My first Kilo ʻĀina

Hello, my name is Jacob William Roy and I am currently studying plant biology and tropical agriculture at Leeward Community College. Outside of school I work as a conservationist, producing films and television programs to help the public understand how all of Earth’s systems interconnect and interact with us humans in our everyday lives.

For most people, the interesting parts of the ocean are the big things: sharks as big as buses, whales the size of buildings. Oceanographers on the other hand, are excited by the little bits: algae, plankton, organic molecules. The tiny things are of highest concern to us as a species because they form the base of the ocean ecosystem and when they go, everything collapses. The massive blue whales couldn’t care less about 400 pound tuna, but they’ll riot if they lose their plankton. Acclaimed oceanographer Sylvia Earle often says that “two out of every three breaths we take, come from the ocean”; most of those two breaths, come from phytoplankton. I believe that plankton will be key in any near-future attempts to mitigate climate change and thus I am highly motivated to learn all I can about them.

So with this on my mind, when I heard a rumor that there was a group of researchers at Leeward called Kilo ʻĀina, who wanted to study the plankton of Pu’uloa, or Pearl Harbor, as it is also known, they had me, hook, line, sinker. And when I had also heard that there was no published literature on the subject I was even more intrigued. I am attracted to mysteries.

I got acquainted with zoologist Dr. Anuschka Faucci, and biogeochemist Dr. Donn Viviani who would both prove to be invaluable mentors, walking us through laboratory and field collection procedures and teaching us to identify several genera of diatoms as well as zooplankton in both their adult and nauplii life stages. I found myself working alongside two other students, Melissa Martella and Manuel Diaz, whom I think are 24-karat gold. Morale remained high throughout our collaboration, even on tough days when we were exhausted from lack of sleep, or under pressure from conflicting personal obligations.

We were assigned to collect and analyze samples from Blaisdell Park, where the Waimalu stream meets Pu’uloa. Despite the U.S. military occupation of the area, the ecosystem doesn’t appear to have collapsed yet. The military in the U.S. is notoriously messy. Ammunition and fuel are highly toxic. Responsible storage and disposal often conflicts with mission objectives. The World War II shipwrecks at the bottom of Pu’uloa are still leaking toxic fuel into the water and even during peace time, live fire exercises and improper chemical storage introduce harmful contaminants into the eco-system. People fish from the park, but it’s strictly catch and release. They’re afraid to eat anything that comes from this place.

Once upon a time the fish here were so abundant and edible that they were exported over the Ko’olau mountains to La’ie, which is about as far from Pu’uloa as one can get, without swimming. Considering that this was done in a time before big rigs and climate controlled shipping containers, that means a lot.

Given this background, I was expecting doomsday when we collected our first samples.
Maybe we would see jellyfish, the cockroach of the sea. I was pleasantly surprised to look down the microscope and find that the plankton of Pu’uloa aren’t just three men on a fishing trip, they’re a whole damn town! We encountered such a diversity of life in the water that I would be stuck in the lab for hours, trying to tally up the numbers of each type: chaetoceros, skeletonema, noctiluca, copepods,
polychaetes, ciliates, barnacles, dinoflagellates etc. etc. etc. I felt relieved. I thought this project was going to be a murder mystery, but instead it turns out that Pu’uloa is still very much alive, at least in this small area we sampled at the mouth of the stream.

If Pu’uloa is an iceberg, then we’ve made some shallow scratches at the surface, which I consider a great success. We are improving our quantitative data collection methods and creating instructional guides for future researchers. We are quickly approaching a point where we can begin to form testable hypotheses about how the plankton interact with the local environment. I feel happy about being here on the edge of science, knowing that our work will save future oceanographers some duplication of effort and inform future inquiries into Pu’uloa.

We plan to commemorate this experience with matching tattoos.

– Jacob

 

Plankton! — Not From Spongebob

Aloha kākou! My name is Ryanne Gouveia and I’m apart of the Plankton Hui (Plankton of Puʻuloa) group. I joined this program because I was so fascinated by all of these tiny living things that I saw in an Oceanography lab and I wanted to know more about them. This program definitely allowed me to explore the biodiversity of the ocean that surrounds our islands.
Every Thursday morning, my group and I go out to Kapapapuhi Point Park in Ewa Beach with our buckets of equipment. We spend around 45 minutes there doing plankton tows and writing down observations and data that affects the ocean and our little plankton such as the weather over the past few days, wind speeds, salinity, and whether or not there are fishermen around. This data is crucial to our project because it can help us understand why we see certain types of plankton under what conditions. We collect qualitative and quantitative data. Yes, that means we count them! It can definitely be a struggle because they’re so fast and the love to move around. It’s like they don’t want to be counted! Because of that, I like to look at diversity. In our samples so far, we have found that the dominant types of plankton are copepods and diatoms.
In order to see these microscopic plankton, you either have to have extremely good eyesight, or you can use a microscope. Even though I don’t have perfect eyesight, I sometimes like to stare closely at our concentrated samples to see if I can spot anything out of the ordinary. One time, I actually spotted a copepod that was about the size of a baby shrimp, which I thought it was! After capturing it and placing it under the microscope, I noticed it was about 15x bigger than the copepods we’ve always seen and it had eggs that were already developing eyes. If you look in the photos, you can see that they’re way bigger than those round diatoms/pillboxes, when they’re usually around the same size.
Sometimes, we can tell when we are going to see a lot of pillbox diatoms when the water is green. Up until last week, we’ve only seen these round pillbox diatoms. Last week, we barely saw the pillboxes and we mostly saw Skeletonema diatoms, which to me look like a spinal cord. That was the first time we’ve seen these diatoms so far, and our samples were packed with them! They were everywhere and we were definitely excited.
One of the most exciting things I’ve seen so far was a “marine mite”. It looks exactly like a tick, but it’s microscopic. One of our group members found a green marine mite a few weeks ago, and I recently found a red marine mite.
I’m extremely grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this amazing program. Seeing the different things that we can find in our oceans made me wonder what else there is to discover. Looking back, I never actually thought about the many different living things that are in the ocean we swim in. My group members and I get so excited when we see something new and it’s always so much fun. This program has inspired me in many ways. As a Native Hawaiian, Kilo ʻĀina allows me to appreciate our land and everything that is within it and everything that surrounds it even more.
– Ryanne

Bones of ʻEwa…

My Kilo ʻĀina project is on fossil bones found at Kalaeloa Wildlife Refuge which is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service allowed me many opportunities to study new different types of things and also open projects up to future students. I was allowed the opportunity to study different types of fossil bones from birds, fishes, and urchins. The bones included came from legs, arms (wings), feet, spinal column and so forth of many extinct or still living species. My favorite part of this project was seeing all the different size vertebrae! They ranged from super small, to a very large one for a bigger bird. It’s crazy how similar yet so different the anatomy of bird bones are to humans.

 

I was also lucky to work with the vertebrate curator at Bishop Museum in cataloging the bones. These bones are now gonna be professionally logged, stored and documented and included in the research database of Bishop Museum to be accessed by anybody interested in them. I think this was a huge step to take for this project because I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s something new I learned and it was very interesting.

– Justin