|This anchialine pond is miles away from the nearest paved road or residence but tilapia has been introduced and opae-ula cannot thrive. Note the round breeding nests typical of tilapia. Once the tilapia are removed with rotenone, the opae-ula will quickly return! But for maximum opae-ula production, it will still be necessary to remove the accumulated bottom silt from ponds like this.|
Since Queen Kaahumanu Highway opened 30 years ago, over 95% of West Hawaii anchialine
ponds no longer produce opae-ula, the Red Hawaiian Anchialine Pond Shrimp (Halocaridina
rubra). Ponds were filled in as roads, resorts, and residences were built. Others were
converted to beautiful landscaped ponds stocked with colorful koi. But much can be done
with the remaining ponds in spite of being taken over by exotic predator fish, being
filled with silt, and with vegetation encroaching.
Bottom silt build-up and encroaching vegetation are part of an evolutionary geologic progression, that if not addressed, will eventually end with the ponds being filled and being totally covered with vegetation. Human intervention to return the ponds to an earlier state will require a significant amount of effort. There have been demonstrations of commitments by schools and community groups.
However, without an effective means of first removing the exotic predator fish, their efforts are doomed and will result in disillusionment and frustration. This report will focus primarily on the removal of the exotic predator fish.
|THE ENDANGERED OPAE-ULA ISSUE
When I first became interested in opae-ula, I read that they were endangered. But I
was quickly set straight that the reduction in number of opae-ula are due to loss of
habitat due to ponds being filled with silt as part of a natural geologic evolution, ponds
being filled for development, and ponds not able to support opae-ula due to introduction
of exotic predators. Development will continue and ponds will continue to fill with silt
and cease to exist.
But opae-ula will continue in the watertable, in pristine and restored ponds, and in mass culture reproduction facilities being developed by pioneers of a new Hawaiian niche export industry. I cite Mauna Lani and Hualalai as two exemplary Big Island examples of sensitive and responsible development.
When Mauna Lani was first built, they took over one year to remove over 15' of silt from their large fish ponds. They were able to use rotenone very effectively to clear the exotic predators in the years before the current ban went into effect and today opae-ula flourish. As an alternative to removing the predators because of the ban on rotenone, they recommended digging holes. I thought they were kidding! On a Friday afternoon, they dug a hole for planting a coconut tree. On Monday they came back to find the hole partially filled with water and opae-ula. Opae-ula are alive and well in the water table.
At the Four Seasons at Hualalai, in the years before rotenone was banned and while the resort was being built, existing ponds were also effectively cleared of predator fish and opae-ula immediately returned. In addition, Hualalai also created new ponds and after water seeped in and filled the man-made ponds, opae-ula quickly colonized the ponds.
The same thing happened when ponds were created at Waikoloa and in Kapoho in East Hawaii. The Chinaman Hat blast crater on Kaaholawe was formed when 500 tons of explosives were set off and opae-ula colonized that too. Opae-ula continues to be pumped up with brackish water.
With more interest opae-ula are being discovered where they were not previously known. It is very clear that opae-ula are very well established in the water table of Maui and the Big Island. It is very, very, likely they are in the water tables of other islands. Opae-ula are not endangered, but there would be a shortage if demand exceeds supply.
|SHARED COMMON INTERESTS
It's not often that the interest of entrepreneurs, educators, conservationists, and
pond owners are aligned, but "restoring the anchialine ponds" is such a
It would not be prudent to make substantial investment to build a major aquaculture export niche industry if stocks of opae-ula broodstock for the mass culture facilities are impossible to obtain. Captive breeding is costly and slow and may be only marginally feasible if they are sold and exported as cheap commodities. But it is very feasible to grow them by captive breeding if they are a component in high-standard value-added products.
Those grown and raised by our captive breeding methods are larger, very tame, and are more suitable for the "interactive pets" that we promote. Entrepreneurs would be marginalized or subject to criticism for initially depleting the stocks. But if as many anchialine ponds as possible are restored, there will be an abundance of opae-ula!
Educators are excited about opae-ula units as teaching tools. Fuku-Bonsai recently introduced its Educational Breeder Tank and is getting strong response. Opae-ula units are significantly more interesting than brine shrimp (sea monkeys) or daphnia-moina (water fleas) in the teaching of many subjects to students of all ages. On conservation-oriented Big Island, it would be an exciting field trip if the anchialine ponds are restored. In West Hawaii, schools are actively studying the anchialine ponds but are frustrated when fish have been introduced into their study ponds or when they can participate in exciting pond restoration projects that cannot be completed because the predator fish cannot legally be removed!
The Big Island's well respected Kohanaiki Ohana has lead the battle to protect the rights of indigenous Hawaiians, preservation of archeological sites, and to prudently plan to improve the community lifestyle. In 2000, Kohanaiki Ohana received national recognition and the Kohanaiki Anchialine Pond Restoration Project was designated a "Five Star Restoration Site" by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Association of Counties, Wildlife Habitat Council, National Association of Service and Conservation Corps., and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2002, Kaapikapika Angel Pilago of the Kohanaiki Ohana received the National Wetlands Award for his role and leadership in organizing the effort.
Kohanaiki adjoins the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park and the Kohanaiki Ohana generating very broad community support. They were handicapped by the ban against using rotenone. In the past year, Hawaii County and the owner of the Kohanaiki property has entered into an agreement in principle that will eventually turn much of the ocean access region into a public park and their work continues to ensure protection of the wetland area. Their efforts have created a strong conservation ethic throughout the community.
It is very likely that those who participated at Kohanaiki or have been inspired by their efforts could lead or participate in restoring the smaller anchialine ponds that host opae-ula. There is sufficient knowledge in the community to identify those ponds that are connected so all are treated at the same time. There is also knowledge of which ponds have direct connections to the ocean that should not be treated. There are knowledgeable resource individuals that will lead this effort and acknowledgement that even when rotenone is approved, that it be applied only by those with the permits and/or authority to do so.
If you typed in "anchialine ponds" into any of the Internet search engines, you can very quickly see the educational and conservation interest and concerns. In focusing upon successful restoration of the anchialine ponds, Hawaii conservationists will be able to make significant public contributions and educators will be able to effectively teach valuable Hawaiian cultural lessons to our youth. The spirit of Hawaii must have a large important place in our lives if we are to preserve and enjoy our Hawaiian values and lifestyle!!
Private pond owners like Mauna Lani and Hualalai have created precedents and there are owners of smaller private ponds that want the predator fish to be removed so opae-ula will return to their ponds. Once they do so, these owners could be able to become components of an opae-ula industry. They can also be an exciting part of Big Island eco-tourism.
Many who visit Hawaii are attracted by the beauty and uniqueness of Hawaii and the prominence of natural earth sciences. They know that Hawaii has many unique and endangered species and that Hawaii has established a reputation in conservation and malama aina . . . caring for the land. Restoring the anchialine ponds would contribute to many eco-tourism opportunities.
There are growing community awareness and concerns that the anchialine ponds
are not as they should be. West Hawaii expressed opposition to commercial collection of
ocean fish for marine aquariums as they saw stocks being noticeably depleted. They
rightfully considered the ocean as part of the public domain. Eventually a solution was
put into place and it is probably the best possible solution as uniformly no one interest
group is satisfied or happy.
But there is little or no disagreement by all parties regarding the inland anchialine ponds that are mostly on privately owned lands. Less than 10% are on public lands. Private landowners have the right to decide whether to turn them into beautifully landscaped fish ponds featuring colorful koi, into aquaculture ponds for growing mullet, tilapia or other fish, or restored to their original natural state in which opae-ula are allowed to grow.
There is little or no opposition to private owners developing sustainable harvesting plans to supply the opae-ula industry being formed. School and community groups have already attempted to restore anchialine ponds that are on public, institutional or cooperating private lands. But efforts on both public and private lands are being stifled due to the restriction on the use of rotenone by the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) or Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR), or both.
Increasingly, government is being perceived as being a major part of the problem as well as the roadblock to resolving the problem. The community views rotenone as the preferred solution and is very distrustful of other proposed chemicals that have been suggested for use. Rotenone formerly was authorized for use under a limited research exemption and it proved very effective when applied by those with the proper knowledge. If a correctly calculated amount was applied, all unwanted fish were killed and removed. Within two days, the opae-ula returned!
There is widespread public confidence and support for Dr. Richard Brock and Sarah Peck of UH-Sea Grant Extension and others. Dr. Brock is well-known for his expertise in anchialine ponds. He has done most of the pond surveys and is the manager of the Waikoloa Anchialine Pond Preservation Area. Sarah Peck is known for having had a grant to restore an anchialine pond, was prevented from using rotenone, obtained extensions, but eventually was forced to give up the grant.
Several years ago, a court decision effectively removed the research exemption that
permitted the use of rotenone. In 2002 the Hawaii Legislature amended the Revised Laws of
Hawaii Section 187 A-6 pertaining to Special Activity Permits. It authorized the
Department of Land and Natural Resources to use chemicals for the removal of aquatic
species in accordance with established procedures and with the proper training to ensure
that the intended results are achieved. As currently interpreted, only DLNR is so
However, the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) must submit and obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval of the chemicals to be used to comply with the Clean Water Act. Currently, DOH is preparing to submit a list of pesticides to EPA that includes rotenone. While there may be some economy in making a submittal of a number of chemicals, there is concern that the community is not familiar with many or most of them.
DOH believes that Dr. Brock, those associated with UH-Sea Grant, and others can be authorized to apply rotenone and will seek a legal opinion. If the current statutes prohibit them, amending legislation will be introduced next year to allow these and other knowledgeable and respected individuals to play leadership roles in the future.
Rotenone is created from natural materials and very quickly degrades when exposed to sunlight. It has been used extensively and effectively in Hawaii in the past, specifically in removing exotic predator fish from anchialine ponds. There is a body of knowledgeable individuals who have intimate knowledge and there were no negative results. Rotenone has been approved by EPA and is used extensively throughout the continental United States.
If there were a choice, no chemical use would be preferred. But our current choice is only
whether rotenone should be used or do nothing and allow the exotic fish to remain.
Knowing how and why the fish are in the anchialine ponds will add light to this discussion. Big Islanders are concerned that the anchialine ponds are being degraded primarily due to lack of knowledge and that an educational program is also needed. While researching this issue, the following were suggested:
1. Mexican mollies were imported to substitute for diminishing stocks of the native nehu, which is used by aku boats to keep schools of aku nearby. Unfortunately, some varieties of Mexican mollies tend to swim away from the boat and importation and stocking into anchialine ponds are now perceived to have been a mistake.
2. Tilapia were probably introduced with the hope of one day being able to harvest. But tilapia quickly ate available algae and vegetation and without supplemental feeding, only small amounts of stunted fish are seen.
3. It is believed that much of the mosquito fish and guppies have been introduced by well-meaning individuals and the Vector Control Division of the Department of Health who may be following mandates appropriate for Oahu but are frustratingly counter-productive in Big Island anchialine ponds.
4. With ocean access, fishermen are believed to have thrown leftover baitfish or shrimp into the anchialine ponds.
Regardless of the merits of each of these fish, the community feels they should have a right to decide whether the exotic predator fish should be allowed to stay on public lands and there seems to be overwhelming support for removal. In all research to date, I have not yet found any individual who fears that the potential negative impact of rotenone is significant enough that the exotic fish should remain in the ponds on public land. There is an overwhelming consensus that a private landowner that wishes to remove exotic fish from private ponds should be allowed to do so, but that the rotenone be applied only by an authorized knowledgeable person.
My primary and only recommendation is for DOH
to submit only rotenone for approval as it is very widely accepted and has already been
approved by EPA many times in the past. It is unlikely that any community member will
oppose having rotenone approved due to knowledge of past history. Such a strategy will be
roundly supported and it offers the most expedient route for the earliest possible
approval of rotenone.
Removing the exotic fish is the priority and rotenone is the only vehicle that has a clear consensus and successful past track record. If over 95% of the ponds are so affected, it is necessary to act expeditiously and this justifies initially submitting only rotenone for EPA approval with other more controversial pesticides to be reviewed later.
It is likely that many of the other chemicals may not have been used in Hawaiian-type situations and the EPA will take a lengthy time before an entire list is approved. Until, unless, and even if extensive information is provided about the other possible chemicals to be submitted is made public, it is very likely that there will be significant community opposition as there is a strong concern that chemicals do not leach into the near shore reefs.
In putting together this report and recommendation to the Department of Health and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, I act as an individual and officer of a private community-oriented company. I have made known my activities to lead the formation of an opae-ula industry as I believe it is an amazing creature that can be a wonderful pet and a major tool to teach biology, science, conservation, and environment. When fed, opae-ula are happy, healthy active pets whose sociable personalities will make them another beloved symbol of Hawaii.
Opae-ula can be harvested with conservation-oriented sustainability. They reproduce in sufficient numbers and the population of a pond is limited by the amount of food available. If none are harvested, it is believed that the reproduction rate is sufficient to just replace those that die of old age. But, if a sustainable percentage is harvested, the additional food available to the remaining population allows a population increase.
Within 4-6 months, it is believed that the population will be on balance again. Some private ponds are already being harvested on a sustainable basis and other private owners would like the opportunity to rid their ponds of exotic fish to be able to participate in developing a Hawaiian opae-ula industry. Pond production is a cost-effective alternative to mass cultural facilities.
In researching this report, I contacted and had discussions with individuals in Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii Department of Health, Sea Grant, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, US Fish & Wildlife, USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and other agencies, as well as many individuals who are assisting Fuku-Bonsai including a number of teachers and a few members of the Sierra Club and Kohanaiki Ohana.
I distributed copies of the preliminary draft of this report to interested individuals and have made some corrections and additions. While I take full responsibility for its contents, I believe it reflects community values and will be supported by the Big Island community.
AN INVITATION TO COMMENT, CORRECT, OR SUGGEST ADDITIONS. By posting this draft report and informing a wide cross-section of those interested in opae-ula, I hope to get further comment. Please distribute copies to other members of your organizations. If you have comments, corrections, or additions, I would appreciate hearing from you as soon as possible. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This report was posted in March 2004 and I have since learned that many of the facts are not correct. In my efforts to put together the report, I was misled by the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH). In spite of being given an opportunity to review the report before it was posted, DOH made no effort to correct or provide other pertinent information. I have since created a more correct report that is posted at: www.fukubonsai.com/M-L2b1a.html
I can no longer trust the people at DOH. I do not know why they are doing what they do to prevent restoring the anchialine ponds and removing alien predators. All agree that this is a major priority and it is necessary to do whatever is necessary including conducting a very public campaign!
~~~David W. Fukumoto (August 2005)
*** Return to the March 2004 second Micro-Lobster Team Report
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