Invasive algae targets Waikiki

Published: Mar. 26, 2012 at 8:04 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2012 at 2:07 PM HST
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Dr. Celia Smith
Dr. Celia Smith

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waikiki Beach is under siege by a silent enemy. Invasive algae is taking over in the waters causing negative impacts to the environment.

You can't tell from the surface but there is a battle of algae going on under the water and the two types of bad algae are winning pushing out the more than 85 native species.

There's diving and snorkeling in the ocean between the aquarium and natatorium but it's not done for fun or by tourists.  They're volunteers trying to collect invasive algae one of which called Gracilaria salicornia was introduced back in the 1970's by a University of Hawaii scientist thinking it could be harvested for money.  That venture died but the algae lives on stronger than ever.

"I think in a way it's kind of a silent invasion, you would never know the reef on a beautiful day like today that the reef is actually as out of balance as it is," said Dr. Celia Smith, University of Hawaii Botany Professor.

The other algae are called the leather mud weed which taxpayers just spent $3.5 million trying to get rid of in East Oahu.  Now it's recently been discovered in Waikiki.

"This thing is profoundly negative in its impact.  It can change the height of the sand it can change the water flow," said Prof. Smith.  "It's kind of a double whammy.  It takes and changes the ecosystem on a couple of levels."

Making it worse is that fish don't eat it and it takes over the native algae the wildlife does eat.

"We need to pay real attention to this.  It's an ecosystem changer. This one will change the game for our reefs in a profound way," said Prof. Smith.  "It's clear its moving into ecosystems or reefs where it was not before and so that's the reason that the alarm is being rung for this one because as it comes in our reefs are more likely to change in ways that are negative."

In all 65 volunteers collected more than 1,000 pounds of the algae and plan to continue these efforts about 4 times a year.

"Our mission is to try and get this thing out to see if we can put steps in place to restore the reef to a much healthier condition than its been right now," said Prof. Smith.

It's tough because even a tiny piece of the algae can grow into something big making it an ongoing battle.  The next algae clean up here is scheduled for June.

For more information on the algae click here.

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