Tag Archives: Kona

Anniversary Celebration & Benefit for the Malama Kai Foundaton

This Sunday, September 4, 2016, from 10-4pm Kona Honu Divers will be celebrating 1-year-under-new-ownership.  There is no better way to celebrate then to have a benefit for a foundation we believe in, the Malama Kai Foundation.  There will be fun and games (dunk tank!), BBQ,

a raffle for prizes like: boat trips, gear, shirts, hats, reusable water bottles, used gear sale, and much more.  Many educational booths like the Marine Mammal Center, Manta Ray Advocates, Surfrider Foundation, and others that focus on preserving and educating the public on our natural resources and aquatic life.  There will also be local artists showcasing their ocean inspired art like Elise Jens , Laura Roberts, and Paul Okumura.

What is the Malama Kai Foundation?

Malama Kai Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to ocean stewardship for current and future generations through community service and public education.  Founded in January 1991, Malama Kai Foundation raises funds and implements project that help conserve Hawaii’s coastal and marine resources, and educated people about these resources (Malama Kai Foundation).

What are mooring balls?

Our day use moorings are an adaptation of the Halas method, developed specifically for Hawai‘i’s hard lava substrata by the University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant Program and Institute of Geophysics. The modern mooring consists of a 3/4 inch stainless steel eyebolt (or pin) 18 inches long that is cemented into a hole drilled into the reef substrate. In sandy or soft bottom areas a specialized “manta” unit is driven deep into the soft substrate. Attached to the the fixed eye (on the pin or manta), which is all that protrudes from the otherwise pristine reef or bottom area, is a chain bridle and 7/8 inch nylon line. The mooring tackle and line is attached to an 18” buoy placed about 10-ft. below the surface (Malama Kai Foundation).

Why are mooring balls important?

Mooring balls protect our reefs from anchors.  The diving community in Kona relies on the Malama Kai Foundation to keep the mooring balls in safe and working order for our daily use.

How can you help?

The Malama Kai Foundation relies heavily on private donations.  The foundation receives some funding from our government, but it is never enough.   During our Anniversary Celebration all proceeds will be donated to the day-use mooring ball program for Hawaii island.  Kona Honu Divers accepts donations when you make diving or snorkeling reservation.  You can also make a private donation directly to the Malama Kai Foundation.

What will the money be used for?

If you make a general donation:

Malama Kai Foundation Support

Donations will support administration (Executive Director), grant writing and fundraising activities, support core programs of Malama Kai Foundations such as community education and coastal stewardship, permitting, website upkeep, and overall operational management of programs and projects.  This donation category allows the most flexibility to utilize your donation to the best purpose (Malama Kai Foundation.

Special Donation: Day-Use Mooring Program

Donations purchase materials (new & replacement) and help reimburse volunteer expenses for installation, monitoring, and maintenance of day-use moorings.  It currently costs about $410 for materials/per mooring plus $800 per mooring for install.  Maintenance costs are about $1200 per day (boat, fuel, and crew).  Typically, 3-7 moorings can be maintained in a day.  There are currently about 220 moorings statewide (Malama Kai Foundation.

Donations can be earmarked for specific islands.



Giant Aliens of Kona

Okay, so they aren’t aliens.  They are actually giant fish- Manta Rays to be exact-and when people visit us in Kona one of their top priorities is to see these rays.  It’s a breathtaking show of tumbling, spinning, and, well, eating really.  It has been described as an underwater Vegas show which is spot on.  However,  in this version the showgirls are trying to put on the pounds!  There are lights shining everywhere and constant action, there’s so much going on that you’re not even sure where to look.


The show is really all about the manta rays, but just like Vegas, every once in a while we get a cameo so amazing it blows even the local divers minds.  No, I’m not referring to Celine Dion or Frank Sinatra, for us islanders we get giddy when a native Hawaiian Monk Seal appears on the show!

H01 Monachus schauinslandii watermarked

Don’t get me wrong, the manta rays are incredible, but I am more a mammal girl myself.  It’s what I focused on while obtaining my marine science degree right here on island and they have been the center of my careers since then.  Heck, they still occupy my life on my weekends when I volunteer.  But for those of you from New England and California I’m sure you are saying “seal, What’s exciting about that?”  Well, let me tell you.

Currently, there are only about 1,000 of these seals left in the world and they are only found in the Hawaiian archipelago.  Of those thousand animals only about 6 of them are residents to our Big Island.  And of those 6, one of them has found an affinity for our Manta Ray night dive.  This individual, one of a few very highly endangered seals, is named Waimanu.  Born in Waimanu valley (they got really creative with names, huh?)  she is a gorgeous, chubby 8 year-old pinniped.  Some may live to be between 25-30 years old, so Waimanu is a relatively young girl.

Monk seal yawn copy

That being said, she has already been a mom twice, that we know of… Unfortunately, even with all the watchful, helpful eyes of the locals, neither pup (baby) made it.  This is the reality with these animals. They are endangered by unrelenting pollution, trash, wayward and discarded fishing line, hooks, and even reduced prey source.

I am proud to say that our community is working to protect all our ocean wildlife.  In the past few years we have banned plastic shopping bags completely. There is currently a bill to ban one use plastics (Styrofoam, plastic utensils, etc.) so less of it ends up in our oceans. We are also constantly participating in beach clean-ups and ocean clean-ups.  We make sure the fish we chose to eat is locally and sustainably caught.  There is even a hospital in Kona specifically set-up to rehabilitate Hawaiian Monk Seals (Ke Kai Ola).  I’m more than proud to call this place home and even more proud to call Kona and Kona Honu Divers my community.

So why is it exciting to see Waimanu?  Maybe it’s partly because she’s a highly endangered species, maybe it’s because she’s an extremely graceful, big, beautiful animal, maybe it’s because she has an extremely cute face that melts your heart.  For me, it’s exciting to see her because she is a part of our community, a contributing member just like the rest of us and every time we see her it inspires us to be stewards to our ocean and share the love with our guests.  Plus, let’s face it, it is just cool!

-Tara Spiegel



Black Water: Squid

Most squid, Sthenoteuthis included, have less than a year to be born, grow, and reproduce before they expire.  This translates into an incredibly high metabolism. Young squid in captivity can eat nearly half their body weight five times per day 2.5 times their body weight per day! That would be like me eating 450lbs of food!  Adult Sthenoteuthis are easily the most common cephalopods we see on blackwater dives.  They can be seen as the large shoals the edges of our lights as we drift through the pelagios on our bi-weekly Black Water Dive.

Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis school small watermarked (1)

This week we get to meet the anomaly that is the purpleback flying squid (Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis).  They are called “flying squid” because, like Exocoetids (aka flying fish) they can leap and glide across the surface of the water to escape predators that skirt the edges of our lights as we drift through the pelagios.  They spend their days hiding in a region between 200-1000 meters deep in the midwater known as the oxygen minimum zone.  This is an area where animals with higher metabolic demands cannot sustain their bodily functions due to low levels of available oxygen.  So while the low oxygen levels keep the squid safe from their most fearsome predators like tuna, the squid itself requires large concentrations of oxygen as well, thus the conundrum.  It turns out that squid kept in tanks containing low-oxygen water can shut their metabolism down to a tenth of the normal rate of consumption.  This means that the squid may not only be hiding from predators in the oxygen minimum zone, but it may be using the cold, dark, low-oxygen environment of the OMZ to shut down its metabolism and wait out daily periods of low-foraging opportunity when the squid would otherwise just starve.

Sthenoteuthis ouahaniensis small watermarked (3)

Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis watermarked (1)

Pan-tropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) often come in to forage on the schools of Sthenoteuthis attracted to our lights.  One night, a dolphin pod came in to dine and hit the squid school just under the water’s surface.  I watched this shiny object drifting down under the scene and recognized it as a squid’s eyeball drifting into the blackness.

Squid Eyeball 2 watermarked (1)

-Jeff Milisen




Nudibranch (pronounced noodabrank) means “naked gill”.  This refers to the gill-like appendages sticking out of the backs of most nudibranchs and is the organ that allows them to breath.  Most nudibranchs also have appendages called rhinophores, usually located at the head.  These have scent receptors and are used to taste, smell, and navigate.  Most nudibranchs can retract these tentacle-like organs into a pocket in their skin so they are protected from hungry predators.

Nudibranchs are Gastropods in the phylum Mollusca. They are related to snails, slugs, limpets, and sea hares.  Unlike other mollusks nudibranchs do not have shells as adults.  The shell is only found in the larvae stage and disappears when it becomes an adult.

There are over 3,000 species of nudibranchs and new species are being added to the list all the time.  Nudibranchs come in all sizes from just a few millimeters to over 12 inches and weighing up to 3 pounds like the beautiful Spanish dancer.   They can be a myriad of colors, spotted, striped or solid with trim. They are found in cold temperatures and warm temperatures.

There are two main types of nudibranchs dorids and eolids.  The dorids breathe through gills that are located on their backs in a cluster.  Eolids have appendages called cerata that can cover their entire backs and can be threadlike, club-like, branched or clustered in several groups.  The cerata have multiple functions including breathing, digestion, and defense.

Nudibranchs see only light and dark.  Information about their environment is gathered by the rhinophores or sense of smell and some by sense of taste through tentacles surrounding the mouth.  Nudibranchs and all other mollusks, have a radula, an organ with many tiny teeth, which they use to scrape up food.  All nudibranchs are carnivorous.  They feast on a variety of foods including sponges, hydroids, anemones, fish eggs, barnacles and even other nudibranchs.  Some species dine exclusively on one type of food and one species of that food.

The colors of nudibranchs come from the colors of the foods they ingest.  Color can camouflage them or, when bright and flamboyant, signal to predators that they are poisonous.  Some nudibranchs eat corals that contain algae. They absorb the algae’s chloroplasts and store them in their cerata where the chloroplasts will continue to photosynthesize and supply the nudibranch with nutrients.

What they eat can also supply a means of defense.  Eolid nudibranchs that eat organisms that have nematocysts, or stinging cells, can store them in their cerata and use them to sting predators if they are attacked.  Some dorid nudibranchs, like the fried egg nudibranch, have a unique defense system.  They secrete toxic slime that stinks and mucks up the water, warding off would-be predators.  True to their classification as slugs they do very little work to prepare these defenses. They simply absorb toxins manufactured by the foods they eat.  Not to stereotype the character of all nudibranchs, there are some industrious species of nudibranchs that manufacture their own toxins.

The majority of nudibranchs cannot harm humans.  Two exceptions are Glaucus atlanticus and a close relative Glaucus marginata.  They eat Portuguese man-o-war, absorb the nematocysts, and can use them to cause a pretty nasty sting even to humans.

All nudibranchs are hermaphrodites which means one individual is both male and female.  The lucky little guys can mate with any individual that happens by.  This is a plus because during the majority of a nudibranchs life they live alone and searching for a mate is inhibited by the fact that they never move very far and they can’t move very fast.  When two adults meet they each extend a tubular organ that they connect together and through this they fertilize each other’s eggs. The eggs are deposited in a spiral pattern, all rings evenly spaced from one another.  They are suspended in a gelatinous substance that holds them in place and gives the egg mass a ribbon-like appearance.  The larger “ribbons” of the Spanish dancer eggs can even look like an underwater rose.

Sadly nudibranchs don’t live very long.  Some live up to a year but most live only a matter of weeks.

Facts about some common Hawaiian nudibranchs:

Phyllidiidae varcosa, more commonly known as the Scrambled Egg Nudibranch or the Fried Egg Nudibranch.  The latter name seems more fitting to me because the white ridges on the body with the yellow spots resemble an egg white and yolk.  These are very commonly seen in the waters off Kona.  An individual can reach up to 3.5 inches (14cm) in length. They are common throughout the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific too.  The fried egg nudibranch, like all other Phyllidiidae species, will secrete a toxic mucous when disturbed.  This excretion is deadly to other marine animals.  The toxin comes from sponges they eat.  They eat the toxic sponges than store the toxin in their bodies to use as a defense mechanism.

Fried Egg Nudi (1)

Glossodoris rufomarginata also known as the White Margin Nudibranch is another species seen in Kona.  It is also found in other areas of the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea. These are small nudibranchs ranging from 1-2 inches (2.5 to 5cm).  They will be found in depths of 15 to 100ft (5 to 30m) but I usually see them in the 25 to 35 foot (8-12m) range hanging on the ceilings of arch formations.

White Margin Nudi

Halgerda terramtuentis, the gold lace nudibranch, is endemic to Hawaii which means it is only found in Hawaiian waters.  They are abundant in Hawaii and can be found in shallow waters usually no deeper than 30ft (10m).  They grow to a maximum of about 2in (5cm).

Gold Lace Nudi

Pteraeolididae ianthina, or blue dragon nudibranch is an example of a nudibranch that gets its color from the food that it eats.  They eat hydroids that have zooxanthellae living in them.  The zooxanthellae photosynthesize to produce nutrients and this also produces the color that is transferred to the nudibranch when it eats the hydroid.  Curiously, just like plants, the zooxanthellae can produce different colors so the “blue” dragon nudibranch can be colors other than blue.  In Hawaii I have only seen blue colored blue dragon nudibranchs but they are found throughout the Indo-Pacific in various colors.  No matter the color of the body, they all have purple band markings on their oral tentacles. These nudibranchs also ingest the nematocysts of the hydroids, store them in their cerata and use them for self-defense.

Blue Dragon Nudi

Hiatodoris fellowsi is another endemic nudibranch.  Its common name, Fellow’s Nudibranch.  They are named after biologist David Fellows who was the first to collect a specimen.  These are strikingly beautiful nudibranchs with their snowy white bodies and contrasting jet black gills and rhinophores.

White Margin Nudi

~Stacey Herman

Black Water: Marlin

Anyone who has spent any time around Honokohau Harbor has seen a few of these strung up at the fuel pier. Marlin get huge, so it is excusable if you gawked in awe at the 400 pound dead sea monster on display, but the lifeless form is missing what makes them really special.  By nearly every measure, living marlin are probably the most impressive fish swimming in our oceans today.  For starters, they are world travelers.  One animal was tagged off the coast of Delaware and later recovered near Mauritius- a journey of over 9000 miles!  At 50 miles per hour, marlin are not only faster than anything most divers have seen underwater, they are faster than most speed boats.  And while that 400 pound animal may be more than twice your bodyweight, at 1400 pounds, the largest animal on record was more than 3 times a big as that.  Thus, I’d like to use this blackwater blog to celebrate the marlin for the oceanic apex predator that it is.  And I’d like to start with a little known species of odontocete called the dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima).
Dwarf sperm whales have never been photographed underwater.  They are notoriously difficult to approach and are known for slipping under the water and descending just out of sight of humans.  So imagine my excitement as I found myself in the water with my camera as a pod slowly swam toward me!  The boat crew watched in near silence as their fins dipped below the surface, and the animals descended.  I may have seen a shadow in the distance, but that was probably my imagination.  I just floated hoping the animals would get curious and come back to play.  A minute or so later, the boat crew saw me nearly jump out of the water, muffling some sort of alarm through my snorkel.  Angry reef fish are quickly calmed by simply swimming away.  Even aggressive sharks can be stiff-armed.  But what can you do when a 12-foot long marlin charges you in blue water?
Marlin series (1)
Three photos taken in sequence during the encounter.
We have never seen an adult marlin on a blackwater dive, but we have seen quite a few of their young.  Marlin breed in the late summer and into the early fall and are capable of spawning as many as 7 million eggs at one go.  The resulting young (pictured below) will take 2 years to reach sexual maturity but grow at a rate of more than half an inch per day.  Out of that 7 million eggs, maybe one or two will reach sexual maturity and far fewer will reach the legendary benchmark of “grander” (over 1000 pounds).
Istiophoridae larva best 2 watermarked
Istiophoridae larva head on watermarked
Post flexion marlin photographed on a blackwater dive in May of this year (2015)
Fortunately for me, the apex predator granted me life as it decided to turn at the last minute (as seen in the sequence of photos above), but I’m afraid we have not been so sympathetic to the fish.  Blue marlin have declined by more than 30% of their population in just the last 14 years alone and fishing pressure for this species is increasing.  No blue marlin fisheries are considered to be sustainably managed. Thus, like other banner-species of ocean conservation such as oceanic sharks and even bluefin tuna, marlin are in a lot of trouble.  Sure, they provide a lot of meat, but because they are apex predators, pollutants such as mercury bioaccumulate in their tissues, so they have some of the highest levels of mercury (>.5 parts per trillion) of any marine fish!
-Jeffrey Milisen

Black Water: Sea Moth

When we speak of Gasterosteiformes in Hawaii, we are generally referring to the order of pipefishes and seahorses.  Offshore, that usually refers solely to the pelagic seahorse, Hippocampus fisheri.  We see seahorses infrequently in the late summer and fall, usually at a rate of one seahorse for every ten dives or so.  Imagine Bryce and my surprise, one night, when we came across a member of this family that we didn’t even realize was possible in Hawaii.

Meet the Hawaiian seamoth (Eurypegasus papilio).  Sea moths are related to seahorses, pipefish, sea dragons, and sticklebacks in that they all possess bony external plates.  Seamoths shed their plates, and in some cases they will go through a set of plates every 5 days.  As an adult, this strange little fish will settle in water between 80 and 115 meters deep from the Big Island to Kure.  The underslung mouth implies that the Hawaiian sea moth feeds on benthic animals, and the snout is probably used to help extricate small crustaceans from their holes in the sea floor.  For now, the young is limited to the epipelagic zone, attracted to our lights just like, well, a moth.

-Jeffrey Milisen

Black Water: Clown Squid

Young animals stay near the surface until maturity, but large ones like the squid pictured above, stay down deep and only come to the surface at night.  Adult animals are so rare, it is likely that none have been seen alive and only a few exist in museum collections.  A quiet hush fell over the blackwater divers when I picked up the large specimen for shipment to a cephalopod expert as we all realized that at our feet lay one of the rare night beasties that could show up on our favorite dive.  Once again, we are reminded of just how many animals we have yet to see down there.

-Jeffrey Milisen