UH research helps students dive deeper into understanding their neighboring stream


Kaimukī High students conduct important research for UH's Hawaii Stream Bioassessment Protocol to assess the biodiversity of Palolo Stream and the Ala Wai Watershed.


HONOLULU — "That is the nastiest thing I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one student from Kaimukī High’s Hospitality Academy.  “These things are so gross!” echoed several voices nearby as a group of students carried four large fishnets overflowing with 270 suckermouth armored catfish from the Palolo Stream, bordering the Kaimukī campus, in early February.  The students were performing critical research in UH-Manoa’s Hawaii Stream Bioassessment Protocol to catalogue the stream’s organisms and count the numbers of native and non-native species.  This biological data is used to determine water quality and habitat conditions for comparison to other neighboring streams.

Sixteen students ranging from sophomores to seniors donned rubber boots and were led by Cory Yap, UH Environmental Researcher from the Center for Conservation Research and Training, into a calm section of the Palolo Stream about a foot deep.  They took positions in parallel lines, roughly 200-feet apart, blocking off a small segment of the stream with fishnets.  The upstream line then began marching forward while banging rocks and disturbing the water to drive fishes towards the second line of students, which captured them in large nets.  Two such exercises on separate days netted 296 armored catfish, a troublesome invasive species, and only four fish native to Hawaii. 

“They were able to see first-hand the scope of such environmental problems, right here next to our own campus, and learned that they can make a difference in restoring balance to nature in their own communities.”​  

— Kaimukī'​ Principal Wade Araki

"Populations of native freshwater species in Hawaiian streams reflect the quality of habitat they live in," said Yap.  "In a cohesive effort with a number of K-12 public and private schools in the Ala Wai Watershed, Kaimukī's students are helping investigate how our migratory ʻoʻopu (fish), ʻōpae (crustaceans) and hīhīwai/hapawai (mollusks) populations change over time in Mānoa, Palolo and Makiki Streams, in the presence of a changing climate and increased landscape modifications by humans. The data we collect helps us to better understand the overall health of our watersheds, in addition to improving habitat quality by removing invasive species which now dominate many of our waterways on Oʻahu." 

The data collection is made possible by a partnership between UH and a number public and private schools in the Ala Wai Watershed area.  Funding for the program's critical research is generously provided by Iolani School.

Kaimukī High's Librarian Lori Chun had recently attended a bioassessment presentation by Yap and immediately saw the connections to a mural created at Kaimukī by the Hospitality Academy students last November.  

“We thought this watershed research had a direct tie to our mural's theme of Ho‘okahe Wai Ho‘oulu Aina or ‘When the Water Flows, the Land Thrives,’ and Mālama​ Honua,” said Chun.  “We invited [Yap] to speak and have our classes join his project and the results of nearly 300 invasive fish caught, versus four native species, made for a shocking, yet very effective, science lab for our students.”

Armored catfish are more commonly known as “algae-eaters” and their presence in streams is usually the result of humans releasing them from freshwater home aquariums.  Males create thousands of nesting tunnels in stream banks for the females to lay their eggs, loosening the sediment and leading to soil erosion and pollution downstream. In the case of Palolo stream,  the water pours into the Ala Wai Canal and flows toward Magic Island.  

Invasive species can drastically alter Hawaii’s streams with the introduction of non-native flora, fauna and diseases, water quality degradation, and higher temperatures and oxygen levels.  Native to South America, this catfish species has bony, flexible outer plates and spines that help it to drive out native species in competition for food and space.

“Our students gave our campus a beautiful mural with a theme of environmental sustainability as a reminder of our responsibility to the land and this research project has allowed them to delve deeper into these topics,” said Wade Araki, Kaimukī High Principal.  “They were able to see first-hand the scope of such environmental problems, right here next to our own campus, and learned that they can make a difference in restoring balance to nature in their own communities.” 

In the Fall of 2015, Kaimukī High unveiled its 200-foot, five-panel mural that represents the tale of the beautiful princess of Mānoa, Kahala o Puna, and the co-mingling of the fresh waters of Kane and the salt waters of Kanaloa in Kaimukī (Waikīkī Ahupua‘a). The historic ongoing Worldwide Voyage of the Hōkūle‘ā is represented as a reminder of the courage of that journey, and to inspire Mālama Honua — care for Island Earth. Read more about the mural here. ​

​​​Mālama Honua (caring for Earth) is the mission of the Worldwide Voyage of the Polynesian sailing canoes Hōkūle‘ā and Hikianalia. Since the start of the voyage in Nov. 2013, educators have collaborated to create lessons of Mālama Honua, or Waa Talks. 

A Wa‘a Talk with UH Environmental Researcher Cory Yap is planned on April 27 and interested students and teachers from all school campuses are invited to attend.  For more details, please visit kaimukihs.org.

Contact Information

Donalyn Dela Cruz

Phone: 8085863238

Email: donalyn_dela_cruz@hawaiidoe.org


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