Researchers Using High Tech Equipment to Save Ocean Snails

Robert Toonen
Robert Toonen

OAHU (KHNL) -- Hawaii's island Opihi population continues to be decimated, despite government efforts to manage the island delicacy.

In this "Earth and Sea Project" report, KHNL News takes a look at how researchers are using state-of-the-art equipment to help save these popular ocean snails.

Most local guys look at this, and immediately wish they had a cold beer.


It's as "local style" as its gets.

Eating the succlent, crunchy limpets usually marks a special occasion, like a luau, or a tailgate party.

But, its future is in doubt.

''On Oahu, really, Opihi are hard to find," said Robert Toonen.

Toonen, is a reseacher with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

He and his staff, use the Opihi's DNA to better track their movement, especially the open-ocean-going juveniles.

''So far what we've learned is that the idea that Opihi are able to move around between the islands is probably not true. There's no juveniles coming in from anywhere else. In our lifetime, there will be no Opihi coming back to those islands if we don't manage them, island by island."

As it stands, state law prohibits the harvesting of Opihi that are too small; basically smaller than one-and-a-quarter inches in shell diameter.

Legislation has been introduced, this session, that would ban the sale of island Opihi.

But, it would allow for the picking of Opihi, for personal eating.

Toonen says, that type of legislation could give Opihi a fighting chance.

''There's a lot of hope. Opihi have an ability to bounce back if they're managed. The problem is we're not giving any location a chance to breathe and spill over into other areas. And what we really need to start thinking about is either having areas that are set aside, these are going to be the breeding populations and they can spill into other locations, or we have to be really strict and set some sort of limit where we have to let some size, once the opihi get to a certain size, leave them alone."

So that we can enjoy them for generations to come.

As we go green in Hawaii KHNL News 8 is partnering with NOAA and its National Marine Sanctuaries to show you what's being done to protect Hawaii's fragile environment.