When I think about Hawai’i, my eyes sparkle with thoughts of the beautiful colors one can find there. Colors that, to me, speak of health and vibrancy and diversity.
Take coral reefs, for example: The brighter and more colorful they are, the healthier.
But like a ’50s-era horror movie, alien species of algae — most likely brought to Hawai’i through the shipping and aquaculture industries — are literally growing over and slowly smothering Hawaiian coral in Kāne’ohe Bay, Maunalua Bay and Waikīkī.
What’s frightening about this kind of invasion is that coral is literally the building block of ocean habitat, housing over 25 percent of marine fish. Where there is no healthy coral, there is no diversity of ocean species.
And then there’s the whole “coral is fragile” thing. When you snorkel, for example, you can’t touch them and you have to make sure your clown-shoe flippers don’t whack them as you glide by.
So how in the world can coral reefs be cleaned of alien algae in a way that does the job efficiently but also preserves their integrity?
Enter the Super Sucker.
That’s right, folks, The Nature Conservancy is using a large vacuum to rid Hawaii’s coral reefs of this alien algae.
Here’s how it works: A few scuba divers enter the water with a long tube that they hold on to while they carefully use their hands to remove clumps of the algae from affected coral reefs. The algae is then sucked through the tube and onto a boat where scientists sift through to ensure no marine life was caught in the fray.
You can watch the New York Times video of Conservancy scientists and partners doing this great work in Hawai’i.
Not only is this a fascinating and innovative way to get some serious on-the-ground conservation work done, but it’s really working!
Over the course of several months, Conservancy scientists and partners used the Super Sucker to remove over 20,000 pounds of alien algae on a particular reef. After they removed it, they expected to be documenting how long it took the algae to grow back.
But the algae didn’t grow back.
The Conservancy’s marine science advisor in Hawai‘i, Eric Conklin, said:
We used the super sucker to reduce algal abundance below a sort of threshold level, if you will, that the protected fish populations around the island were able to sort of pick up where we left off, finish the job, and have successfully been keeping the reef algae-free for what is coming up on three years now.
Three years free from alien algae?! Now that just makes my eyes sparkle with hopeful promise.
(Image: The Super Sucker at work. Credit: Kanako Uchino.)