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World Oceans Day celebrated in South Kohala

June 9, 2016 - 12:05am

HAPUNA BEACH — It was a day to cherish and malama the ocean at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

World Oceans Day was celebrated globally on Wednesday. On one South Kohala beach, the event highlighted plenty of ways to get involved in making the waters a better place for its denizens and humans alike.

Visitors to Hapuna tried their hand at bending over the barbs on fish hooks so they do less damage to the animals they snag. They also discovered that, with training, they could be part of five-person response teams hurling a grapple to attach a satellite transmitter to an entangled whale, monitoring the whale and helping track its course while disentanglement experts scramble to the scene.

Bob Gladden is a volunteer response coordinator for the West Hawaii Marine Mammal Response Network. He demonstrated how response volunteers attach a bright green buoy that contains the transmitter to the distressed mammal.

This organization is on the lookout for volunteers.

“It’s a small group of us to do it, and it is a question of who is available at the time,” Gladden said.

Participants had a chance to fill out surveys on how to best help the reefs at Puako, where the community is pondering the best way to keep sewage pollution off the reef. They found out they can easily become a member of the Eyes of the Reef network to help scientists keep a sharp lookout for trouble all along the island’s reefs.

The group monitors for disease, bleaching and invasive species, and once they’ve finished a two-hour training, people can use their skills to report back on the conditions at their favorite spots, said Lindsey Kramer, EOR’s Hawaii Island coordinator.

World Oceans Day is celebrated with hundreds of events around the world, and this year’s theme was “healthy oceans, healthy planet.” Offering up a plethora of information were the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Puako Makai Watch, the state Division of Aquatic Resources and the Coral Reef Alliance.

The Hapuna Beach event was organized by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks, and the popular beach seemed like a good place to get the word out, said Dena Sedar, interpretive specialist for the parks.

“It gives us a chance to educate tourists and locals who want to learn about this stuff but don’t know where to start,” said Sedar.

Count Jenny Gupta in the former category. Visiting from St. Louis, she listened as Dolphin Quest educator Cori Tufano showed a large box of used plastic straws that had been gathered off the beaches of the Dolphin Quest lagoon at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.

“It’s a huge problem everywhere in the oceans; animals ingest them, and they don’t ever break down,” Tufano said.

Gupta happened on the event toward the end of a vacation that has gone so well she has lost track of days. She and Tufano talked about the massive gyre of garbage spinning in the Pacific, and the Hokulea voyaging canoe arriving in New York for the World Oceans Day celebration.

“We were going to the beach, and thought, how perfect to be stumbling into World Oceans Day,” she said.

Mike Merle was a example of how a community member can apply what they have learned — by simply looking around.

Merle has been coming to Hapuna Beach for decades and seen the changes that time and the crowds have brought. The beach is a sparkling gem of white sand and azure waters. Look closer, though, and you see outdoor showers that wash sunscreen and scum onto the ground, and parts of the park barren of vegetation and prone to erosion.

Merle would like to see less use of wheeled vehicles on the sand both by lifeguards and resort personnel setting up chairs, and filtering of water that comes off the outdoor shower pads.

His sons have come of age here; the beach offers healthy ways for young men to challenge themselves and the elements, he said.

“This is a really productive place for the community,” he said. “This is the centerpiece, right here, and we have to take care of it.”

Tess Cayou, a reef teacher with the Kahaluu Bay Education Center, offered suggestions for ways people can exhibit the kind of aloha spirit to the land and waters that Merle was driving at.

It can start in the grocery isle, by picking sunscreen labeled nontoxic to reefs and oceans. On the reef, it follows that you do not feed the fish because that will keep them from eating the algae,and the algae will smother the coral. And the coral should not be stepped on because it is made up of living animals, Cayou said.

She and her colleagues work daily at Kahaluu Bay to help droves of visitors to connect the dots.

The ocean is a giant web of relationships waiting to be discovered. But recognition of that web is not a given.

“It’s hard for people to realize everything is connected in the ocean and in the bay,” Cayou said.

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