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Nature Conservancy Unveils Super Sucker II

Launches $2.5 Million Campaign to Remove Invasive Algae from Kāne‘ohe Bay


HONOLULU, HI | September 27, 2012

The Nature Conservancy will double the attack on aggressive, invasive seaweeds in Kāne`ohe Bay today when it unveils Super Sucker II—a barge-mounted underwater vacuum that will be deployed along with the State’s barge to remove invasive algae off the reef.

“The addition of a second Super Sucker will more than double the rate at which invasive algae can be cleared from the bay,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawaiʻi executive director. “It is potentially the key to rescuing the bay’s coral reefs from the chokehold of invasive algae.”

Invasive algae were introduced into Kāneohe Bay for aquaculture about 30 years ago. Today, the three worst species—Kappaphycus sp., Eucheuma denticulatum and Gracilaria salicornia—form thick, tangled mats that overgrow the reefs, killing corals, destroying habitat for native reef fish, and turning the bay into an algae-smothered wasteland.

To address this problem, the Conservancy partnered with the State Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and the University of Hawai‘i to develop the first Super Sucker in 2005. Today, the original vessel is operated by DAR, whose crew clears about seven acres of reef each year. But the algae will grow back quickly without native herbivores – plant eating sea urchins and fish – which keep the reefs clean. So the State is growing native sea urchins at its hatchery on Sand Island and placing them on the reefs, where they keep the algae in check.

It’s a powerful one-two combination, but it is not enough.

“Until now, we have only been able to keep pace with the expansion of the invasive algae problem,” said William Aila, chair of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), which oversees DAR. “That’s why we welcome the addition of a second Super Sucker. We believe we now have the capacity to get ahead of the problem and start reclaiming large sections of the bay.”

The goal is to clear the north end of the bay of the worst invasive algae by 2015. To finance the effort, the Conservancy has launched a $2.5 million fund-raising campaign.

“The bad news is that these algal species are the very, very worst introduced marine species in the state,” said Eric Conklin, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i director of marine science. “They smother and kill native corals, which are the core structural organisms of the entire ecosystem.”

The good news is that their distribution is still restricted. The algae were introduced and became established in the south and central portions of the bay. According to Conklin, there are effective natural barriers that prevent the algae from spreading south to Kailua Bay. But to the north there is one continuous fringing reef that goes up the entire windward coast and, essentially, around the island, forming a very effective corridor for dispersal.

“The north end of the bay is where we are focusing our efforts, because that’s the leading edge of invasion,” Conklin said. “The plan is to start at the north end and work our way back, keeping the algae contained inside the bay. By having two Super Suckers— and plenty or urchins—we will finally be able to remove algae faster than it can grow and spread. That will make a big difference for the bay.”

“We support very much The Nature Conservancy and the state DLNR in their efforts to control and eradicate the invasive algae from Kāneʻohe Bay. If we don’t remove the worst of it now, it will spread to other parts of Oʻahu, and the containment costs will spiral out of control,” said Jo-Ann Leong, director of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, which helped launch the original Super Sucker and now provides a base for both barges at Coconut Island.

Each of the two Super Suckers is supported by a Mini Sucker, which enables them to reach shallow patch and fringing reefs throughout the bay. To operate the Super Sucker, two divers feed algae into hoses which are connected to pumps that bring the algae onto the barges. There, it is sorted and placed into bags to be distributed to local farmers as compost. Together, the two barges can remove up 5,000 pounds of invasive algae each day.

“At that rate, the goal of removing the worst invasive algae from the north end of the bay by 2015 is well within reach,” said the Conservancy’s Case. “But to fund the three-year effort, we need to raise another $650,000 to reach our $2.5 million goal.”

“Many community leaders have already stepped up in a big way, including the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, the HEI Charitable Foundation, McInerny Foundation, Nature Conservancy trustees and scores of individuals. But we need additional support if we are to turn the tide on this reef killer,” said Conservancy board chair Kenton Eldridge, who is leading the campaign.

Individuals who wish to support the effort can send their donations to The Nature Conservancy, Kāne`ohe Bay Project, 923 Nuʻuanu Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96817.
 


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.

Contact information

Grady Timmons
Director of Communications
(808) 587-6237
(808) 545-2019
gtimmons@tnc.org

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