Feature: The growing wave of aquaculture

Aquaculture Specialist Clyde Tamaru with a barrelponics system at Windward Community College.

When First Lady Michelle Obama ordered farm-raised tilapia during a vacation-time meal at Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Honolulu this past December, it signaled a smiling acknowledgment for the once frowned-upon fish.  Many longtime locals still cringe at the thought of eating tilapia, which was historically notorious for thriving in icky canals. 

 But, it’s a new day for tilapia, as consumers and connoisseurs are learning it’s actually an epicurean delicacy. In fact, the species is being viewed as a splashing success in aquaculture farms throughout the state—helping to boost Hawai‘i’s production of fish stocks, eliminating reliance on imported stocks, and improving the 50th State’s ability to be more sustainable. 

Currently, more than 30 aquatic plant and animal species are being raised for research or commercial purposes in the islands. According to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, the commercial aquaculture sector has expanded from 13 farms in 1976 to 100 in 2003.  That number continues to grow, due to an increasing demand for fresh, local products and a high consumption of seafood.

In fact, aquaculture has become the fastest growing segment in local diversified agriculture, grossing record sales of $34.7 million in 2008.  To cope with the high demand for aquaculture products, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa scientists and researchers have stepped up to work alongside farmers, and state and national aquaculture personnel, and share their expertise.

At the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology, for example, Director Jo-Ann Leong reported that colleagues are focusing on targeted sectors for greater development in aquaculture, based on the industry’s track record to date.  They include:

  • High-value seafood products such as opihi.
  • Macroalgae or seaweeds for food or specialty chemicals.
  • Year-round production of specific pathogen-free broodstock and seedstock.
  • Marine and freshwater aquarium species for export.
  • Offshore and open-ocean production of fish and pearl oysters.

Leong added that a trio of long-term projects will concentrate on the development of 1) disease-resistant strains of aquacultured species, 2) appropriate and sustainable food supplies for different stages of the life cycle for new animal species, and 3) environmentally friendly aquaculture methods.

Meanwhile, funding support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is enabling Sea Grant College Director Gordon Grau to develop feeds for fish that help them grow optimally with the mildest impact on ecosystems. Grau aims to design feeds without fishmeal that promote efficient growth with minimal loss of nutrients. He works in collaboration with colleagues at a USDA lab at Auburn University in Alabama to compound the feeds for tilapia, which are then evaluated by both his lab, and university and government partners, in the U.S. and Japan.  Last year, more than 400 million pounds of tilapia were imported into the U.S. from Central and South America, China and the Philippines.

Then there’s the Aquaculture Research and Extension Unit in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.  Led by aquaculture specialist Clyde Tamaru, his team members are engaged in a variety of aquaculture research and extension activities.  Tamaru is principal investigator of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supported project on how to improve the hatchery output of the Hawaiian pink snapper or opakapaka, a favorite of many locals. His research hinges on the species ability to naturally spawn from captive broodstock held at Coconut Island.  Due to its overfished status, the bottomfish fishery is now governed by the federal Magnuson-Stevenson Act, thus the state has been mandated to devise ways in which the fishery can be restored by at least 20 percent.

Working with the Division of Aquatic Resources, Tamaru and researchers at Mānoa are developing hatchery and nursery techniques for the production of opakapaka juveniles that can meet commercial-scale requirements, with the intent to transfer those technologies to appropriate end users for either public or private use. His research has already proven helpful for local farmer Hukilau Food, significantly improving its moi hatchery outputs that now average about 400,000 per hatchery run.  These researchers and many others at UH Mānoa continue to develop cutting-edge aquaculture technologies to help achieve a more sustainable Hawai‘i while drawing international interest.

To learn more about these research projects and others being conducted by these units, visit:

Hawai’i Institute for Marine Biology – http://www.hawaii.edu/himb

Sea Grant College – http://seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/

College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources – http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/

For more information, contact:
Jo-Ann Leong at (808) 236-7401 or joannleo@hawaii.edu
Gordon Grau at (808) 236-7408 or grau@hawaii.edu
Clyde Tamaru at (808) 342-1063 or ctmaru@hawaii.edu

Top photo: Farm raised tilapia is becoming a popular choice among consumers and restaurant chefs.

Feature: Crazy for kabuki

Onoe Kikunobu
Onoe Kikunobu, production choreographer for The Vengeful Sword, has performed in UH Mānoa kabuki productions since the 1950s.

The concept that “it takes a village” rings true for putting on kabuki performances in Honolulu and, in particular, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  Students began performing kabuki plays back in 1924, and have continued to work with and learn from members of visiting troupes from Japan, and community members who have studied with dedicated performers from that country. 

The rich tradition continues until this day. The traditional Japanese drama of kabuki, performed with highly stylized singing and dancing, has a performance history in Hawai‘i dating back to 1893, when a touring kabuki troupe entertained more than 20,000 Japanese immigrants in the islands. UH Mānoa has the distinction of being the only university in the country that puts on English-language kabuki productions on a regular basis.

The curtains next rise on Friday, April 8, 2011, when UH Mānoa’s 31st kabuki performance, The Vengeful Sword (Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba), opens at the John F. Kennedy Theatre. The tale is about the journey of a samurai in search of an important missing heirloom sword and what happens when he discovers its bloodthirsty nature. Fully staged, beautifully costumed, and with live authentic music and stylized fighting, the production covers everything from love to comedy to high drama.

 For The Vengeful Sword, kabuki percussion expert Kashiwa Senjiro has traveled from Tokyo, Japan to spend a one-month residency in Mānoa leading up to the performances. While here, he is helping to hone student percussion skills via training in the specialized narimono percussion that accompanies the kabuki play. Respected production choreographer Onoe Kikunobu, who began her own training with Japanese kabuki troupes that toured O‘ahu in the 1930s, is production choreographer—a role she has been performing for UH Mānoa since the 1950s. Assisting her is Onoe Kikunobukazu, a longtime veteran who will also lead the nagauta shamisen ensemble.

“Hawaii kabuki exists because of community involvement,” said UH Mānoa Associate Professor Julie Iezzi, who specializes in the study and performance of traditional Japanese theater. Thus, if it “takes a village” to put on a kabuki performance, UH Mānoa will be filled with some very happy kabuki-loving villagers starting April 8. For more information on The Vengeful Sword and other Kennedy Theatre productions, visit http://www.hawaii.edu/kennedy/.

For more information, contact Tracy Robinson at (808) 956-2598 or ktpub@hawaii.edu.

Top photo: The dutiful samurai, Fukuoka Mitsugi (played by James Schrmer), confronts his foe Aidamaya Kitaroku (Murray Husted) in The Vengeful Sword.

Feature: The sting’s the thing

Dr. Angel Yanagihara
Dr. Angel Yanagihara

Angel Yanagihara knows first-hand the painful effects of Hawaiian box jellyfish stings. During a long-distance morning swim off Waikīkī Beach in July 1997, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa assistant research professor encountered a swarm of the nearly invisible jellyfish. She suffered multiple stings, resulting in immediate and excruciating pain, gasping and wheezing, and angry red welts—symptoms that took nearly three months to totally disappear.

That encounter changed the direction of Yanagihara’s research as a biochemist at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center. She was amazed to find that Australian Box jellies have the potential to kill an adult man in 5-20 minutes, yet there was no reliable antidote to the sting of these most primitive venomous animals on the planet. Yanagihara launched a mission to discover what makes the venom of the related but smaller Hawaiian box jelly such a potent stinging cocktail, with the hopes of finding a substance that would not simply treat the symptoms, but would stop the toxin after penetrating a victim’s skin.

To deconstruct the venom, Yanagihara systematically analyzed the components of box jellyfish venom and characterized their biological effects. She found that the blood-puncturing toxins not only led to red blood cell rupture, but also platelet depletion and white blood cell activation launching a profound inflammatory response called Irukandji Syndrome. “The greatest challenge in this research effort has been to ‘invent the wheel’ in developing analytical biochemical approaches,” said Yanagihara. “That capture the full suite of active components that comprise the venom contained in microscopic stinging cells.”

And then, in 2009, came success: The biochemist developed a blocker that worked in both human blood and a live animal model. “Our efforts to utilize biochemical tools to develop targeted therapeutics—to ultimately address the monthly pain and suffering that the local Hawaiian Box jellies inflict on swimmers—are finally coming to a tangible end point,” she said. Multiple patents have been submitted and a recent agreement was finalized with Waterlife Research of Maui, which plans to release a commercial product based on these findings within the next six months.

Yanagihara’s research was featured on a PBS NOVA documentary titled, “Venom,” which aired in February 2011. To view the entire episode, visit http://www.pbrc.hawaii.edu/. In addition, she and her husband, fellow UH Mānoa Professor Ric Yanagihara, are also featured on the BioMedical Faces of Science website at www.biomedicalfacesofscience.com.

For more information contact Angel Yanagihara at (808) 956-8328 or angel@pbrc.hawaii.edu.

Top photo: Hawaiian box jellyfish, courtesy of © Andre Seale / www.Artesub.com.

Feature: Master of disaster

National Disaster Preparedness Training Center logo

On March 11, 2011, residents throughout the Pacific and on the mainland’s west coast braced themselves for a tsunami, generated from a destructive 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan. While the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center took the lead in alerting ocean-side venues, it was a training facility nestled in Mānoa Valley, led by University of Hawai‘i researchers, that has been working behind the scenes daily to make sure response to such natural disasters is adept and widespread.

At the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC) at the Mānoa Innovation Center, Executive Director and UH Mānoa Professor Karl Kim and his team routinely provide all-hazards training throughout the U.S. and its territories, with an emphasis on natural hazards in island and coastal communities. NDPTC is one of seven federally funded members of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which collectively conduct research to develop and deliver disaster training for responders, decision-makers, policy analysts and urban planners—ensuring that they are prepared to respond in an event of a catastrophe.

Among the many ongoing training courses offered at the NDPTC is a FEMA-certified Tsunami Awareness course (AWR-217) that provides a basic understanding of tsunamis, hazard assessment, warning and dissemination, and community response strategies to effectively reduce tsunami risk. The goal of the 8-hour course is to enhance participants’ abilities to support their organizational preparedness and response efforts. No advanced knowledge and experience of tsunamis is required in order to sign up for the course.

Organizers note that effective response requires pre-event planning and preparation to ensure that the public knows what to do and where to evacuate before destructive waves arrive, and to know when it is all-clear and safe to return. “This is the first FEMA-certified course on tsunamis offered through NDPTC, which we developed because of the serious threat to Hawai‘i and other Pacific island communities,” said Kim. “We’re fortunate to have a strong collaborative relationship with NOAA, International Tsunami Information Center, Pacific Services Center and the Pacific Risk Management ‘ohana, as well as many other state and local agencies.” Kim added that the NDPTC has worked with partners in American Samoa to have course materials translated into Samoan.

This month, trainings will be conducted and delivered to first-responders in American Samoa, Guam and Honolulu. Participants interested in signing up for the Honolulu course on March 30 can go to http://ndptc.hawaii.edu/training.html. To learn more about the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, visit http://ndptc.hawaii.edu/index.php.

For more information, contact Karl Kim at (808) 988-5144 or karlk@hawaii.edu.

Top photo: On September 29, 2009, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake in the South Pacific triggered a massive tsunami in American Samoa.

Feature: Measuring and predicting vog

Vog Diagram
Recent model forecast of sulfur dioxide output

Living up to its title as one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea’s recent eruption on the Big Island is spewing forth more than just a spectacular show of nature. Its bubbling cauldron of fire is also stoking concern about volcanic emission hazards—posing a risk to air quality, and thus affecting everything from crop production to the ability to breathe.

Vog or volcanic air pollution, which is primarily a mixture of sulfur dioxide gas and sulfate aerosol, has been a constant in Hawai‘i since January 1983, when Kilauea began erupting sporadically at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. The relatively remote vent on the volcano’s east rift zone became constant in 1986. Now, coupled with the opening of a second vent at the summit in March 2008, Kilauea continues to emit large volumes of sulfur dioxide gas. The one-two punch has resulted in increased emissions, thereby leading to escalating worries about air quality and its impact on the health and well-being of humans and nature.

Enter the Vog Measurement and Prediction (VMAP) project, which offers a high-tech mitigation option and learning tool in the form of accurate vog forecasting. Two members of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Meteorology were involved in its development: principal investigator Steven Businger and lead vog modeler Roy Huff. Scientific collaborators include Keith Horton and John Porter, both of the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory funded the initial phase of the project through a cooperative agreement with UH Mānoa that ends on September 30, 2011.

“We expect that people will find the animated vog forecast maps that show the extent of the vog to be the most useful,” said Businger. The website also includes separate forecasts for sulfur dioxide gas and visible sulfate aerosol, and a written forecast that describes how the vog distribution is expected to change with time over the coming couple of days and why. Observed concentrations provided by the Hawai‘i State Department of Health and the National Park Service are displayed on the website and are used to validate and improve the vog model predictions.

VMAP is an ongoing investigation, with the long-term goal to offer accurate vog forecasting. Since the project is in its initial phase, the forecast discussions, vog model predictions, and model validation graphics on the website provide limited service and reliability. Users of the VMAP website should have no expectation of accuracy or timeliness, and vog model forecasts should not be used for health-related decision-making purposes.

To learn more about the VMAP project, visit: http://weather.hawaii.edu/vmap, which includes contact information for project collaborators and links to cooperating state and federal agencies.

For more information, contact Steven Businger at (808) 956-2569 or businger@hawaii.edu.

Top photo: Eruption of Halema`uma`u vent at Kilauea by Mila Zinkova.

Imi Ho`ola

The Imi Ho`ola Post-Baccalaureate Program is dedicated to improving health care in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Basin by increasing the number of physicians through a 12-month educational program that addresses disadvantaged students’ academic and social-emotional needs. Imi Ho‘ola’s goal is to support diversity of the physician workforce and produce physicians who demonstrate a strong commitment to practice in under served communities in Hawai‘i and the Pacific.

Each year, up to 12 students from economic, social, and/or educational disadvantaged backgrounds are selected to participate in the post-baccalaureate program. Applicants to the Imi Ho`ola program have diverse backgrounds and are motivated to overcome challenges that have prevented them from achieving their academic potential. Although Imi Ho‘ola is not limited to persons of Hawaiian, Filipino, Samoan, Chamorro, or Micronesian descent, a large number of these students have demonstrated that they are from a disadvantaged backgrounds. The curriculum emphasizes the integration of concepts and principles in the sciences and humanities and further develops communication and learning skills. Upon successful completion of the program, students enter JABSOM as first-year medical students.


Researchers from the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, along with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, have created the world’s first frozen repository for Hawaiian corals. The frozen bank protects, preserves and restores the biodiversity among corals—including the pictured Fungia scutaria, otherwise known as mushroom coral.

The Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) is a world-renowned marine research institute of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Situated on Moku o Lo‘e (Coconut Island) in Kane‘ohe Bay, HIMB offers access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a diverse range of marine environments. HIMB and its faculty are recognized authorities in marine diseases, neuroendocrinology, microbial organisms, and sensory systems of marine mammals and elasmobranchs.

Waikīkī Aquarium

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Waikiki Aquarium features over 127 species of coral, a collection unrivaled in the Western Hemisphere. Internationally renowned as a pioneer and leader in coral propagation, the Aquarium has successfully maintained live corals since 1978 and now houses the largest and oldest collection in the United States. The corals in the Aquarium’s collection are a unique and important resource for UH researchers and other scientists who wish to study them.

Founded in 1904 and administered by the University of Hawai‘i since 1919, the Waikiki Aquarium showcases more than 500 marine species, and maintains more than 3,500 marine specimens. The Aquarium, the third oldest in the U.S., welcomes more than 320,000 visitors annually and features public exhibits, educational programs and research focused on the unique aquatic life of Hawai‘i and the tropical Pacific. The Waikiki Aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Honolulu Marathon Sunday and Christmas Day.

Harold L. Lyon Arboretum

Brighamia insignis is a member of the bellflower family. This short-lived perennial is extremely rare and is, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of only two Brighamia species, both of which are endemic to Hawai‘i. There is only one known plant surviving in the wild, growing on the rocky ledges and steep sea cliffs on the island of Kaua‘i.

• There is only one known plant remaining in the wild.
• Utilizing seeds received in 1999 from 13 of the last remaining Brighamia insignis plants in the wild, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Harold L. Lyon Arboretum has successfully propagated approximately 50 plants that have since been sent back to the island of Kaua‘i to be used in restoration projects.

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is the only university botanical garden in the United States located in a tropical rainforest. Consisting of almost 200 acres in the beautiful valley of Mānoa on the island of O‘ahu, the arboretum is dedicated to the rescue and propagation of rare and endangered native Hawaiian plants. Making its collections and information available to a broad clientele including students, researchers, industry and the general public, the arboretum serves as a center for educational activities on plants, arts, culture, geography and a range of other sciences. Hosting approximately 34,000 visitors annually through participation in tours, classes, research projects and community activities, the facility, located at 3860 Mānoa Road, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.