Aug 3, 2009
Underwater Vacuum Stops Exotic Algae from Smothering Coral Reefs in Hawaii ecology” />
Coral reefs are under threat. They are being suffocated by an exotic seaweed by the name of gorilla ogo, which is invading reefs, smothering grass beds and fouling the most picturesque of beaches in Hawaii.
The algae – a foreign export, has thrived in Hawaii’s coral-rich beds. It now out-competes the native population, with the effect of reducing the diversity of species
“The algae invasion poses the largest current threat to the health of reefs in Hawaii,” said Cynthia Hunter, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii.
Hunter added that a number of species have been particularly affected, including a species of rice coral that is now vanishing rapidly. The reason is linked to thick coatings of algae. These can kill corals by blocking them from sunlight and flows of fresh seawater.
Algae also fill in the cracks and crevices that make coral reefs a safe haven for fish and other forms of marine life. Even larger animals such as sea turtles may be excluded from their normal resting areas.
Removing the algae recreates the three-dimensional nature of the coral reef, and recreates homes used by all types of fish and invertebrates,” said Brian Hauk, a director of the Super Sucker project with Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
So…what’s the solution?
Apparently they call them Super Suckers, which are, unsurprisingly, large underwater vacuum cleaners.
Each Super Sucker has a powerful pump and a tube for removing algae from beneath the ocean to the surface.
National Geographic reported that
“Divers in the water operate the 100-foot-long (30-meter-long) suction hose, feeding in gobs of algae by hand after first shaking loose any marine organisms that may be attached.
“They literally suck the algae off the reef,” Hauk said.
“Workers on the barge further screen the collected algae for any accidentally collected marine life. The nutrient-rich algae are then packed into bags for use as fertilizer. The Super Suckers can remove up to 800 pounds of algae per hour and restore hundreds of square feet of reef in a day, Hauk said.
“When you pull the algae off, there is often live coral underneath that is fighting to survive,” Hauk said.
“You feel like you are saving the reef one [coral] colony at a time.”
The Super Sucker project is a joint effort by The Nature Conservancy, the University of Hawaii, and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. Let’s all hope it has the desired effect!