Opae-ula has been available in Hawaii for several years and some hobbyists have been growing them for longer than us.  We're sharing what we know with everyone and learning from the old-timers.

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           Sam is the highly respected Director of Science of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and for a number of years,  he has been breeding opae-ula in his office.   He is considered a world authority on trilobites,  a class of extinct marine arthropods. He's got an award winning website on the subject!  To find it, go to Google and use the search term:  "trilobites" and his is the top listing!

           On August 11, 2004,  he responded to my email and gave me a lead on how to contact John Maciolek.  He also included:

          For me, reproduction is the given when the `opae`ula are given enough space and hiding crevices, and other conditions are more or less "normal" for them (which is a truly impressive broad range of salinities, light conditions, and temperatures). 
          Samuel M. 'Ohukani'ohi'a Gon III, Ph.D.
          Director of Science, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai`i

           That really got my attention and I asked Sam for more information which follows.  ~~~David

         August 11, 2004 (same day): My most successful tanks have cobbles of either limestone or lava in them running from 1" to 3" in general diameter, and typically quite irregular, allowing for many hiding opportunities. My 15-gallon tank at work gets very bright indirect light all day, but never direct sunlight. Right now I seem to have a eutrophy problem, but I believe this will pass if I remove enough of the excess algae (which has bound up the excess nutrients into tissue). If you read Holthuis' original description, you will see that the actual term for the ecosystem is anchialine pool, not pond. I also have seen reproduction in half gallon and even one quart glass bowls in my office at the Nature Conservancy. ~Sam

          I replied requesting the significance regarding anchialine pond (or pool) terminology, gave him my understanding of the total habitat, and this is Sam's reply:

      August 16, 2004: Holthuis' paper makes it clear that anchialine pools are the external expression of a primarily hypogeal (underground) habitat, so your discussion of the true nature of anchialine pools is right on the money. I liken the pools to light-rich windows on the habitat, at which the opae`ula have optimal food, but they live much of the time in the lightless voids underground.

If you look in the dictionary, the difference between pool and pond are not great. Since Holthuis is the originator of the term, and since he used the term "anchialine pool" and not "anchialine pond" in his paper, it is simply proper citation protocol to refer to them by their original description.

I concur with the lower salinity argument.  When the salinity is too high I see less or curtailed reproduction. OR it could be that high salinity is just fine for adults, but the proper salinity for reproduction is lower.   Aloha, ~Sam

         A week later, I reported to Sam that I had made contact with John Maciolek and summarized the latest reports of reproduction. Sam provided the additional information:

August 23, 2004: All my larvae hover in the brightest corner of my tank at work. They are phototaxic and so assemble in large numbers there during the right times of year. Right now there are only about a dozen or so of the larvae in the bright corner of the tank. Sometimes there are 50 or more at a time. There are juveniles of all sizes as well, of course, a good size distribution that runs from just over a mm to large adult size.  ~Sam

          Something wasn't right!   Initially I didn't know much about Sam Gon's background,  only that he began reproduction trials when his son had to do a science project.  Obviously Sam had a broader more extensive knowledge base and finally got this from him!

August 25, 2004:   Actually I got started on this in 1986 when with Maciolek, Chai, Brock and others, we undertook a statewide overview of anchialine pools for the County of Hawaii. I've been in the field with those guys to some of the most famous anchialine pool sites in the state.

I've had my 15 gallon opae`ula tank with shrimp from Ewa pools (now destroyed) for well over a decade. I started with perhaps 40 adults and now I estimate there must be 500+ shrimp in there. The tank easily generates 200 larvae a year.

Having my son do an `opae`ula project was our idea, not his science teacher's. We were just walking around the house looking for things that might work well for a project, and stopped at the 5-gallon tank I have at home. If it hasn't been explained to you before, the set-up I use in my 15-gallon tank is simple: fill the tank roughly halfway with brackish water, ca 1 part seawater to 8 parts fresh.

On the side of the tank farthest from a light source, set up a pile of cobbles, ranging from half-fist to whole fist size, so that at the far end the cobbles come all the way to the top of the tank, and at the lit end, there are no cobbles at all. This creates a "ramp" of cobbles from one end of the tank to the other and a large cobble-free water column on the lit end. Thus half the tank's area is a dark maze of intercobble spaces, and half of the tank is well-lit water column in which larvae can hover freely. By the time all cobbles are in the tank, the water is raised to near the top of the tank as well. I hope the description is clear enough! ~Sam

ML Sam Gon side view Pescador photo.jpg (68384 bytes)   I first learned of Sam Gon from John Pescador of Honolulu who wrote to compliment the Micro-Lobster website.  He wrote of his interest and recommended I contact his teacher Sam and allowed use of photos from his website.
John Pescador October 15, 2002 photo:
Side view of Sam Gon's opae-ula 15-gallon tank.
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John Pescador October 15, 2002 photo:
Top view of Sam Gon's opae-ula 15-gallon tank.


                On November 12, 2004 I had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Sam Gon III to observe his opae-ula tank. Other researchers have had opae-ula tanks in their laboratories but to my knowledge none have allowed publishing photos of them.  I'm told that if tanks are clear and do not have hiding places, that the opae-ula will not reproduce in tanks.  Sam's tank is over 10 years and producing steadily.

        Meet Dr. Sam Gon III!  For a fellow that has built an impressive reputation,  he turned out to be much younger than I thought, but clearly a serious person who is knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects. When I visited he was in the midst of some submittal deadlines but took the time to answer my questions.  

        His tank has the characteristics of other 1/2 to 1 gallon researcher jars but was much larger.  He provides a lot of light to be able to produce enough algae so there is enough food.  

        There was one warmer very bright corner and on the opposite side there was a cooler darker corner. This has been the only tank that I've seen these factors and it really makes sense! Newly hatched larvae tended to cluster in the brightest corner.  I had an clear plastic cube and was able to collect and observe the newly hatch larvae with the 5x jeweler's loupe.  

         Sam's opae-ula were originally collected in an Ewa sinkhole and is of the type that I call "banded opae-ula" as some of them have white bands crossing red bodies and including other color variations.  

        Sam has opae-ula collected from many locations and in jars of various sizes throughout The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii 3-story building. He allows a heavy amount of algae and notes that different algae types form.  He also notes that there is a spurt of reproduction in a new unit and slowing down when it attains a natural balance.  

        He tells me Honolulu water does not have chlorine so he uses tap water allowed to stand a day or so to bring the water level of his tanks back up to offset evaporation.  

                I thank John Pescador for introducing me (via email) to Sam Gon and Sam for his willingness to share his knowledge.  Sam has been involved in opae-ula and anchialine pond surveys and know that Sam's group discovered that opae-ula had colonized the Sailor's Cap blast crater on Kahoolawe created when the military detonated 500 tons of explosives in 1965.  There are very limited fresh water resources on that island and the pool water has almost the same salinity as the ocean.  This suggests that opae-ula may one day be discovered in marine conditions in the reefs or ocean floor rubble.

                Opae-ula research is progressing very rapidly due to the aloha spirit of people like Sam and John.   They've created a lot more leads and along with members of the Fuku-Bonsai Micro-Lobster Team,  we're getting a greater insight into opae-ula.  They really are amazing creatures! 

                Right now the anchialine pools are being compromised by alien predator fish being introduced and this forces the opae-ula to retreat into the subterranean habitat.  Although they are not in danger of becoming extinct, they are becoming less and less accessible.  The information being shared are part of the research to design and construct a large scale captive breeding mass culture system as this is perceived to be the primary future source of opae-ula if fish continue to be introduced into the anchialine pools or if it becomes illegal to collect from the pools. The key is to develop and obtain support for sustainable harvesting of anchialine ponds to provide the needed quantities of broodstock needed for the captive breeding mass culture systems!  Stay tuned!  ~~~David

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