Disgustingly Awesome

An odd smell permeated our vehicle while driving down the road to one of our field sites…what is that?  We’ve smelled trash, sewage, yard waste, burning cane; but never this.  What could it be?  No idea.

It turns out, that corals around the entire island of Maui were making love.

Rice coral spawning is an amazing event that occurs only twice a year, on a couple of specific days, at a specific time of night.  All the corals in the region wait to exhale at the exact same moment, releasing their loads into the ocean with uncanny temporal precision.
This precision allowed us to run out to the reef at Kapalua, jump in the water at night, and within minutes, observe millions of sperm/egg packets being dumped before our eyes.  The spawn turned the coastal ocean into a soup of gamete balls that floated to the surface, creating a thick odorous slick stretching as far as we could see.

This slick is likely what created the aforementioned smell around the island.   It was the smell of corals gettin’ it on.  We watched in amazement, along with many other animals that came out at night to observe the salacious activity.

Yes, we were one with the coral spawn.  Pretty disgusting….pretty awesome.Get ‘er done my coral friends…and keep building those reefs.

[de] Construction @ Ukumehame

One of my favorite sites to dive/snorkel in Maui is Ukumehame.  Despite the 300m swim to get out there, the reef rewards divers & swimmers with large fish, numerous turtles, beautiful & complex coral formations, clear water, and manta rays.    In addition, it’s proven to be a great surf spot & now hosts an array of my experimental tiles.

The reefs at Ukumehame are magnificent and should stay that way.

It has been a real bummer to find the reef, now, completely silted due to recent & on-going shoreline construction activities.  Maui transportation has built the highway directly on the water; and though a nice drive, the highway is regularly damaged by swell events, necessitating significant construction activities seaward of the road.  With the tractors clawing @ the earth & the waves simultaneously pounding the shoreline, huge plumes of sediment are mobilized and descend upon the reef.  Human-caused spikes in sedimentation rates is one of the main killers of coral reefs around the world.

Mounds of clean rock belie the missing mounds of silt & sediment dumped onto the reef from shoreline construction activities.

The water at Ukumehame has been transformed from clear & beautiful to a thick soup of sediment with visibility less than 12 inches at times.

It’s hard to imagine how much sediment has been delivered to Maui’s reefs over the last century of construction and development, and how much degradation such activities have caused Maui’s reefs.  Previously we did not know the impacts, or know to care about the impacts, so perhaps an ‘oops’ was appropriate.

But now we do know; and perhaps, this should no longer be acceptable.

Niko scopes the sediment plume at Ukumehame, stretching several hundred meters over the reef.

Another Day in the Office

We’re back in Maui, attacking science like tuna on tangs.  This trip my field assistant/dive buddy is Niko Kaplanis–undergrad researcher & surfing grom guru.  We’ve been having a great time…working long days, sometimes under water for 6 hrs/day.  We’ve traveled 60 km of Maui’s coastline three times now, sampling around our CAUs (calcification/accretion units), collecting water samples, deploying instruments, commiserating with turtles & avoiding sharks.

Niko is great in the field & has a perpetual stoke, which is a ton of fun.

Colorful frog dotting the reef.

Niko making friends with the locals

Niko getting ‘er done in the research position.

Coral battling algal takeover…

Geekiest Dish & Happy Birthday KHFMA

On July 28, 2012 we celebrated the 3rd birthday of the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA) in Maui, Hawaii.  The KHFMA is the first protected area of its kind — promoting fishing in general, while protecting specific species (herbivores) that are critical to the health and long-term persistence of the region’s beautiful coral reefs.

The establishment and maintenance of this reserve has required significant investment by many groups including the Maui Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), and Kaanapali Makai Watch.  The KHFMA birthday bash was a celebration of the sustained efforts of all these groups, and the many political, social, & educational successes they’ve achieved.  This was a celebration for all who have dedicated some part of their lives to promoting the health of Maui’s coral reefs, and reefs abroad.

The celebration included a host of activities including: fish observations, water quality training, reef tours, interactive exhibitions on traditional fishing practices, and a fun reef-themed culinary contest.  The Smith Lab was represented by myself and Niko Kaplanis.  We chatted with our fellow reef stewards, participated in many of the activities, and earned the “Geekiest Science Dish” award for our “Phase Shift Cake 2.0.”

Phase Shift Cake 2.0

Levi with wana (urchin) cupcakes.

Niko & his honu (turtle) mini cake.

Liz & Darla with their green yellow tang cake.

Luna teaching Niko how to throw net for fish.

Aside from the silliness and fun, the birthday bash had a serious undertone.  Maui’s reefs are in serious trouble, and something needs to be done to restore and preserve them.  There are many problems necessitating numerous major interventions.   To succeed, we must bring together managers, land owners, scientists, fishermen, swimmers, tourists, etc. to work towards a common goal of sustainable practices.  The KHFMA has succeeded in bringing together many of these groups to address several of these issues.   The hope is that the KHFMA will achieve great success and serve as a model for addressing the multitude of other factors contributing to the degradation of Hawaii’s (and the world’s) magnificent coral reefs.

It takes a community to protect & restore a reef.

A New Angle On Flow

Im all about angles recently.

I’ve been trying to design an economical flow meter that can be deployed in shallow reefs around Maui.  One method is to create an apparatus that tilts over as a function of flow.   This has been done before using spring-vane and float-line deployment mechanisms, combined with an accelerometer that measures tilt at a given frequency.  I’ve been developing my own version based on some new ideas & recommendations.  It’s an adventure, far from over, but a good one thus far.  Wish me luck!

Getting it at Kingman Reef

This is an old post from another website re: my first dive on a remote atoll:

“Getting it at Kingman Reef”
By Levi Lewis

“Okay, I get it.”  Dr. Sandin (fish team) was wondering what I thought of my first dive on Kingman Reef, one of the most remote and pristine coral reef ecosystems in the world.  As a new member of the coral reef lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this was an exciting opportunity for me to witness all that I’ve heard and read regarding intact reef ecosystems.

My first dive of the trip was in the Kingman lagoon.  I rolled off the port side of our inflatable, splashing into a foreign world few humans have ever seen.  As I surveyed the landscape dotted in massive yellow mushroom-like mounds of lobe corals, I spotted the natives arriving to greet me—three grey reef sharks.  They examined me as I would expect Native Americans to have examined European explorers upon their arrival to the New World.  We could not communicate, though it was clear they wanted to know a few things:  “Who are you? What are you? What are your intentions? What is that shiny thing you‘re pointing at us?”  My only response was to continue aiming the camera at them, partially in excitement to get my first sharks on film, also to put something hard between myself and their concealed weaponry.  It felt, in part, a standoff and, in part, a warm welcome.  Regardless, I was happy to see them.

After three days of diving, I could write about these reefs ad infinitum:  the schools of crimson fang-toothed bohar snappers and their piercing yellow eyes; species-rich coral spires stacked high towards the sea’s surface;  the chaotic vortex of metallic jacks that swallowed me alive; an open-water plankton bloom that  fueled countless salps, ctenophores and barrel-rolling mantas; the infinite schools of convict tangs that coated the reefs, grazing frantically on…hmm, there seemed to be a lack of fleshy algae on the reef.

We traveled 4,000 miles to get here for a reason:  it is the only way we could really get it; “it” being an understanding of how coral reef ecosystems should look and function in the absence of local human impacts.  Though I understood much of this in my head, seeing the reef helped me truly get it in my core.  Through our science and outreach, we hope society, too, will begin to get it.

A New Angle on Angling

I grew up angling with da hook n line kine & will always love bobbing around on the ocean, trying to convince a fish to accept my presentation.  It’s a beautiful art, wonderful adventure, and a keen way to be a part of nature.

However, I recently had the opportunity to do a little spear fishing in Maui with my buddy Clint.  He had ordered some spears to do some preliminary work for a project on the feeding behaviors of black durgeon triggerfish (Melichthys niger or humu humu ele ele).  After our fist dive, I realized that I’ve found a new love & passion.  The spear-fishing experience is far more intimate than hook & line:  to see the fish, dance with the fish, & spear the fish; all while holding your breath & avoiding the circling sharks & seals.  It’s quite the organic experience.  Clearly this has put a new angle on my angling career; though it has become quite clear that fishing is to spear fishing, as trapping is to hunting.  With a spear in hand, you are no longer a fisherman–you are a hunter (& possibly the hunted).


The movie below is not ours (praise be!), but we did have a smaller shark & a ginormous monk seal cruise up on us while we were fishing, pretty much like this:

“Google Yo Self”

Sometimes you owe it to yourself  to “TREAT YO SELF.”

I’ve recently realized that you also owe it to yourself to “GOOGLE YO SELF.”  Aside from all the cool people out there that share your name, you might find some interesting (hopefully not worse) information, pictures, even lectures of/by/for you that have been made public to anyone in the world with an internet connection.

Here are some new ones that I recently uncovered:

Veni Vidi GlowBocce

Over the last year, I’ve grown to love bocce ball.

How could you not like bocce ball? It is a simple game based on “one of the most primitive concepts in sports history: throwing an item at an inactive target.”   I love throwing, shooting & hitting things at other inactive things:  darts, pool, target practice, shooting old GI Joe Figurines with air rifles…..I diverge.

Though the Romans/Italians are credited for assigning the current accepted name & game-play, like many of the great ancient developments & inventions, the bocce ball concept appears to have first sprung out of Africa (Egypt) and radiated throughout Europe like a wild sapiens.  There are records of prominent figures such as Emperor Agustus, Galileo, Queen Elizabeth I, and Sir Francis Drake all playing the great game.  It apparently was so popular throughout Europe that it was banned by several emperors/kings/leaders in efforts to improve worker efficiency, with many prohibitions including severe criminal penalties under the pretext that bocce was an illicit gateway sport that led to gambling.

So love bocce because you’re a history buff, a sports fanatic, or a rebel.  Me?  I used to love bocce b/c it brought so many of my good friends together and could be played in sand, grass, snow, or on top of a volcano (no, seriously).

Now, however, I love it for a whole new reason:  because it glows.

The Day I Thought I Burned Down Lahaina

“Dude, didn’t you leave your sediments drying in the oven?”

These were the (not so) soothing words from Clint as we approached an inferno bellowing black mushroom clouds of smoke directly from the vicinity of our Lahaina residence (aka Mark’s house).  The next 4 traffic lights took an eternity, but in the end, we learned that the blaze was directly adjacent to our apartment complex–likely started by the homeless camp (“tent city”) nestled in the thick shrubbery of an adjacent abandoned lot.  The flames danced a menacing 100 meters from our complex, choking out the sun with nauseating plumes of toxic smoke.

After negotiating with the police, we were allowed back into the house where my sediment samples remained safely in the oven; dry, happy, & ready to be weighed.  No property was lost.  No one was injured.  No billion dollar liability was leveraged.  But the hypothetical reality of it all had solidly set in & my nerves could only be settled by some serious libations set deeply within the ambiance of an upbeat ukulele.