Monthly Archives: July 2018

Diving South Kohala

On Saturday Marla and I took a two-tank boat dive with Blue Wilderness, a good outfit based at the Waikoloa resorts.  Their rigid inflatable boat leaves from the Puako boat ramp, right in the heart of the numerous fine South Kohala dive sites.  The first site we dove was near the southern end of the Mauna Lani resort.  I believe the site is colloquially known as “Skate Park.”  Interesting topography, but not too fishy on the morning we dove.  The second site, known as “Puako House 20” was more fun, but we saw some good stuff at both sites.

Early on the first dive I spotted this tiny juvenile psychedelic wrasse, less than in inch long, hunkering in a dark recess at about forty feet. It swam with a halting, waving motion, making it look a bit like a fragment of floating detritus. Juvenile rockmover wrasses employ a similar strategy to avoid predation. The psychedelic wrasse is a fairly uncommon endemic.

A photogenic Ewa fang blenny, larger and more colorful than many.  I always enjoy the pseudo-smile on these bold little endemics.

This juvenile Hawaiian hogfish appeared to have a bite taken out of its caudal (tail) fin. Another endemic fish.

A terminal male yellowtail coris asserting. It had been rooting around in the sand—some of which you can see in the photo—for invertebrate prey when I disturbed it.  You see a lot of reef fish with broken teeth—the result of their tough diets of hard-shelled invertebrates or, in the case of some species, coral. I presume the teeth grow back.

A serene pair of crowned tobies. Hoover says that these endemic puffers are fairly common at scuba depths, but I don’t see them much. (I try to get the color balance in many of my  photos to reflect the way things actually look at these depths—about forty feet in this case. I find the flat, blue-ish underwater lighting quite pleasing.)

Schooling four-spot butterflyfish. We see these often at snorkeling depths throughout Hawaii, but almost always in pairs rather than schools. (You have to count the spots on both sides to get to four.)

Kawaihae surprises

A couple of months ago, on a dive club shore cleanup at Kawaihae, we ran into a local architect named Hai On.  Hai is an avid snorkeler/freediver, very knowledgeable about Kawaihae’s fishy fauna*, and an overall good guy.  He graciously gave Marla and me a tour of what Kawaihae has to offer.

For those unfamiliar, Kawaihae is west Hawaii’s primary commercial port.  A long breakwater creates a large, lagoon-like harbor.  Despite all the commercial activity, as well as periodic military exercises, the protected waters inside the harbor are home to a surprising variety of marine life.  Invertebrate diversity is especially rich.  We’ve snorkeled there three times so far, most recently yesterday with our buddies Jeff and Sandra.  Here’s some of what we’ve seen:

Feather duster worms are all over the place in the harbor. The bodies of these filter feeders are hidden in tubes they build in crevices in coral or other hard substrates; only their fan-like feeding appendages protrude. This one is about three inches across.

Orange cup coral with a pencil urchin in the foreground. These cup corals have their tentacles retracted, typical during the day.

These cup corals in a shady crevice have exposed their tentacles to feed in the daytime.

There are three elevated concrete platforms, apparently used by the military, at the south end of the harbor. The pilings supporting these structures are loaded with barnacles, sponges, and associated “fouling organisms.” Had it not been for Hai tipping us off, we would never have noticed all the nudibranchs that also inhabit these pilings. In fact we’d probably never have even looked—the area does not look at all promising to the casual observer. This is a painted nudibranch wandering around just a couple of feet below the surface on one of the pilings.

A gloomy nudibranch, again on a piling just a couple of feet below the surface. This species, like most Hawaiian nudibranchs, is usually found in deeper waters. The greenish cast to the nudi’s blackish body is not a photographic artifact—it’s real.

This tiny trembling nudibranch, about half an inch long, was, despite its vivid coloration, fairly hard to spot among the colorful sponges and other stuff on the piling.

Oh yeah, Kawaiahae Harbor also has fish, and some surprisingly healthy coral. These are two juvenile parrotfish (bulletheads is my guess) sheltering in a gigantic head of plate-and-pillar coral.

*Check out Hai’s blog: kawaihaereef.wordpress.com.  He’s got a link to some great black tip reef shark video and other cool stuff.

Diving Mahukona

Earlier this month Marla and I had the pleasure of hosting our fantastic mainland friends Jill and Eric and their fantastic kids, Finn and Sophie.  These guys are about the most ocean-oriented family we know.  The kids—especially Finn—are virtual fishes, and the parents are avid snorkelers and divers.  Their visit provided the occasion for two dives at Mahukona.

While we’ve snorkeled at Mahukona innumerable times over the last ten years, we’ve only dived there a handful of times.  It’s, not surprisingly, as good a dive site as a snorkeling site.

For the first dive we we went straight out from the dock until we reached a depth of about 30 ft. and then turned north. The terrain here was rich in fairly healthy looking lobe coral and finger coral, intermixed with sandy spots. Here’s Jill at a depth of about 40 ft. She’s of course not actually touching that coral. Right, Jill?

Hawaiian dascyllus were abundant among the coral between 30 and 40 ft.  Here they’re swimming with the ubiquitous multiband butterflyfish.  Both species are endemic.

A young pencil wrasse. These are usually seen in groups at depths of 40 ft. or greater, but this one was apparently alone at maybe 35 ft.

Pearly soldierfish. Unlike most soldierfish species, which tend to hunker in caves and under ledges during the day, the pearlies can often be seen out in the open, especially at depth.

A disappearing wrasse, also appropriately known as mustached wrasse. They’re fairly rare at snorkeling depths, but very common below about 30 ft.

Ewa fang blenny, another species found mostly below snorkel depths.  Another endemic.

One of the highlights of the dive was a group of bluefin trevally (omilu) actively hunting around us. They seemed to be using us to create a diversion to improve their odds of nabbing a small fish. Here’s Eric enjoying. You can see that he’s got a big rock tucked under one arm. He’d started the dive without enough weight, so had to carry the rock for the whole dive to keep from floating to the surface. Very old-school—what a man!

Two of the trevally hunting with a whitemouth moray and, in the background, a ringtail wrasse. This sort of group hunting is fascinating to watch, but it’s surprisingly uncommon to see the hunters actually score a small fish.

On the way back from the first dive we were met by Finn and Sophie, who were snorkeling with Marla.

The second dive was just Eric and me—the diehards. We went south this time, over a more sandy terrain interspersed with rock terraces.  This large horned helmet shell, almost a foot long, was a highlight of the second dive. Using a trick I learned from my old divemaster Scott, I found a sea urchin and placed it a couple of feet in front of the helmet shell. The helmet, which had been totally motionless, suddenly reared up and lurched toward the urchin—its natural prey—at a speed that seem almost supernatural for a snail.

Check out the helmet’s colorful mantle as it envelopes the doomed urchin. It will drill into the urchin with a rasp-like mouthpart known as a radula. We felt kind of bad for the poor urchin, but the helmet shell has to eat, too.