Unlikely Ocean Life Helps Keep Hawaii's Beaches Beautiful - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Unlikely Ocean Life Helps Keep Hawaii's Beaches Beautiful

Ling Ong Ling Ong
Alan Hong Alan Hong
A large parrot fish can produce up to 700 pounds of sand every year. A large parrot fish can produce up to 700 pounds of sand every year.
Hanauma Bay Hanauma Bay
Ocean life just beyond Hawaii's shores. Ocean life just beyond Hawaii's shores.
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By Leland Kim

HANAUMA BAY (KHNL) - Hawaii's beaches are famous throughout the world.  A new research shows parrot fish could play a big role in our sandy shores.

Parrot fish are named because their teeth are packed tightly to form a parrot-like beak.

And those beaks help them pick algae off of coral.  But it turns out they're doing a lot more than keep our coral clean.

A new research shows that some of the fine sand on our shores could be produced by these critters: parrot fish.

"When they eat the algae and the seaweed, they take off a thin layer of reef, which they grind up and they produce sand," said Ling Ong, a parrot fish researcher.

Parrot fish are the only large, mobile sand-producing herbivores.  And they pump out a lot of sand.

"Each individual produces about 700 pounds of sand per year," said Ong.                         

About a few hundred large parrot fish have been spotted off of Hanauma Bay with trackers and receivers.  This means every year, several hundred tons of parrotfish-generated sand just in this area alone.

"A lot of the beaches in the Pacific, they might be big contributors of sand on those beaches, too," said Ong.

And the folks at Hanauma Bay say this research is a lesson in preserving our ocean life.

"Our natural resources which is a very finite quantity becomes much more valuable, and the need for protected areas, the need will greatly increase," said Alan Hong, a manager with the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

Ong said her findings also point to the connected nature of life.

"A healthy reef depends on healthy populations of fish because they contribute back in terms of algae control which allows the coral to grow, and they produce the sand which allows the coral reef to be what it is," she said.

Preserving nature so future generations can enjoy it.

Ong has studied parrot fish for five years.  Her research will conclude this month. She hopes to publish her findings next year.