Waikiki Calls All Snorkelers

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - March 31, 2010
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Heather Hillard, Reef Watch Waikiki, and volunteers at the first reef fish monitoring training in February

This one is for landlubbers and ocean enthusiasts.

How many of you know the difference between a hinalea and an aholehole? Better yet, would you know if a humuhumunukunukuapua’a swam up to you?

Despite the fact that we are surrounded by the ocean, chances are most of us couldn’t identify many of our island fishes. A new volunteer program hopes to change that while providing important data for researchers.

“We want to provide education and outreach for our community - not just visitors, but our local residents,” says program coordinator Heather Hillard. “It’s really an easy way to learn about our marine ecosystem.”

Reef Watch Waikiki recently launched its new reef fish monitoring program. The first identification class was held in February with additional training sessions offered in March and April. Program officials say the first session held at Queen’s Surf Beach was a success. Volunteers surveyed a section of the Waikiki marine life conservation district.


“We’re focusing on the conservation district right now because it might be a spot for a future restoration effort,” says Hillard. “Eventually we’d like to expand down to Kaimana Beach and farther up to Kuhio Beach.”

The novice training session lasts about 90 minutes and covers identification of several fish families and their characteristics. From there, students head straight to the ocean for a snorkel survey, applying the skills learned in the classroom.

“We try to get them in the water right away,” says Hillard. “Some of them are really surprised at the amount of fish we see because most think Waikiki has a degraded ecosystem, but there are about 400 shallow-water species. It can be overwhelming to identify them.”

The program is a project of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program and is an official Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Field Station. The fish identification class uses a roving survey method developed by REEF that requires minimal training and basic gear.

“You essentially get in the water and do a free swim, snorkel anywhere you want, count what you see and record the species you spot,” says Hillard. “We eventually will expand our surveys using teams of volunteers who will provide detail like GPS coordinates, but right now we’re just trying to get people involved and excited about the fish we have in Waikiki.”

A volunteer uses an underwater log

“The fish ID training was excellent, comprehensive, informative and fun,” says volunteer Judith Tarpley. “I chose to participate because I love swimming in the ocean and enjoy identifying everything I see.”

“It’s a chance to learn something new and participate in ocean environmental programs,” adds volunteer Karen Rohter.

Program coordinators emphasize that no prior experience is necessary to participate, but volunteers should be strong swimmers, competent snorkelers, and have their own mask, snorkel and fins.

“We encourage some snorkeling experience because it makes identifying fish easier when you’re relaxed,” says Hillard. “But because of big surf during the summer months we may be more selective and do surveys when conditions are favorable.”

The next training and identification class is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13, at 9:30 a.m. Setup is at Queen’s Beach, near lifeguard tower 2F, and it’s absolutely free. And it’s not just fish. Volunteers will soon receive a crash course on coral and algae.

“Right now we’re predominantly focusing on fish, but we’re going to expand our survey to include other marine life,” says Hillard. “Again, it’s very easy and a very fun way to be involved.”

For more information on the program or if you want to register, contact Hillard at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for more details.


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