UH Hilo researchers launch website on the impact of Tropical Storm Iselle

On Feb. 7, researchers presented their findings to the local community most impacted by the storm; a website provides public access to the research data.

By Susan Enright.

Group of residents gather on large lanai to listen to researcher speak.
Tracy Wiegner, UH Hilo professor of marine science who is studying coastal water quality at Wai’ōpae in Puna following Tropical Storm Iselle, talks to the local community about her findings. Courtesy photo.
Misaki Takabayashi
Misaki Takabayashi

This past weekend, researchers from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo visited the local community of Vacationland to present their findings on the effects of Tropical Storm Iselle on the coastal community and environment. Iselle hit the island on the night of Aug. 7, 2014, wreaking havoc on coastal communities in Puna on Hawai‘i Island.

“The face-to-face sharing of our research is helping the community understand what is happening in their backyard,” says Misaki Takabayashi, associate professor of marine science who is researching the reef at the Waiʻōpae tide pools.

Other researchers investigating the aftermath of Iselle include Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography who is mapping Albizia distribution; Tracy Wiegner, professor of marine science who is studying the coastal water quality at Waiʻōpae; and Steve Colbert, assistant professor of marine science who is looking at water connectivity in Kapoho.

The Vacationland community, which is located on the Wai‘ōpae coastline, requested UH Hilo’s involvement in assessment of recovery after Iselle.

On Feb. 7, Takabayashi, Wiegner, and research assistants Makani Gregg and Louise Economy presented the research data they have collected so far at a Vacationland Hawai‘i Community Association meeting.

“The attendees were generally appreciative of our efforts so far and had lots of informed questions,” says Takabayashi.

Website on the research team’s findings

The researchers have launched a website exclusive to their research on post-Iselle recovery of Wai‘ōpae tidepools and the nearby coastal environment.

“This website contains the purpose of the research, video documentation of our research efforts, and updated results,” says Takabayashi.

The most important findings so far include the discovery that physical damage of Tropical Storm Iselle on corals was limited to the northern pools and minimal.

Water quality remains a concern there although no parameters are indicating long-lasting decline in water quality that can be linked directly to Iselle.

Two other major concerns are (1) the sustained high water temperature caused by El Nino slackening of winds in Sept/Oct 2014, causing as much as 80 percent of corals there to bleach; and (2) the mass mortality of invertebrates and fish over Nov. 16-18, 2014.

“Although we do not know the exact cause of the mass-mortality event, we are worried that there have been a number of disturbances that have synergistically challenged the resilience of coral reef ecosystem at Wai‘ōpae,” says Takabayashi.

“The health of the coastal environment directly affects the well-being of the fringing community,” she explains.


A big concern of the research team is the availability of funds to continue their work.

“Our funding runs out at the end of March,” explains Takabayashi. “We are appealing for donations to at least keep the monitoring efforts going.”

“From the website, folks can make tax deductible donations, through the UH Foundation, that will go explicitly toward our research on Wai‘ōpae environmental monitoring.”


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.