Scientists at UH take a closer look at bad microbes in Hawaiian waters

Dr. Grieg Steward
Dr. Grieg Steward

By Howard Dashefsky - bio | email

WAIKIKI (KHNL) - Did you know, invisible dangers lurk in Hawaii's air, land and water?

In this Earth and Sea Project report, we zero in on bad microbes.

From a distance, it's easy to see this water is far prom pristine.

But take a closer look at water from the Ala Wai Canal.

That's exactly what Dr. Grieg Steward from the UH Department of Oceanography does every day.

"What Olivia is doing is pouring water onto a filter," said Dr. Steward.  "We filter the water through that and it catches the bacteria."

Steward along with his graduate students routinely scoop up samples from a dozen Ala Wai collection sites.

They're looking for bad microbes or pathogens.

Organisms that do harm to our health, crops, animals or environment.

And most of them love our tropical climate.

"There are certain types of things that thrive better here in our warm moist conditions. It's true on land and also in the water," said Dr. Steward. "Were investigating particular pathogens in our coastal waters."

One of the most common pathogens is vibrio.

Something that gained instant attention after the massive sewage spill in the Ala Wai in March of 2006.

"It's something that's naturally out there in the environment all the time. That's it's habitat, areas like the Ala Wai where you have salt water mixing with fresh water, that's where your going to have it naturally."

The key Steward says, is knowing and understanding the risks.

"It's only occasionally that they will cause a problem if somebody has an exposed wound, or particularly if they have underlined medical issues, then it becomes a real problem."

But under normal circumstances, and assuming you're in relatively good health, the odds of something bad happening in Hawaiian waters, including the Ala Wai, is truly, microscopic.

"The tiniest drop you can effectively measure with this is one micro liter. A tiny drop like that has one thousand bacteria in it, but no pathogens in a volume that size. So the good bacteria again far outnumber the pathogens."