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Super Sucker II pontoons.
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Super Sucker II under construction.
"With an additional Super Sucker, the Conservancy expects to clear the north end of the bay of invasive algae by 2015. "
It’s a simple watercraft: two 33-foot aluminum pontoons support a 12-by-30-foot aluminum deck powered by twin 60-horsepower outboard motors. Yet this elemental vessel—built for $100,000 by Conservancy staff at the home of a Conservancy trustee—can remove up to 10,000 pounds of invasive algae a day.
Super Sucker II, the Conservancy’s new barge-mounted underwater vacuum, was launched in September 2012 in Kāne‘ohe Bay, where it is now working in tandem with the State’s barge to remove invasive algae off the reef.
“This innovative yet simple technology has more than doubled the rate at which invasive algae can be cleared from the bay,” said Eric Conklin, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i director of marine science. “It is potentially the key to rescuing the bay’s coral reefs from the chokehold of invasive algae.”
The Conservancy launched a campaign to build and operate a second Super Sucker because the single vacuum operating in the bay could not get ahead of the invasive algae problem.
Now, with an additional vacuum, the Conservancy and the State expect to clear the north end of the bay of the worst invasive seaweeds by 2015.
Built in 2005 by the Conservancy, the State and the University of Hawai‘i, the original Super Sucker consisted of an 13 x 25 foot barge that had to be moved by an escort boat.
Both the new Super Sucker and the original are now supported by smaller 6 x 9-foot Mini-Suckers, which can operate on shallow patch and fringing reefs throughout the bay. Two divers feed algae into hoses, which are connected to pumps that bring the algae onto the barges. There, it is placed into bags to be distributed to local farmers as compost.
“The Mini Sucker gives us greater reach and suction,” says Hank Lynch, the Conservancy’s field manager for Super Sucker II. “The combination enables us to get more work done with less fuel, smaller pumps and less maintenance.”
After clearing the overgrowth, divers stock the reefs with native sea urchins raised at the State’s Anuenue Fisheries Research Center on Sand Island. The algae-eating urchins can’t remove the massive algae blooms, but can keep the weeds under control once the overgrowth has been removed.
The Conservancy would like to thank trustee Crystal Rose and her husband, Rick Towill, who provided space at their home and support for construction of the barge.