Marine scientists, community members and other experts have identified Puakō Bay on the west coast of Hawai‘i Island as one of the state’s top sites for marine conservation. Sheltered from ocean swells in all directions except due west, the bay supports a diverse coral and reef-fish community, basking and foraging grounds for Pacific green sea turtles, and breeding and calving habitat for humpback whales.
Coral cover at Puakō reaches 80% in some parts of the bay, and a shallow reef flat that extends 50 to 100 yards seaward from shore provides a protected nursery for juvenile fishes. Beyond that, the reef plunges 30 feet in a cascade of canyons, arches and lava tubes.
Puakō Bay has been designated as a fisheries management area, a marine protected area and a part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Yet despite these designations, community members are concerned about the bay’s declining coral reef fish populations and the prevalence of illegal fishing activity.
A second serious potential threat is an invasive fish species known as roi, or peacock grouper. Roi were originally brought to Hawai‘i from Moorea in 1956 to augment Hawaii’s food supply. But the close association of roi with ciguatera fish poisoning makes it undesirable for consumption. And with no natural predators or competitors, its numbers have increased dramatically.
To curb illegal fishing activity, the Conservancy is working with the Puakō community to produce a marine management plan for enhanced protection. The plan, which centers on improved compliance and enforcement, will not only strengthen marine conservation at Puakō but serve as a model for other protected areas in Hawai‘i.
To address the threat posed by roi, the Conservancy is initiating a scientific research project to significantly reduce numbers of the invasive fish species at Puakō. The effects of the removal process on the larger reef community will be assessed. The goal is to determine the impact of the introduced roi on native fish species and coral reef habitat, and to better understand the stewardship implications of ongoing roi removal efforts across the state.