Hawai'i State News

New ‘Fish Pono’ campaign highlights herbivore fishes key to healthy coral reefs in Hawaiʻi

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A male Bullethead Parrotfish, or uhu, cleans algae from dead coral. (Photo credit: Jeff Kuwabara)

A local ʻohana of like-minded ocean lovers, scientists, water enthusiasts and fishers have launched Fish Pono—Save Our Reefs, a public education campaign with the vision of bringing awareness to the importance of replenishing herbivore fish populations to foster healthy coral reefs.

Five University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty, staff and alumni are supporting this effort. Fish Pono scientific advisors include Alan Friedlander and Kawika Winter of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, Mark Hixon of the School of Life Sciences, as well as alumnus Randy Kosaki of the NOAA Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photography on the Fish Pono website was provided by UH alumnus Jeff Kuwabara, who directs the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Marine Option Program, and waterman Keoki Stender.

When herbivores—our reef’s lawnmowers—such as uhu (parrotfishes), nenue (chubs), kala, kole, manini, other surgeonfishes and sea urchins are in low abundance, coral reefs are overgrown with seaweeds and begin to suffocate and die. These ever-important lawnmowers, especially the uhu, must be abundant and thriving for seaweeds to remain in check, our corals to survive and flourish, and our beaches to get their essential, desperately needed sand (uhu poop sand).


“As our islands experience serious effects of poor water quality and climate change, including severe coral bleaching, a simple effort of giving uhu and other herbivore fishes a break, taking only what you need to feed your immediate family for that day, will save our coral reefs,” Kosaki said. “Scientists have found that uhu and important surgeonfishes are particularly overfished, and highly populated islands like Oʻahu are at less than 5% of their original herbivore fish abundance.”

Ongoing Fish Pono television and radio PSAs feature well-known ocean enthusiasts, including navigator Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, champion spearfisher Kimi Werner, waterman and ocean safety expert Brian Keaulana, and bodysurfing champion Mark Cunningham. The PSAs were filmed around Oʻahu and offer testimony of the importance of saving our coral reefs by saving our uhu and friends. The television and radio PSAs can be found on the Fish Pono website.

“Herbivores allow corals to replenish and grow, and thus save our coastlines and coastal fishing for future generations,” Winter said.


Hixon added, “Coral reefs are extremely valuable to Hawaiʻi, providing subsistence and recreational fishing, coastal protection, surfable waves, tourism, medicines and spiritual connection.”

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