working.
Image by L. Stamey
     Going out on the Super Sucker was an eye-opening experience.  Hopefully they will invite the CEP out for another excursion in the near future.  Until then, we will continue to emulate their work with our algae sort lab.  Luckily for both parties, we find way more invertebrates in our algae!


Leon Weaver
Follow the link for more information on TNC Super Sucker;

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