Under the microscope: Researchers share knowledge and progress protecting anchialine ecosystems

  • Vetericaris chac-eorum is an endemic and endan-gered Hawaiian anchialine shrimp.

  • A newer wai opae in an a‘a lava field in Kona. (

  • Opae ula grazing on algae. (Photos courtesy DLNR/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The anchialine pond at Mahaiula is seen. (Photos courtesy DLNR/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • A wai opae is seen at low tide in Kona with its signature cyanobacteria crust.

The fifth International Symposium on Anchialine Ecosystems is underway on Hawaii Island, where more than 125 scientists, students, community members, and resource managers, from across Hawaii and around the world, have gathered to share knowledge and information about anchialine pools.

Troy Sakihara, an aquatic biologist with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, is one of the organizers of this week’s symposium that wraps up today. The symposium is grounded in the importance of the collective kuleana to culture and place. Hawaii has one of the highest concentrations of brackish water, near-coast anchialine pools in the world, with an estimated 600 or more on Hawaii Island, mostly along the Kona Coast.

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Anchialine pools were the first sources of fresh water for early Hawaiians, so they have great cultural significance, which has continued into modern times. This was highlighted in many of the scientific presentations this morning, including one by a trio of students from a Hawaiian immersion school at Keaukaha who presented their remarks entirely in olelo Hawaii.

Like so many of Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources, anchialine ecosystems have already been destroyed or are threatened by development, pollution, and invasive species; in the case of the pools by invasive fish like guppies and tilapia.

The best-known of the native inhabitants of anchialine pools is the ‘opae‘ula, a tiny red shrimp. About one-third of the pools on Hawaii Island are located at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. Several of the presentations focused on water quality in the park’s anchialine pools and the use of ‘auhuhu, a Polynesian introduced plant to control invasive fish and the associated recovery of the natural ecosystem.

The symposium is heavy on science, but with the overall message that anchialine ecosystems continue to be an important and vital connection to our natural and cultural landscape and history.

In addition to DAR, other sponsors and contributors to the symposium include, the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the DLNR Division of State Parks, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Hui Loko, The Nature Conservancy, University of Hawaii, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kamehameha Schools, U.S. Geological Survey, Lili‘uokalani Trust, He‘eia Bay Forever, Hawaii Fish Habitat Partnership, Hawaii Mountain Running, National Park Service, Kua’aina Ulu ‘Auamo, Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative, David Shepard Hawaii, Mauna Lani Auberge Resorts, and Four Seasons Resort.

“This broad partnership,” Sakihara said, “demonstrates how important this underground system of pools is and why we need to do everything we can to protect and restore them.”

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