UH Hilo marine scientist to assess die off in Waiʻōpae tide pools

Misaki Takabayashi, an associate professor with the UH Hilo marine science department, says among the species found dead were sea cucumbers, crabs, and various invertebrates. 

By Susan Enright.

Dead fish in small pool of water on rocks where the tide has been and receded.
Marine life mortality discovered at Waiʻōpae. Photo by Makani Gregg.
Misaki Takabayashi
Misaki Takabayashi

On Monday, Misaki Takabayashi, a marine science researcher at the University of Hawai‘i  at Hilo, was notified of a startling die off happening in the tide pools of Waiʻōpae on the coastline of Puna on Hawai‘i Island. Takabayashi is an expert on the ecology of the area, and has been doing long-term monitoring of coral health at Waiʻōpae for several years. This week’s die off has her greatly concerned. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports:

Marine scientists with the University of Hawaii at Hilo visited the pools at Waiopae on Monday, collecting water and fish samples in an effort to identify the cause of the die-off. Among the species found dead were sea cucumbers, crabs, various invertebrates and other creatures not as mobile as fish and therefore unable to escape to deep water when the event occurred, said Misaki Takabayashi, an associate professor with the UH Hilo Marine Science Department.

Dead fish on limu.
Dead fish found at Waiʻōpae. Click to enlarge. Photo by Makani Gregg.

“Today, we did a little survey down the coast. The Waiʻōpae tide pools are still brown,” she said Monday afternoon. “Something is definitely going on down there. There are lots and lots of crabs and sea cucumbers dead. It apparently started happening Friday night.”

Because Takabayashi did not learn of the event until Monday, many of the dead fish might have been washed out to sea with the change of tides, but many dead creatures remained, she said.

Underwater shot of Misaki Takabayashi conducting survey. Date/time on photo: 2014/11/11 09:40:34
Misaki Takabayashi conducts water survey. Click to enlarge. Photo by Makani Gregg.

The exact cause of the die-off is yet to be conclusively determined, but it appeared likely to be the result of some kind of substance washing into the water, she said. That could include sewage leaking from cesspools in the area, which have caused problems before, as well as agricultural runoff or a chemical spill.

“From my quick walk around, it (the cause) seems to be water quality. Whatever is happening seems to be pretty extensive,” she said.

Takabayashi surveyed the area, took samples of the water, and should have results back by Friday.

Takabayashi is a researcher with UH Hilo CREST, EPSCoR Hawaiʻi, and UH Sea Grant. She, her colleagues, and students at UH Hilo are conducting research to assess the environmental impacts of Hurricane Iselle in Puna (visit lab website for updates).

In 2012, Takabayashi and a team of student researchers launched two websites with information and data on their findings from a seven-year project studying coral in Hawai‘i Island waters — links to websites: Coral Health Atlas and Long-term Monitoring of Coral Health at Waiʻōpae Hawaii Island.

Associate Professor Takabayashi received her bachelor of science and master of science in marine science from the University of Sydney, Australia, and doctor of philosophy in marine studies from the University of Queensland, Australia.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.