Mark Hixon: "Hawaii’s Changing Ocean” - Lake Harding Association

Mark Hixon: “Hawaii’s Changing Ocean”

Mark Hixon: “Hawaii’s Changing Ocean”

By Micah Moen 0 Comment March 25, 2020


[MUSIC] [MUSIC]
[APPLAUSE] Aloha mai kakou. I’m Michael Bruno, Provost of
the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and welcome to the Better Tomorrow Speaker Series and a very special
event tonight. Our speaker series
is intended to provide an opportunity
for the community to learn about and and
engage in discussions about some of the most
important issues of our time. We expect that these events
events will enlighten and hopefully inspire action,
in particular tonight’s event. Over the years most of
our speakers have come from far away,
but it turns out I’m looking straight at
professor Hixon when I say that in certain disciplines the world’s top experts
are right here in your University
of Hawaii. [APPLAUSE] Events such as tonight’s
also serve to bring organizations together; the Hawaii Community Foundation
is UH’s primary sponsor in this speaker series. For this particular event we’ve
also had plenty of help from a variety of UH and
external organizations, and I want to
acknowledge them now. They include our College
of Natural Sciences, our College of Social Sciences,
Conservation International, the College of Tropical
Agriculture and Human Resources, the Resources Legacy Fund,
Royal Hawaiian Resort, Scholars Strategy Network, the Sierra Club of Hawaii,
the Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines,
UH Alumni Relations, and the Nature Conservancy.
It takes a village. Thank you to all of those organizations
for their support. [APPLAUSE] The topic of today’s talk
could not be more timely. If you follow Civil Beat,
yesterday there was an article in Civil Beat pointing out
that we are presently in the midst of the third
widespread coral bleaching event since 2014. Most climate scientists believe
that those events will become annual occurrences in the
not-too-distant future. And the University of
Hawaii is responding. As most of you already know,
we are widely regarded as one of the top universities in
the world in the ocean sciences, and more broadly the earth
and environmental sciences. Last year we created
the Institute for Sustainability
and Resilience, and we are just now rolling out
a new academic program in sustainability that
has participation from 10 different colleges
and schools across campus. None of this would have been
possible without the support of our federal, state
and local partners; many of them are here
in the room tonight. And I now have the pleasure
of introducing perhaps the strongest voice of
support in that regard: Senator Brian Schatz. I know
he needs no formal introduction and he he ordered me
to keep this short, but I’m gonna
do it anyway. Senator Brian Schatz is
Hawaii’s senior United States Senator; he serves on four
key Senate committees: Appropriations, Banking,
Housing and Urban Affairs, Commerce, Science
and Transportation, and Indian Affairs.
Importantly, and relevant to this
evening’s talk, Senator Schatz also
serves as the chair of the Senate Democratic Special
Committee on the Climate Crisis. As discussed in
a terrific article in the Atlantic earlier
this year, in the summer, this committee is aiming to
get as much of the groundwork and the outreach and the
coordination done now, so that when the Senate takes
back control of the Senate they will begin immediately
in passing climate change legislation. Last week
Senator Schatz led a delegation of
senators to New York to participate in meetings
and events related to the United Nations
climate action summit. When it comes to supporting
the University’s work in education and research,
and in particular our work related to
the environment, our senator
always shows up. He was a strong advocate
for us to host a national estuary research reserve
on Kaneohe Bay and he has pushed strongly for
climate change-related research across several agencies,
including the Department of Defense;
research in which the University of Hawaii
ill be a major player. On behalf of the students and
faculty of the University, Mahalo, Brian,
Senator Schatz. [APPLAUSE] Good evening, Aloha. So for for us, for anyone
who grew up on an island, this work is personal.
In Hawaii we learn to appreciate the ocean at a young age;
it’s part of who we are, and as you know, you don’t
need to ask a scientist or ask a surfer – you’re all scientists
and surfers in your own way- the ocean is in
a fragile state. We’re already seeing
the dangerous impacts of climate change, but the thing
that makes an event like this so inspirational and
so special is that we know that we have
the knowledge base and the experience base
that is both traditional and current, that is both
cultural and scientific, and that we can be an
example for the world to do something about it.
Hawaii leads when it comes to creating healthier oceans and
a more sustainable planet, and the University of Hawaii is
at the center of this work: already you’re helping Hawaii
to meet our local and global obligations on environmental
sustainability, you’re conducting critical research on
the effects of global climate change and how it will impact
Hawaii and our various communities, and you’re
building a framework for addressing it; one
that I’m trying to match through the appropriations
process to fund ocean-related projects and by supporting
federal legislation to protect scientists from
political tampering, to enable disaster funding for the
massive coral bleaching events that we have suffered, and
to fund local management of our coasts like at the
He’eia nurse site. You can count on me to continue
to work in this partnership with the scientific community
and with UH, and I want to thank the UH
leaders, professors and students for your dedication
to these efforts. Now to tell you more about
preserving our oceans, I’m pleased to introduce
Dr. Mark Hixon, UH Professor of Marine Biology. He is a
Fulbright Senior Scholar and an Aldo Leopold Fellow,
and serves on the editorial boards of four scientific
journals; with well over 100 scientific publications,
he was named the most cited author on coral reef ecology
in America in 2004. Prior to joining the University of
Hawaii he was the chair of the Marine Protected Areas
Federal Advisory Committee for NOAA and of the Ocean Science
Advisory Committee for the National Science
Foundation. Dr. Hixon, we thank you for your steadfast
commitment to protecting our oceans and protecting our
planet. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Mark Hixon. [APPLAUSE] Aloha. Wow. Mahalo, Senator
Schatz, for those kind words. Thank You, Dr. Bruno, for your support for this
speaking series, such an opportunity to be here.
Mahalo Dr. Gon, Sam, for that inspiring Oli.
And Mahalo to all of you for being here. The size
of this crowd tells me how important the oceans are
for all of us. Our ocean. I love our ocean; I was
lucky to be born by the ocean and live on many
shores around the world during my childhood, and have had a
career where I’ve been able to study sea life underwater, using
SCUBA and small submarines, in many places around the world,
and it’s just been such a fantastic experience,
and I, typically, when I’ve given talks in the
past, it’s all been about talking story about just all
the cool creatures that live in the sea. So let me just start
with a couple examples of my favorite fish, or a couple
of my favorite fish. These are on opposite sides
of the Pacific from us. So this little guy that looks
like a lump of a sponge or coral is a frog fish. We have frog
fishes in Hawaii, they’re only about four inches long or so;
this one’s from the Philippines, and it’s a little different.
You see that little thing out in front of it? That’s
actually part of the fish that it uses to fish for fish.
So it sits there, quietly, not moving, looking like
a piece of the reef. Something comes, it wiggles
this thing in front of it, something comes up and it
reaches up and grabs it. But check out the
lure on this guy: it’s in the shape of a little
fish, it has eyes, it has fins, it has everything else. So on this planet living with us
is a fish that fishes for other fish using a fishing
lure that’s a fish. [LAUGHTER] Unreal. Even weirder is this guy on the
opposite side of the Pacific. This was filmed in Monterey Bay
in deepwater; this is hundreds, thousands of feet deep. This is not a computer-generated
image, this is an actual fish. What you’re seeing is a fish
that has a perfectly transparent head and those green blobs
you see are its eyes, and what this transparent head
allows this fish to do is swim horizontally in the water
column with its eyes looking straight up. Why in the world would it
develop that adaptation? Well it turns out this thing
steals prey from jellyfish, so living in the deep water
the only source of light is filtering down from above,
so it just swims along scanning upward until it can
finally resolve a jellyfish with those green-tinted eyes,
then swim up to it, the eyeballs then roll forward,
to where you can see those two viewing ports in front,
like as a mask, and then steal the prey from
the jellyfish, and continue doing its thing. Science is way
weirder than science fiction. [LAUGHTER] So I could go on all night
showing you things like this and it would be delightful,
but unfortunately things have changed
in recent years, and they’ve especially
changed for me, when I see kids, the keiki, especially now that
I’m a grandfather. Whenever I see children, I feel
sad, and I feel afraid for them. And I hate feeling that way. So what I want to
do tonight is, after briefly reviewing all the
wonderful gifts that the ocean gives us, take you on a
little stroll through hell of all the threats that
our oceans are facing, but then come back up
with hope, and hopefully action for the future, because
all these problems, every single one of them,
is solvable. The scientific community has made that
very, very clear. We can get out of these things.
So if you find yourself feeling depressed, hold on
’til the end. So here we are, in the most
isolated archipelago of islands on the earth, in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean, incredibly beautiful. I would talk more broadly about
the oceans, but I really want to focus on our ocean, the ocean
immediately adjacent to our islands; that is
state waters, where we have jurisdiction.
I don’t know if you can see that map in the rear of the
room, but there’s a little thin red line around
each of the islands: that’s 3 nautical
miles offshore. That’s the jurisdiction
of this state before you get into
federal waters. That’s where most of us
interact with the ocean, and it’s also where we have
some control of what happens. This is our ocean. So let’s start with
the amazing bounty that our ocean
provides for us. If you’d spent any time
underwater in Hawaii, undoubtedly you’ve been struck
by the beauty, the awe, the connection and the
spirit of our ocean. We are blessed here with having
about 25% of our species, a quarter of our marine
species, are found nowhere else in the world,
only here. And not all the news is
bad; that honu you saw, that sea turtle, sea turtles
have been coming back. I lived here 40 years ago and
never saw a sea turtle diving; I see them on every dive now.
But no matter how far away I look or how closely I look
at the reef, I’m always just absolutely amazed.
We are just so lucky to have that connection
with nature. More practically, the foods
the oceans feed us: the ancient Hawaiians got
most of their animal protein from the ocean, and fishing
of course is still very popular on the Hawaiian Islands. Worldwide, about 20% of the
world fish catch comes from coral reefs, which occupy only
about 1% of the surface of the
ocean. They are just protein factories,
just amazing protein factories. Surfers all realize that the
ocean also protects our coasts by growing coral reefs;
these are underwater shots of wave breaking on coral reefs.
Without those reefs out there, that wave energy would
come all the way to shore and rapidly erose our
erode our coastlines, so we’re very lucky that the
reefs are there as natural breakwaters. And of course,
when the reef’s shaped right and the waves are good, they
also provide amazing recreationl opportunities,
especially here in Hawaii: some of the best
surf in the world. Of course the big thing is
tourism: tourism brings about $1.2 billion to Hawaii every
year, and most of the people are here to be by the ocean,
to be in a clean ocean, full of life, and just a
wonderful experience. So besides all the spiritual
reasons to be connected with the ocean, there are obviously
very important economic reasons. What many people don’t realize
is the ocean is also a new source of medicines:
medicines that treat horribly debilitating diseases: cancers,
leukemia and other terrible diseases. These three compounds,
among many others, were found in very humble coral reef organism:
sponges, sea squirts, things like that. Pharmaceutical companies are
are going through these species and screening them for medicinal
properties, and they’re it’s just a goldmine, an
absolute goldmine. Once the once the chemical is
identified it can be synthesized artificially, so they don’t
have to go kill everything, but the problem is that
we’re losing species faster than they can be screened
for medicine. And who hasn’t been touched by cancer, directly
or indirectly? It could be that the cure is out there, and
either we’ve already lost it, or we just haven’t
discovered it yet. So the ocean is just a
cornucopia of free services and free goods that nature
asks nothing in return; it’s all there for us. So now the dark stuff: unfortunately, we’ve not been
the world’s best stewards, either on land or in the
sea – especially in the sea, and probably the main reasons
for the oceans being so poorly-treated is most people
don’t look under the surface; they don’t see
what happens, and there’s always been this
psychological thing that, “Well, the oceans are so big
we can throw our nuclear waste in the ocean, we can
dump our trash in there, the ocean will absorb it.” Well, the oceans are
getting filled. There’s now 7.7 billion of us. By mid-century there will be 9.7
billion, and the projections are that by the end of this century
there’ll be 11 billion people
on this planet. We’re running out of
space, rapidly. So the old days are gone;
there’s just too many of us. And if you think about
that many people occupying a planet that
has this much water, you can see where
the issues lie: that little blue dot you see
is all the water in the world coalesced into a single drop;
it’s a drop 800 miles in diameter. The world has a very
thin layer of water on it, even though it is the
“ocean planet,” 71% covered, so when you think about that
ratio, of course we’re affecting the oceans. And if
we don’t do so mindfully, then we’re going
to get in trouble, which we’ve been
starting to do. In Hawaii, it started with
poor land use practices; back before people were
thinking much about the fact that the ocean is
downstream from everything. So sediment from poor
agricultural practices, and culture, and
coastal development has swamped our reefs and basically
buried the corals, smothering them, as you can
see in this photograph. Fertilizers and sewage, either
from poor agricultural practices or poor treatment of sewage,
seeps into the ocean and fertilizes seaweeds,
which then overgrow the corals. And of course all the pollution
that can flow, flows into the ocean, stressing
and killing sea life; not only chemicals, like sunscreens
that we’ve heard about, oil and what have you,
but also things like sound; sound from boats affects the
behavior of fish, lights shining on the ocean at
night affects the movements of marine mammals and sea turtles. And of course there’s the
plastic: plastic everywhere. This is becoming the
problem of our times, next to climate change.
Annually, about 10 million tons of plastic end up
in the ocean, and if it went away
that’d be one thing, but the ocean, that
plastic never goes away; plastic does not break down
and disappear, it simply goes into smaller
and smaller and smaller bits through time as it reacts with
sunlight, and it eventually gets so small that sea life
eats it. So this is a Laysan albatross chick from the
northwest islands, and all those plastic bits you see in
the right hand side were in the stomach of this chick,
fed by its parents who thought they were food items,
and the chick starved to death, being full of plastic. Many people say, “Well, the
plastic’s all coming from elsewhere, it’s all coming
from Asia or what have you,” but all you have to do is walk
down the Ala Wai harbor to realize that that’s a fallacy:
this is our own plastic debris, and it’s it’s everywhere. Now as this demonstration at
one of our beaches will show, the extreme danger about
plastic is that it gets smaller and smaller and
smaller until it becomes what’s called microplastics –
little tiny bits, and those little tiny bits of plastic
have two problems: one, they’re eaten by sea life,
ever-smaller sea life, as the plastic gets smaller,
but also they accumulate toxins and pollutants. They’re actually
sort of chemical magnets, so they’ve become little poison
pellets, and these things are now found everywhere, and
by everywhere I mean inside all our bodies, in our
feces, in our seafood, it’s everywhere, even the clothes we
wear are pollutants – polyester clothing, those
little fibers that come off our clothes that we vacuum up,
they all end up in the ocean and they all end up in our sea
life, so one thing we can do is start wearing
cotton and bamboo. I hate going down this list,
sorry, but bear with me. Overfishing. So what you see
in this graph, I’m going to try to show few graphs, but
this one’s very effective; this is work by my
former UH colleague, Alan Friedlander,
and his lab. Um, Each one of these bars
represents the abundance of fish in different locations in
Hawaii. On the far left the purple bar is Papahanaumokuakea,
which is sort of a baseline; no fishing occurs
up there, that’s how much fish
could be on our reefs, and everything else are the
main Hawaiian Islands, and you can see there’s a big
drop as soon as you get to the main islands. The little dashed line you
see going across there is what fisheries biologists often
consider to be an over-fished threshold; that is 20%
of that original virgin biomass fished down,
80% of the fish lost. Anything below that has
difficulty recovering. And you’ll notice that most
of the main islands are below that threshold, especially
our island. Those little orange
blobs you see on the far right are all the
samples from Oahu. Now yes, there are fishermen who
know where to find fish still, there’s still some pockets of
fish abundant, but by and large this was a fairly exhaustive
sampling showing us that we have severely, severely
over-fished our reefs. Invasive species. Invasive species are species
from elsewhere in the world, non-native to Hawaii, brought
here by human activities, often in the ballast water of
ships where the larvae get into our harbors. Honolulu
harbor’s full of foreign species but they also arrive attached to
floating plastics and other things, and pop up in strange
places. Last month there was a cruise to
Papahanaumokuakea by Randy Kosaki, who’s here
tonight, and other members of NOAA, and they found that Pearl
and Hermes atoll reef is now covered with an unknown alga.
They’re still trying to figure out what species this is, they’e
gotten it down to the genus, certainly not
native to Hawaii. And underneath that seaweed,
dead coral. Well as if all that wasn’t
bad enough, let’s look at the horrible twins of ocean warming
and ocean acidification, and let’s spend a moment to
think about how we got here. This balloon you see, the pink
balloon, is all the air in the atmosphere in one sphere;
again, a very thin layer, the atmosphere is only
about 10, 10 miles thick. so what do we do to this
atmosphere? Every year we’ve added about 9 petagrams
of carbon. A petagram’s a billion metric tons.
And more recently we’re up to about 9.8
petagrams. This is these data are about 10 years old. It’s
impossible to imagine how much carbon that is, so I’ve tried to
put it in tangible scale here; if you imagine the Empire State
Building and take over 26,000 of them and lay them end
to end they’d extend from Scandinavia to Cape Town,
over 6,000 miles, same as the distance from California
to Japan, crossing over the Pacific
Ocean. That’s solid carbon. Solid carbon. Now imagine
taking all that carbon and atomizing it into carbon
dioxide, a gas. That’s how much CO2 we’re putting into the
atmosphere every single year from burning fossil fuels,
from burning our forests, and other activities. It’s what runs our society,
but there’s too much. Where does it all go? Well, about a quarter to
a third of that CO2 is directly absorbed
by the oceans, just dissolved in seawater,
where it reacts with water and forms a weak acid,
called carbonic acid, which causes problems for
sea life I’ll get to later. Another quarter to a third is
taken up by growing plants, especially trees.
Thank goodness for trees, thank goodness for reforestation
efforts. A recent study has shown that if we just plant
trees like crazy they can solve a big part of our
global warming problem. The rest of the CO2 goes in the
atmosphere, where it enhances the greenhouse effect, resulting
in a warming atmosphere that warms the oceans. About 90% of
that excess heat has been absorbed by
the oceans so far, rather than releasing it
directly into the atmosphere. The carbonic acid makes carbon
or calcium carbonate or limestone less available for
sea life, such as corals and shellfish, and even the inner
ear stones of fish, so these are these are the evil twins: ocean
warming and ocean acidification. So let’s briefly take
this stroll through hell. So the ocean is warming.
Here in Hawaii, like everywhere else, these are
data from NOAA for Hawaii, and you can see the amount of
warming that’s taken place so far; that’s the little
squiggly line with a trendline through it, and
the projected increase in temperature into the future,
depending upon whether we add more and more and more carbon,
or if we add less and finally level off. This is
the efforts that are being made now by Senator Schatz
and his colleagues to try to head this off
before we go over the top. Now that warming has various
consequences. This is research by Chip Fletcher at UH; if you
see the little scale down on the left, it’s sea level rising,
all the way up to 4 feet overlooking Waikiki, where
we are, and the colors are blue being sea level, and then
all the other colors are areas that where there’s saltwater
seepage into the the basements of buildings and and otherwise
different parts of the land. This is definitely going to
happen, we can’t stop this, we’re committed, and all the
estimates that have been made so far about sea level rise have
been too conservative: sea level rise is happening
faster than the sciences have predicted. The reason
that sea level is rising is twofold: one is as the oceans
warm, water expands and that increases the volume of the
oceans. And then glaciers on land are melting, and all
that excess water is flowing into the oceans. You’ve
probably seen news reports of what’s happening in
Greenland and the West Antarctic Peninsula. So this is not going
to be pretty when this happens, it’s not going to be like
Waikiki becomes the Venice of the Pacific Ocean.
This is going to be a mess. The the waters are going to be
polluted, buildings are going to be uninhabitable, and
it’s going to happen sometime this century, and we keep
building skyscrapers right next to the beach.
I don’t get that one. Storms are worsening, and
in particular hurricanes are intensifying, because
hurricanes feed off warm water. We were lucky this year in that
we didn’t have many storms in the Pacific; the Atlantic got
them all this year. In fact things tend to oscillate
back and forth between the Atlantic and the Pacific. But
last year was a dangerous year, if you recall. Hurricane
Walaka, which missed the inhabited islands, hit
French Frigate Shoals in the northwest islands and
completely wiped out the most beautiful coral reef in Hawaii,
called Rapture Reef. You can see what it used to
look like in the upper right; the lower right hand photo is
the exact same location that Randy Kosaki and his colleagues
documented just last month. They were astonished; the reef
was literally erased off the atoll. At the same time,
there was a sand island there that used to be a nesting
site for sea turtles; that sand island
is now gone. Very horrific storm,
Category 5. The photo you see here is
Hurricane Lane. Remember Hurricane Lane? It was
barreling toward us, this is its path, it was heading straight for Oahu, everybody
was getting ready, the state did a good job, the city did a good job
of preparing, and then fortunately
wind shear just took it away, almost a miracle. We’re
not gonna be as lucky in subsequent years. We need to
prepare for these storms and what they will do to our
coastlines. Well, this is the one that
touches home for me the most: coral bleaching. So the coral polyp, right here,
like my little hand, was the first creature
mentioned in the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant.
It’s the founding organism of our islands. And these
little polyps, little tiny things, little sea
anenome-like things, have little single-celled microbes,
plant-like organisms that live inside their tissues, and
they live in a mutualism, a symbiosis, that allows the
coral to grow, to secrete its calcium carbonate skeleton, grow
upward and create our reefs. It’s a wonderful gift, corals.
But when the water becomes too warm, that mutualism breaks
down. The polyps spit out their microbes, become transparent,
and the coral appears white; that’s what we call “coral
bleaching.” It’s not really bleaching, it’s just
loss of color. If the bleaching is severe,
the coral will die, and the skeleton then erodes. Now this a
laboratory shot by colleagues in Australia showing coral
bleaching in action sped up; it normally takes place
over a couple days. Watch this in action: What you see at the end here
is the dead coral skeleton starting to be colonized
by seaweeds, and eventually there’ll be organisms that
drill into it, waves will come and break it down and
the reef will collapse. This is starting to happen
worldwide. So what we can anticipate is some of our
nice healthy reefs one day turning white as snow, like this
reef did in the Great Barrier Reef, dying and eventually
collapsing into rubble, and all those wonderful goods
and services gone forever. This strikes home because I’ve
seen this happen before; before coming back to UH, I
worked a lot of time in the Caribbean, and during the great
first bleaching event of 1997, 1998 I watched my favorite
coral reef die before my very eyes in a very
isolated part of the Bahamas, and it was absolutely
heartbreaking. You can imagine what it’s like
to try to SCUBA dive with tears filling your mask; it
really affected me to the point where
I turned my career strictly toward
conservation. And we have only talked about
one twin so far, ocean warming. The other twin is
ocean acidification. So all that carbon dioxide
forming carbonic acid in the ocean inhibits the
ability of sea life to bring in calcium carbonate
and build their skeletons. So this is a map of the world
in 1950: the dark red areas are areas where calcium
carbonate is not really available very much,
and that’s at the poles. At the poles naturally the
water is very cold, which inhibits calcification as
well as the ocean tends to be relatively high in CO2.
The green areas are most of the world, including where
all the coral reefs live. And let’s watch what happens
through time, projecting into the future, up to 2011;
so here’s the years ticking off, maybe you can find
your birthday in here, and what I want you to notice
is how things accelerate through time. Here we are now, and that red just gets darker
and darker and darker and darker So our reefs are caught, and
it’s not going to stop at 2100, everybody makes
projections to 2100; our kids’ kids’ kids are going
to be living in the next century And then to add insult to
injury is the fact that most of these problems are
accelerating, and getting worse through time. So what you’re
seeing here in a graph is time;
where we are now, in terms of how bad
things are getting; it’s gonna get worse,
much faster through time. This is the most important thing
I’m telling you tonight: that we don’t have a
whole bunch of time left to turn these things around.
We ain’t seen nothing yet. So, I hate presenting
this stuff. I hate it. Take a moment
and think about what you’re feeling right
now about these things. Are you feeling sad?
Are you feeling afraid? Are you angry? If you’re having these feelings
that’s a warning: a warning that things
are not right, that things must change or
it’s only going to get worse. But they can change.
That’s the good news; it’s not yet too late. But we don’t have a whole bunch
of time more to kick the can down the road,
like we have been. So in addition to
my scientist hat, I’m going to now put on my
fellow citizen hat, because I did not abdicate my citizenship
when I became a scientist. Some scientists abhor
expressing their opinions. I’m going to do it, because
for decades the scientific community has been giving
scientific information to society and then
standing back. Has anything changed?
Nope. So now we’re diving in.
So here I go. And nothing I’m going to say is
new, I’m just reemphasizing ideas that many
people have had. First, it all begins inside us.
It all begins here. If it doesn’t start here,
it’s never gonna start; it has to start with our
sense of connection with nature, which is
natural for children, if they’re not kept indoors
all the time, and typically has to be
forced on adults. Once we have that sense of
connection, we know that we are part of a larger biosphere, a
larger entity, and that all our actions have consequences,
be they positive or negative. Now this idea of connection,
which is so central to Hawaiian culture, is something
that just has to be grasped before we can move forward. I
wanna give you one small example of how deep these
connections are, and this is a little
tiny side example: the fish you see there on the
left is a parrot fish, “uhu.” Parrot fish, with their little
funny, fused beaks feed by scraping dead coral surfaces,
surfaces where the corals are dead, most of
the time, removing seaweed from those surfaces.
This allows corals to settle and grow, after especially
after the settlement of this stuff called
“crustose coralline algae.” So that grazing, that lawnmower
of the sea action, results in less seaweed and more coral.
But it doesn’t stop there. When the uhu poop,
they poop sand, and they poop
a lot of sand. They poop so much sand that
much of the sand we walk on on our beaches is
parrotfish poop. [LAUGHTER] So parrotfish
are our friends; they help us have more coral,
they help us have less erosion. Well I’m sorry to report
that these fish are severely over- fished. I was
just appalled when I came back to Hawaii after 40 years
and saw how few parrotfish are available. We’re actually doing a study
now, we’re trying to encourage parrotfish, and we’re just not
even getting little babies coming in; there’s not
enough spawners out there. So because of
overfishing of parrotfish there’s more seaweed,
less coral, less sand, and more erosion.
Everything is connected. This is just one small example. What must we do to rectify
this? We have to save the uhu. Pure and simple. But we’re not. Yet. There’s not
enough funding for enforcement, there’s not enough education about the importance
of these fish, and what we see are things like
this: this is a group of guys who went out at night
on SCUBA gear, so these are not poor people, okay? These are people with SCUBA
gear going out at night with spear guns and killing the
uhu as they sleep in holes in the reef and
wiping out an entire reef. They actually have a name
for it: “bombing the reef.” “We bombed that reef.” Most of the fish you see in
this photograph were from a single reef and they
basically wiped out the uhu on that reef. This has got to stop if we
want to save our reefs. So a beautiful vision
shared by many people, probably everyone in this room. People often say,
“Hawaii is so small, Hawaii doesn’t make any
difference in the world, we don’t make any difference
in presidential elections, the amount of carbon we put
in the atmosphere is small compared to the
rest of the world, why should we,
why should we care that much? We’re so small.”
That idea is ludicrous. Over 10 million people
visit us every year. We have the opportunity to
be a showcase for the world, and there are many people
working on this right now. Just by people coming here and
visiting, and seeing a wonderfully sustainable, green
society, they will take that message home and that will
help the world change. And I would just love
to see Hawaii beat all the other states,
beat California, beat any place else in the world
in sustainability. And it only takes two things: courageous leaders, who are
willing to set short-term interests aside for
future generations, and an engaged citizenry that’s
educated about the issues and takes action.
With those two things, nothing can stop us.
And all those are already in place in our state. We just need to move a little
more, just move a little more, take steps. And these steps are happening,
and I’m so happy to see this. Mayor Caldwell’s
Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency
is doing a whole variety of very good initiatives at the
city and county level. Governor Ige has a
Sustainable Hawaii Initiative which has five pillars of
action. If you can’t read them in the back, going from
the left, there’s doubling local food production,
very important; let’s include fish ponds there. Ancient
Hawaiian fishponds were incredibly productive of fish.
Let’s bring them back and use them again. There’s biosecurity for
invasive species, there’s watershed protection, which
also involves reforestation. So important. Pull the carbon
out of the air, shade the ground and cool it. There’s a
30 by 30 marine management initiative for 30% of nearshore
marine waters to be effectively managed by 2030.
And finally, there’s the complete 100 percent
transfer to renewable energy by 2045.
A good start. And there’s more that could
be done. First off, only the hundred percent
renewable energy is a law. The rest of it is the
governor’s initiative. With a new never governor it
could all go away. What are we doing
about plastics? There are bills every single
year having to do with plastics, and they almost
always fail because of short term business interests. Bamboo makes wonderful temporary eating utensils,
paper cups, things of that sort. Bill 40 is before the City
Council right now to help stop all that. And I’ve always been a little
concerned and wondering about why only 30%? Why only
30% of our priority watersheds? I don’t even know how many
priority watersheds there are, but why don’t we
protect all of them on an accelerated schedule? And why only 30% of our
marine waters? Are we going to let the other 70% be the
way they’ve always been? And must we take a
full generation to reach 100% renewable energy? When World War II started after
the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we won that war in four years.
During the space race we got went to the moon and back
in less than ten years. We could move faster. And the
reason I’m pushing that is that, as I’ll show you at
the very end of my talk, we must move faster. But right now I want to spend a
little bit of time focusing on research at the
University of Hawaii that benefits this
marine management initiative, and it focuses on the
importance and use of what are called
“marine reserves.” Marine reserves are part of the
oceans set aside and protected; protected from human activities
of any deleterious kind. And people are often very upset
about marine reserves because they say, “All you’re doing
is stopping fishing here, and I don’t get to fish in my
favorite place anymore, and it’s gonna concentrate
fishing elsewhere.” Well, that’s not true.
It turns out that closed areas actually benefit fished areas
outside their borders. Now for a long time this
was just a hypothesis, but I’m going to show you data
from UH that shows that this is actually true. So what you see in the
diagram are two effects: one’s called the
“seeding effect,” that’s where fish settle and
grow inside marine reserves, get big and fat,
produce lots of eggs, spawn, and their eggs and larvae
drift out, and eventually the baby fish settle outside the
reserve. The seeding effect, just like seeds.
The “spillover effect” occurs when population sizes get
large inside the reserve, and then they get crowded and
move outside the boundaries. Fishermen often target the
edge of marine reserves for that reason: it’s called
“fishing the line.” Perfectly legitimate way
to fish. The nice thing is you have “money in the bank,” and you’re living off the
interest, rather than exploiting all the capital.
So a long time people thought, “Seeding effect, that doesn’t
make good sense, it doesn’t really happen.” Well, research
here is showing it does happen. These are two maps of the Big
Island: if you look first at the map on the left it shows
larval dispersal by reef fishes up the Kohala Kona Coast, some
of it from marine reserves, shown there in red triangles,
as well as an area that’s not severely fished,
Punaluu, down at the south. So this is all done by
genetics: you take little fin clips from adult fish
and from baby fish, and you can do parentage analyses.
It’s really remarkable. So each one of these
arrows represents a parent and an offspring, so
it shows where the parents spawned that baby fish, and
where that baby fish ended up settling and growing. And as
you can see, larvae tend to move northward up this coast. So that’s valuable
for understanding how marine reserves work. But you
can also tie that in with the figure on the right, which was
done by Jack Kitner Kittinger and his colleagues at
Conservation International that showed the distribution of fish
catch, or the spreading of fish catch across the island. And
what all these arrows show us is that everything is connected.
The main lesson of the oceans. So the people who are eating
fish in North Kohala on the Big Island are eating fish that
were originally spawned on the south end of the Big Island.
So those communities should probably get together and
make sure their fishery is managed properly. At a larger scale, genetic work
done by the the most active genetics lab in Hawaii, Rob
Toonen and Brian Bowen’s lab at the University of Hawaii,
has shown major gaps in larval dispersal. So what you
see in the the map there are these blue blobs; the
blue blobs represent barriers to dispersal; because of ocean
currents and the way things move in the ocean, not a lot of
larvae cross the blue barriers. And what this shows us is
not only are we separated from Papahanaumokuakea, but our
islands tend to be separated from each other. Hawaii is
separated from Oahu. Maui Nui is separated
from the Big Island. That means each island’s
pretty much on its own. We can’t count on Oahu’s over-
fishing problem being solved by other islands. and it’s even
more complex than that. This is these are brand new data
from the University of Hawaii. Richard Coleman, a graduate
student of Brian Bowen, who, as part of a larger study that
a group of us have, generously funded by the
Castle Foundation, shows larval disperse dispersal of manini, a
very important food fish in our waters. Fish were
sampled all the way around the island, both adults
and juveniles, and what you can see is all the
connectivity is occurring on the windward side of the
island. Especially Kaneohe Bay is receiving larvae not only
from the north, that big thick arrow from Laie,
but also from the south, from Kailua. So these are
data that are brand new, people hadn’t even thought
about before, but it tells us very clearly we must
manage the fisheries on Oahu shore by shore. We must manage the islands
separately. The tools are there. They’re ready to be
used to help bring about a
sustainable ocean. So to wrap up,
we have choices to make. We can either continue what
we’ve been doing, everybody can drive a gas guzzler, or
use plastic like crazy, or whatever else we do, have
AC on all the time without solar panels, and things
will just continue down the line and accelerate. Poor land-use practices will
smother our reefs and pollute the oceans, plastic
debris will be all over the inside of us and our
children, along with the pollutants they attract, overfishing will remain
rampant, no uhu, invasive species will continue
to spread and cause problems, sea level rise will worsen,
we’ll be nailed by big hurricanes, coral
bleaching and death and ocean acidification
will have severe effects on our reefs. That’s not the future I want
for my grandkids. I like the idea of Hawaii as a
showcase for the world, where we clean up our watersheds,
reforest them, get rid of single-use plastics. I can’t
stand styrofoam. I walk my my local beach every day and
clean up the plastic, and there’s little bits of
styrofoam everywhere. You get a you get plate lunch, you eat the plate lunch, you
toss the styrofoam, it doesn’t stay in the bin, it
blows out because it’s light, ends up in the ocean. Marine reserves, best way to
bring our fisheries back and make sure we have
resilient systems. Biosecurity, stopping invasive
species before they get started. Renewable energy. God, I would
just love to see more solar panels on every
building in Hawaii, and more use of electric cars.
Has anybody test drove the new Nissan Leaf? It drives
just like a regular car and it’s not expensive, and
it has a range, even with a small battery the range
is over 150 miles. Where are you gonna
go on this island? [LAUGHTER] Reforestation. There are many
different groups that are planting trees, and
God bless them. And of course local agriculture.
90% of our food is brought in from the outside.
We can grow our own food; all that fallow farmland
can be used, and aquaculture,
our fish ponds. But I want to emphasize
one more time that we need to move more
rapidly. This is a graphic of ocean temperature across
the whole archipelago this summer, you can see the
dates ticking off in the upper right hand corner; the darker
the red colors, the more severe the predicted
coral bleaching. This ends on
September 29th, I had to turn in my
slides early, but I think we got
lucky this year, believe it or not. The northwest islands are
definitely bleaching – that dark red means
Alert Level 2, which is very severe bleaching
in the works, but look at the halo around Kauai and Oahu. We might just get away with it
this year. There’s been some bleaching occur,
fairly bad bleaching, at Lanikai, and some bleaching
elsewhere, but not really massive bleaching yet, at least
on these islands. You can see that Maui Nui and
the south end of the Kona Coast is is getting hit pretty hard
but this is about to end. Within about a week all that
heat’s going to dissipate; these rains have helped it,
so we might just squeak by this year. But look at the shortly
coming future: this is a modeling exercise
predicting the decline of reefs due to coral
bleaching, starting at the present going
into the future. All the green lines are
different runs of the model at one meter depth, very
shallow coral reefs, they get even warmer, and
the predictions are that by the middle of the century
the reefs will be dead. This is just a model, though;
maybe maybe we’ll get away with it. The deeper reefs,
20 meter depth, the blue lines there, show that the
reefs will persist longer, toward the end of the
century. I hope this doesn’t happen.
We have many coral researchers now who are identifying corals
that can withstand bleaching and bounce back,
or not even bleach, so maybe we can help
propagate them, maybe we can bring back
the uhu to make sure that there’s places for the corals
to grow, but we need to move more rapidly than
we have been moving. I know the political process
is slow, but we have leaders who are inspired, and we all
we need is the people to demand it, and I
believe it’ll happen. One last prediction is that
by 2040 corals will bleach every single year:
I hope that’s not true. So the bottom line, and the
ancient Hawaiians knew it, if we care for the ocean, the
ocean will care for us. I hope you will take this
information, not be depressed, but be inspired for action.
Because if we all take steps, Hawaii can show
the world the way. And I just would so much
love to see that for the sake of my grandkids.
Mahalo. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC]
[APPLAUSE] [MUSIC]

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *