Category Archives: Culture

State Parks for Rent?

As the state moves toward public/private partnerships, Malaekahana will serve as a test.
DENNIS HOLLIER

Malaekahana, a park in transition

The cabins at Malaekahana state Recreation Area in La‘ie are in shambles. The roofs sag, the galvanized plumbing is crumbling and the siding is peeling away. Built in the 1930s, many of the buildings look like they’re one good storm away from demolition.

But changes are in store for Malaekahana. Two years ago, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) requested private bids to redevelop and manage the park. Now, DLNR is considering a plan that will gut the existing infrastructure at Malaekahana and replace it with new cabins, roads, sewage treatment and a high-tech, off-the-grid electrical system.

Malaekahana Partners, a company affiliated with the nonprofit that currently manages the Kahuku section of the park, will redevelop all of Malaekahana in exchange for a long-term lease. It’s part of DLNR’s strategy to create public/ private partnerships, and may serve as the model for similar programs at other state parks. And it’s making the neighbors nervous.

Much of their concern revolves around Craig Chapman, one of the principals of Malaekahana Partners. He’s managed the park for 12 years, but if you ask him about his status in the community, he’ll tell you, “I’m the haole hotel guy from Vegas.”

“I’m not a spiritual man,” says Chapman, “but if you listen to her [the park], she’ll tell you what she wants.” Chapman thinks she wants to be an eco-resort. He envisions a variety of community and educational activities at the park. And with the new cabins, he believes he can attract both kama‘aina and international visitors.

For the past 12 years, Chapman has operated under a year-to-year lease. Without a long-term lease, he has been unable to raise funds to fix the cabins and other problems in the park. So, when DLNR asked for proposals for Malaekahana, Chapman saw his opportunity. He assembled a group of local partners, persuaded a Canadian friend to finance the project and put together a proposal for DLNR. His was the only qualified bid.

Some have reacted skeptically. DeeDee Letts, a member of the Ko‘olauloa Neighborhood Board, points out that Chapman has been fined for improperly disposing of trash at the park. She’s also concerned that Chapman’s proposal promises more than he can deliver; in particular, that the capabilities of his sewage treatment system are overstated. Chapman counters that the fine was for a single incident many years ago, and that the type of sewage treatment system he’s installing is now required in state parks.

As a part of the approval process for his proposal, DLNR requested that Chapman make presentations to the neighborhood board and local community associations. Dan Quinn, DLNR’s administrator of state parks explains, “This is something we want to do properly. There’s a diversity of opinion about this project.” As for community concerns, DLNR has created a community board that will periodically review activities at the park. Even if DLNR approves his plan, Chapman still has to do an environmental impact statement, obtain permits and negotiate a lease.

Quinn remains confident that this is a good model for other state parks. He says DLNR will continue to expand these public/private partnerships, which range from Adopt-a-Park programs to master leases like the one proposed at Malaekahana. He suggests Hapuna on the Big Island may be a good candidate. But he’s quick to add, “We’d like to get through the process on this one first.”

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Cutting School

A humble Chinatown institution incubates much of Hawaii’s hair-styling talent.

By DENNIS HOLLIER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY SERGIO GOES

Leo Williams, owner of the Honolulu Institute for Hair Design

Leo Williams has probably had his fingers in your hair. At least vicariously. As the owner and director of the Hawaii Institute of Hair Design, Williams has trained perhaps 80 percent of the barbers and hairstylists in Hawaii. His former students work in almost every barbershop and salon in the state. They’re meting out $200 haircuts in high-end salons; they predominate in countless Super Cuts and Fantastic Sams; and they run most of the old-fashioned two and three-seat barbershops scattered thoughout Island strip malls. To get their licenses, all of them spent at least 1,500 hours—10 months—under Williams’ patient tutelage.
The school was founded in 1942 by Williams’ grandfather. About 40 years ago, his mother and father moved the school to its current location: in an old building on North Hotel Street. And while he’s still in his thirties, Williams has been teaching there for more than 18 years. Up on the third floor, Williams’ mother, Margaret, manages the school’s administrative offices—and serves as a mother hen to the students.

Tony McDougald, for example, is a sedate student from North Carolina who recently got out of the Army and came to the school on the G.I. Bill. He wears his hair in a neatly carved fade, but had no prior experience with hairstyling. “I never touched a comb in my life,” he says, “so I’ve had to work harder than some of the other students.” The portability of hairstyling appealed to him. “My wife is still in the Army,” he says, “so we travel a lot. And people need haircuts everywhere.”

The tagline on an old brochure calls the school’s program “The Scientific Approach,” a system that has its roots in the precision cutting techniques developed by Vidal Sassoon in the 1960s. Students spend two months in class, practicing those techniques on mannequins, and learning some surprisingly complex material on chemistry and disorders of the skin. But the heart of the school is the bustling, ground-floor salon, where Williams presides calmly over dozens of student hairstylists, three or four instructors and hundreds of customers a day.

The allure of working indoors, with air conditioning and all those young women around, convinced Pham that hairstyling was the profession for him.

At first glance, the school seems like any other salon. Customers wait patiently up front, reading the labels of the hair products in a vitrine. The requisite Wahl Clipper Co. poster is tacked to the wall. At the back of the salon, a row of elderly women doze under hairdryers. And, as usual, the music’s loud and there’s the faint stink of hair straighteners and coloring chemicals.

The salon has a utilitarian look to it—more like a large barbershop than a fancy spa—but it’s scrupulously clean and unusually busy. There are more than 30 chairs, but, because there are usually more students than that, none of the young stylists have their own stations. Instead, they carry their equipment around in little black briefcases issued by the school, setting up shop on the counter behind each client. The students joke among themselves, but they seem serious about their work. Tuition is over $8,000—most of the students rely upon financial aid—so it’s a big investment. Still, they sometimes get bored with the endless parade of men’s fades and the standard cut-and-color. So when a burly young man with a mop of magenta hair settles in and asks for a fauxhawk (a cross between a Mohawk and a pompadour), they drop by to watch the action.

Young hairstylists get ahead—ahem—with instructor Sandra Malunay.
Because they get so much practice on the mannequins, even the newest students are surprisingly competent, and it’s rare for a customer to leave the salon with a bad haircut. Williams and his instructors constantly prowl the floor, inspecting every haircut before the customer leaves. Students feel “they always have a backup. I can pretty much fix anything,” notes Williams. Throughout the day, students walk up to him and quietly hand him their shears and comb to indicate they’re ready for him. Sometimes, they’ve finished and are ready for his inspection; sometimes the haircut has overwhelmed them part way through and they need his help. In either case, he calmly steps in, praising good work, correcting mistakes and demonstrating alternative techniques.

Despite the close supervision, students are given a lot of freedom. Even the students still working on mannequins on the third floor are expected to come down to the salon on Fridays and Saturdays to practice on real people. But rather than paying customers, they work on models—friends or people they lure in off the street with the offer of a free haircut.

“My first haircut,” says Tuan Tran, a student from Seattle, “I poked the scissors in someone’s head. I was sweating so bad.” The first haircut is usually a simple cut; nevertheless, some students are so nervous they can’t finish. “We like them to cut hair the first day they come down,” Williams explains. They don’t have to do the whole cut. “If they just do 10 percent, that’s fine.”

Students are expected to learn every aspect of hairstyling, and have to master cutting hair with shears, clippers and razors, as well as the fundamentals of color and highlights, straightening and perms. Each student also spends at least 40 hours at the front desk—practice for the business side of hairstyling. And before they can graduate, they’re expected to perform a dozen shaves, each replete with the hot towel, bristle brush and straightedge razor of an earlier era.

Students work with five to eight customers a day, six days a week. Toward the end of their training, when they begin to work faster, they might see as many as 10 clients a day. It’s the school’s job to attract all those clients, most of whom come for the low prices. A basic haircut is $5.50; a perm and cut starts at $19.95; color begins at $10.95; and you can get highlights starting at $5.

“It’s like a community service,” Williams says. “Clients can pamper themselves for a reasonable price. Standard salons are double to triple our prices.” The fees are just enough for the school to pay the rent for the salon, ensuring that there will be enough clients for the students.

Judging by the number of long-time customers, many are attracted to more than just the low prices. Kimo, a retired Waikiki beachboy who wears his hair like Samson, says he’s been coming to the school’s salon for 10 years. “I get a cut and color,” he says. “In all that time, they only made one mistake, and that was probably my fault. I was in a hurry and didn’t let them leave the chemical in long enough.”

Williams is quick to point out that students can only learn the basics in school; it takes years of practice to become an accomplished stylist. Kimo’s long, swooping hairstyle, for example, isn’t among the cuts taught in the school’s textbook, and its peculiarities eventually flummox the young student working with him. She calls over Susu Danforth, an instructor familiar with Kimo’s trademark style. While Danforth finishes up, Kimo jokes with the young student about the attention he pays to his hair. “I like go out clubbing,” he says with a grin. “If I see you at Ocean Club and ask you go dance, no ignore me now.” When the student asks the name of this singular haircut, Danforth deadpans, “The Kimo.”

At the other end of the salon, a young student named Anousack Sithammalat touches up the long black hair of an unusually serene client. “I come every week to get my roots done,” the woman says softly. “My theory is, if you’re gonna wash away the gray, you might as well be thorough.” Sithammalat works quietly, meticulously sectioning hair and applying the dye to the roots. “This guy, he’s brilliant,” the customer says, beaming. She’s become a faithful customer of Sithammalat, but when he graduates, she’ll choose another student to patronize. “This is the perfect place to be pampered for not much money,” she explains. “I pay $10 to get my roots done. For $3 more, they toss in a scalp massage. So for $13, I’m queen for a day.”

Like Sithammalat, most of the students are part of a young, hip crowd. Many have spiky hair and studs in their lips, but it’s still a diverse group. Danz Pham is a tough young boxer from Waianae who wears his hair in a short, tri-color fade. Before he enrolled, he was working in construction behind the school.

“I was a bad boy,” Pham says. “I used to come in and cruise the students.” But the allure of working indoors, with air-conditioning and all those young women around, convinced him that hairstyling was the profession for him. “Besides,” he says, “I used to cut hair all the time at home. All Waianae boys cut hair.” He still flirts with the girls, but it’s mingled with kibitzing on coloring techniques.

During slow periods in the salon, students sometimes gather among the empty chairs in the back to fiddle with one another’s hair and talk story. Many have family ties in the hair business and relatives who are also graduates of the school. Some students already have chairs waiting for them in family salons. “I’ve got several offers for when I get out,” says Sara Maikui, as she carefully removes hair extensions for another student. “My aunt has a salon in Vegas, if I want to go there. But I think I’ll stick around here for a couple of years first.”

Leo Williams has taught many of Hawaii’s hairstylists—everything from how to hold a comb to how to run a business.
“Foxy” Nga Le, fresh out of high school in Waianae, says her brother came to the school about two years ago, and that her mom and sister-in-law are also hairstylists. Former bartender Jeanine Joseph feels good about her job prospects after graduation. “My cousin, Travis, just graduated,” she points out. “His mom and sister also cut hair. They all work at Studio Kiss in Pearl City.”

Stewart Crockett graduated three years ago, about 20 years after his father, Donald. Donald and his wife own two Fantastic Sams, one in Wahiawa and another in Mililani, so it might seem natural for Stewart to join the family business. “Stewart basically grew up in a salon,” Donald says. Even so, Stewart didn’t envision himself as a hairstylist. “I never thought I could do it,” Stewart says. “It looked hard.” Then, Donald introduced him to Williams.

Stewart found the book side of school difficult, but once he came down to the salon, things began to improve. “The first haircut was the most nerve-wracking,” he says. “In the end, it turned out all right. It wasn’t a perfect haircut, but I didn’t put any rat bites in their head.” He feels that the patience of the instructors and the constant practice eventually revealed a gift. “By the time I came out,” he says, “I was better than my parents.”

Williams keeps track of former students, and many later become instructors at the school. They work as professional hairstylists, but one day a call will lure them back to the school to teach. Mel Kihara graduated nine years ago and now owns Mel’s Barber in Kaimuki. “When I opened it,” Kihara says, “my instructor came by to give me one of those Chinese things you put up on the door that says, Good luck.’ That surprised me—how did they know I had opened a shop?”

In the salon, Williams checks on the student’s work. Her client has chosen a mod Japanese hairstyle called an “octopus” and students gather around as Williams does the final touches. Working his thinning shears like a razor, he carves the upper layers of the client’s hair until it seems to cling tightly to the shape of her head, leaving the long ends to flare down around her shoulders like tentacles. The students nod their heads at his technique. When he finishes, the customer exclaims, “Ooh … Sassoony!” But Williams has already moved on, his eyes scanning the salon for the next student who needs help.

Freelance writer Dennis Hollier bares his bald spot with a short, layered, barber cut. “I’m just vain enough,” he says, “not to want anyone to think I’m vain.”

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Kailua Memories

A look back at some of Kailua’s most evocative places.

BY DENNIS HOLLIER

Some of the images featured in this article will be in a forthcoming book on Kailua, published by the Kailua Historical Society. Special thanks to Barbara Pope Book Design.


The view from Alala point towards Lanikai, circa late 1920s or 1930s.

PHOTO COURTESY OF HAWAII STATE ARCHIVES

 

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERLING HEDEMANN, JR.

 

The junction of Oneawa and Kailua Road has long been the physical center of Kailua town. For a generation, though, the Kailua Theater was probably its cultural center. A caption on the back of this photograph, taken the late 1930s, indicates that movie tickets cost 12 cents. Kailua Theater was owned by John Magoon, who also owned the Kaneohe Theater. Erling Hedemann, who grew up in Kailua, remembers that you had to have a mosquito punk (repellant) under your seat at Kaneohe Theater, “but Kailua Theater was high class.”

Across the street, roughly where McKenna Ford stands today, the old Kanetake Garage presided over the town’s inbound traffic for decades. Well into the 1950s, dairy cows grazed in the field out back. Arby’s and the Firestone store have replaced the theater. But the careful observer will note a familiar triangular median in the roadway. The iconic banyans? They’re visible in the old photo; barely visible against the white of the movie house, you can make out the first sapling against the white of the movie house.

 

PHOTO BY HEATHER TITUS

 

Jean’s Bakery

 

 

A couple of months ago, a reader wrote in to the local paper asking if anyone knew the recipe for Boston cream pie from the old Jean’s Bakery. The memory of desserts is a persistent one. Jean’s Bakery (seen here in December, 1955) was a Kailua institution, but it’s been closed for more than 30 years. In a photograph dated 1951, the bakery staff stand behind a gleaming counter in the original store in the back of the old Piggly Wiggly store on Oneawa. In 1955, George Abe, the owner, bought the lot across the street on Uluniu. He built his home in the back and a new bakery and soda fountain in front. There, the Abe family continued to sell cakes and pies and fountain drinks for nearly another 20 years.

Kailua Town

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERLING HEDDEMANN, JR.

For nearly four decades, the Kailua Tavern, on the corner of Oneawa and Kuulei, served as the town’s only real night spot. According to longtime Kailua resident Erling Hedemann, “People came to the tavern all the way from Honolulu. They say that scurrilous cowboys tied their horses out front—and I include my scurrilous brother in that group.” Despite the cowboys, there was a genteel side to Kailua Tavern, too, which also had a restaurant and a dance floor. Alberta Hussey, once the vocalist with the Gigi Royce Orchestra at the Royal Hawaiian, sang at the Kailua Tavern with the Audino and Allen Band after World War II started. By then, the tavern was known as the Coconut Grove Inn.

 

Kalapawai Market

In 1941, Hussey lived with a cousin on Kalaeloa Road and remembers walking barefoot to work along Kailua’s sandy roads, carrying her shoes in her hands. “On breaks,” she says nostalgically, “I used to go across to the Harada Store and have a half a cantaloupe and a vanilla ice cream.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERLING HEDEMANN, JR.

Kalapawai Market has catered to the residents of Lanikai and along Kailua Beach for more than 70 years. The original owner, Richard Wong, knew what his customers needed, and developed strong loyalties among them. When Maurice Sullivan built the first Foodland nearby, some residents were excited to finally have a real supermarket in the neighborhood. Others, though, were alarmed. Peggy Bredesen, whose family has lived on the ridge above Lanikai since 1931, notes that they could see the great domed structure over the treetops. “It was the biggest eyesore,” she says. More importantly, they were concerned that the new supermarket spelled the end of their old friends at Kalapawai.

But you should never underestimate the power of customer loyalty. Ironically, although Sullivan went on to create a Foodland empire, at this location it faltered. The Kalapawai Market, under the new ownership of Don Dymond, flourishes still.

 

Matsuda Store

PHOTO COURTESY OF HAWAII STATE ARCHIVES

In the 1930s, when downtown Kailua was still mostly watermelon patches, the area’s population center was farther up Kailua Road, among the taro fields and rice paddies of Maunawili. During this era, the Matsuda Store, near the Waimanalo junction on the old Pali Road, served as the Kailua store. Area farmers visited for everything from gasoline for their cars to feed for their livestock. Even after the Matsuda Store closed, the building—now a part of Kaneohe Ranch—remained stand-ing alongside a dead-end fragment of the old Pali Road behind Castle Hospital.

Martin Knotts, whose Diamond K Ranch still runs about 60 head of cattle along the fringes of Kawainui Marsh, lived in the old house for its last 20 years. “In June of 2000, I finally had it torn down,” he says, “because the termites were in there so bad, and I couldn’t get a long-term lease.” Today, though the state now owns the land, Knotts still lives in a trailer right behind the foundations of the old Matsuda Store. Only a small concrete plinth, a remnant of the old gas pumps, gives any clue to the store’s former location.

Nishikawa Fruit Stand

The row of churches along Kailua Road has an air of permanence. It’s the nature of churches. But, for most of its history, this section of Kailua was agricultural. Around the 1920s, Issei farmers began to grow fruit and vegetables and chickens in farms along Kailua Road. Their children, because their English was better, sold the produce from popular roadside fruit stands.

The most successful of these was the Kailua Fruit Stand, owned by the Nishikawa family, which stood about where the First Presbyterian Church is today. Kinji Nishikawa and his wife, Some, grew avocados, papayas, grapefruit and vegetables. Sandy Kimura, their granddaughter, says famous people, like Duke Kahanamoku, used to come from town to visit the fruit stand. “John Burns came every Sunday, before he was governor,” she says. But, around 1959, the Nishikawa lease expired; and, after 25 years serving Kailua, most of the farm was bulldozed to make way for development. According to Kimura, though, you can still find a few of the old Nishikawa fruit trees strewn through the Kukanono neighborhood.

Amii Kahikina, whose Amii World Travel Agency on Oneawa occupies a plot of land that’s been in the family for nearly 70 years, remembers that Boston cream pie. “It was like sponge cake with powdered sugar on it instead of ganache.” Today, the old building has had an addition at the front, and houses a new “old institution”: the Chinese Garden restaurant. But the square outline of Jean’s Bakery is still discernible in the L-shaped building, and old-timers passing by on Uluniu sometimes still find themselves craving that Boston cream pie.

Dennis Hollier grew up in Enchanted Lake and writes frequently for HONOLULU Magazine.

 

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At Work on the Bay

DENNIS HOLLIER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY KARIN KOVALSKY

Captain of the Nissei

The Nisei

It’s still well before dawn, and the crew of the Nisei sit quietly in their skiff, killing time. Bowed by the weight of the tide, 150 feet of fine-gauge net stretches from the stern to shore, its end tended by a crewman on the jetty. Another 150 feet is still stashed in the deep belly of the skiff and serves as a lounge for the crew there. Now and then, the captain, Hiroshige Uehara, nervously shines a flashlight on the water to see how the catch is going. The rest of the crew, mostly Okinawans like the captain, pull the hoods of their slickers over their heads against the drizzle. We’re waiting for the nehu to come in.

These tiny fish are the last commercial fishery on Kaneohe Bay. They school in great numbers there, and, for generations, aku boats have come to catch them for bait. Aku fishermen need millions of nehu. Instead of dragging nets like bottom fishermen, or using baited hooks like longliners, traditional aku fishermen hook skipjack using long poles and barbless hooks. To get the fish to bite, they chum the waters with swarms of live bait. Without the nehu of Kaneohe Bay, the old way of aku fishing would die. But the old way is a hard one. Once, dozens of aku boats set their nets in these shallows; the pier at Heeia Kea Boat Harbor was homeport for more than 20 of them. Now, only two aku boats are left: the Nisei and the old wood sampan, Kula Kai.

Like many fishermen, the Okinawan crew of the Nisei are a taciturn bunch. Although they’ve worked in Hawaii for decades, they speak English haltingly and are shy to use it. David Soto, the Nisei’s engineer, the only local in the crew, acts as a spokesman. He points out that the crew is experienced. “The youngest man on this boat is 52,” he says, “and that’s me.” He jokes about working with Okinawans, but he’s been with the Nisei since it was launched 13 years ago, following Uehara from his previous boat. Most of the crew have fished together for years. Soto makes an excellent guide. Out in the skiff, the only noise is the soft baritone of Soto’s voice as he explains nehu fishing to me. Then, the captain shines his light on the net one last time and nods to the crew. He turns to me and smiles. “Plenty fish,” he says.

It takes all hands to pull in a haul of nehu. We start by heading to the jetty to collect the crewman there, veering the rest of the net as we go. Once the circle of the net is closed, the captain kills the engine again, and Soto pulls on a scuba tank and slips overboard. He’s the penner; underwater, he uses his body to pen the edges of the net up against the side of the skiff so none of the fish can escape through the gap there. At the stern, the captain paces the haul, pulling in the head rope of the net float by float. Eisho, the captain’s brother, stands behind him, helping haul on the head rope, pausing every so often to organize the long net as it comes into the boat. In the center of the skiff, the brothers Hiromasa and Tetsushi Tamashiro grab for the belly of the net, shaking the nehu back into the water as they pull. They’re helped by Quentin Gohier, an old Hawaiian man from the Heeia docks who sometimes volunteers for these nehu runs.

Slowly, the pile of net under their feet grows as the circle diminishes. The nehu seethe inside. There are millions of them—so many that the weight of them begins to sink the net. Silvery swarms flush over the tops of the floats. Many more leap over the net to open water. Outside the net, schools of papio stir up the surface in a frenzy over the escaping baitfish. To keep the net from sinking, the crew stick the ends of stout bamboo poles under the float rope, cantilevering the net over the gunwale. The weight of the nehu bends the poles. When most of the net is aboard, the crew pull in the foot rope, which closes the bottom of the net, making a bag of fish about the same size as the 26-foot skiff. Soto surfaces out of the roiling turmoil of nehu and scampers back aboard.

There are eight live bait wells built into the aft deck of the Nisei. Each is about 10 feet deep by six feet wide. Sometimes, it takes two or three days’ work to fill them. This haul, though, is astonishing. The skiff pulls alongside the Nisei, penning the net between the two boats, and some of the crew jump aboard. Once on deck, they hand down large stainless steel buckets one by one, and the crew in the skiff use dip nets to fill them with bait. Then, the buckets are handed back aboard and emptied into the bait wells. Now and then, a crewman reaches into the seething net to grab an akule or a papio that’s been accidentally caught with the nehu and flings it back out into the Bay. The nehu are bounty enough.

The waters of Kaneohe Bay used to provide a livelihood for many of those who lived along its shores. Dozens of fishponds once fattened moi and mullet. At low tide, limu pickers waded in the shallows. Fishermen poked in the holes of the fringing reef for hee and lobster. They plied their nets across the tide for akule, aweoweo and amaama. On old maps, you can still see the names of shore-side families jutting out into the bay as if their kuleana stretched to the bounty of the reef. But the fisheries of Kaneohe Bay have collapsed. Pollution and overfishing and silting have taken the profit out of fishing, and the Nisei and the Kula Kai are the only commercial boats that still venture into the bay.

The Coral Queen

Tour boats dominate the commerce of the bay. Most sail from the pier in Heeia Kea, where a ragtag fleet of catamarans and trimarans shuttle tourists out to the reefs. Although most of these boats have a utilitarian look, there’s a surprising charm to them. Some of them have spindly masts and booms, meant to give the impression they’re Polynesian sailing canoes. Others have had their spars removed, and they seem to squat on the water. But all of them are motorboats, and are slab-sided, garishly painted and ungainly. Nevertheless, when they’re nosed up to the sandbar on a sunny morning or moored haphazardly along the fringing reef in the dark just before a storm, or tied at the docks in the glassy waters of a Kona breeze, they still convey a sense of nostalgia for old times, and are beautiful.

Five companies operate commercial boats at Heeia, but the two largest, KBOS and Tropical Ocean Sports, account for most of the tourist trade. Between them, they manage more than a dozen vessels and employ nearly 50 people, including captains, mates, deckhands, tour guides, dive masters and hostesses. In all, the tour boats of the bay provide the livelihood for perhaps 100 men and women.

Among the tour boats, the Coral Queen, a plywood, glass-bottom trimaran, is the oldest. It has been ferrying passengers out to the reefs for more than 35 years. Today, the Coral Queen belongs to Tropical Ocean Sports. With a bright blue paint job, it matches the company’s larger boats. Unlike those others, though, the Coral Queen doesn’t cater to the tourist trade. Mike Nolan, the main captain of the Coral Queen, says, “Most of our business is local. We do a lot of preschool groups like UH Labs and Kamaaina Kids. We do a lot of ‘Make a Wish,’ too.” Over the years, thousands of Hawaii’s children have gotten their first glimpse of Kaneohe Bay’s reefs through the stout glass boxes in her main cabin.

Nolan has worked on many of the tour boats in Hawaii, and has spent most of the last 15 years on the bay. One of the biggest changes he’s seen has been in the way the state regulates the tour boats. In the old days, tour operators ran Jet-Skis and ski boats and dive platforms willy-nilly on the bay. But residents complained, and now, the Department of Land and Natural Resources restricts each tour operator to discrete zones called Ocean Recreation Management Areas, or ORMAs. “Some companies,” Nolan explains, “offer highly active tours, like Jet-Skis and banana boats.” These companies have to buy permits for their own ORMA. Other operations offer snorkeling or kayaks, but no motorized rides. These companies have their own ORMAs too, and much of the bay is divided into territories by tour boat companies.

The Coral Queen is the only glass-bottom boat on the Bay. It harkens back to an old tradition: The Coral Gardens, another glass-bottom boat, was the first tour boat on Kaneohe Bay. In the early 1900s, it took passengers out to ogle the reefs off Mokapu—reefs since dredged to make the runways for the Marine base. This bit of nostalgia, along with a kind of squat charm, made the Coral Queen attractive to me, so one afternoon, I joined in as it took a group from a Manoa elementary school out for a cruise.

The Coral Queen normally operates with a crew of three. On this day, Ty Fu, the young relief captain, is at the helm. Marvin Engoing, a large, doughy man with a wispy beard and a ponytail, is the crew. Rhonda Stewart, an enthusiastic woman who’s worked on the boat for many years, is the education director and is in charge of the children.

Once the teachers have the school group hustled below, Engoing slips the dock lines and Fu quietly spins the Coral Queen off the pier and heads out into the bay. Stewart begins to regale the children with stories about the natural history of Kaneohe Bay.

There’s a broad shelf at the forward end of the pilot house where an ad hoc nature center has accumulated: the shells of three different kinds of conch; a cowrie shell; a desiccated slipper lobster; an assortment of corals; the splayed shells of pearl oysters; corroded and coral-encrusted 50-mm bullet casings; the jaw of a hammerhead shark. In the main cabin, six glass-bottom boxes stand like cabinetry. The children peer through them, watching the coral rubble sweep past as we motor off.

Once we reach the reef patches off Coconut Island, Fu kills the engine and lets the boat drift slowly in six or seven feet of water. While the children crowd around the viewing boxes in the main cabin and marvel at the coral below, up on deck Engoing breaks up loaves of stale bread to throw over the side. Schools of yellow tang and striped angelfish swarm to the chum, drawing oohs and ahs from the children. Then Engoing, as the newest member of the crew, prepares a surprise. “Good thing I brought towel,” he says. “I gotta swim under the boat.” Stewart keeps the kids distracted below while he dons a mask and slips quietly overboard. There’s a burst of laughter from the children as he drifts into view under the Coral Queen. Floating past on his back, he waves to them, his ponytail undulating like limu.

For many of these children, this is their first time on a boat. “Despite being an island state,” Stewart says, “Hawaii has the lowest incidence of boat ownership in the country.” It speaks to a lost relationship—a sad lack of connection between the students and the sea that surrounds them. Passing Coconut Island on the way back to the dock, Stewart gets the teachers to lead the children in the Gilligan’s Island theme song. The teachers sing enthusiastically. None of the children seem to know the words.

Makani Olu

Science and education provide the livelihood for many of those who still work on the bay. Perhaps the best example is the sail-training program on the schooner Makani Olu. Matt Claybaugh, the director of the Marimed Foundation, which owns the Makani Olu, has an abiding belief in the healing power of the sea. Through a program called Holopono, Marimed attempts to rehabilitate at-risk kids, taking them directly from the courts or juvenile detention and putting them to work aboard the Makani Olu. “It’s the gift of a change in perspective,” Claybaugh says. Claybaugh views the Makani Olu as a wilderness program. He knows the sea can be hard, and the stress can sometimes break down the tough reserve of the kids in the program. “That’s the counseling moment,” Claybaugh says. “You need to be akamai to that. Otherwise, you’re just sailing.”

The Makani Olu is a 96-foot, three-masted, staysail schooner. Like all schooners, it takes a rat’s nest of lines to manage the sails. When the Holopono program takes groups of kids to sea, they have to literally learn the ropes. They go on five-day, round-trip cruises to the Neighbor Islands, where they usually also participate in community projects. At sea, the kids work the ship, standing watches and taking turns at the helm. Even so, it takes a professional crew of five to sail the Makani Olu: a captain, a mate and three hands—surely the last professional sailors on the bay.

The pilot house contains a mini natural history museum for young students to explore.
After a recent charter trip for an Elderhostel group, I volunteered to help move the boat from Aloha Tower back to the bay. The crew is new, and I’m eager to see them at work. When I arrive at the dock, I find a full complement of five crewmen aboard. Jon Michienzi, the captain, sailed with the Makani Olu several years ago. He and the first mate, Ben Hopkins, have recently arrived from the tall ship Amistad. The other crewmen also seem to be experienced. But my main impression is how young they all are. Even so, we pull away from the dock without incident and set out to sea. Michienzi predicts a six-hour passage.

The trip turns out to be more boisterous than expected. The trades gather strength as we leave Honolulu Harbor, and by the time we make Koko Head, they’re blowing hard on the nose. Even motor-sailing, our progress is slow. At first, the ride is exhilarating. But we have to tack far out into the Molokai Channel, and the swells build and become confused. Many of the passengers become seasick. In the cabin, loose gear flies from one side to the other. The young crew becomes more subdued as the passage turns into real work. This is sailing in Hawaii. Even after we finally round Makapuu and begin the downhill run along the windward coast, everyone is obviously looking forward to the end of the trip.

Darkness sets in as we reach Kaneohe Bay. The trip from Honolulu Harbor was a long slog, but most of the real work is still ahead. In the failing light, we wrestle down the sails, furl them on their booms and get their covers on them. By the time we reach the Makani Olu’s mooring, we need the spotlight to find the buoy. The wind is still strong and it takes several passes before the crew manages to grab the mooring line with the boathook—only to find the lines are tangled and we blow off again. Finally, a couple crewmen launch the ship’s tender and manage to untangle the lines and get one aboard. The Makani Olu is moored. In the end, the passage from Aloha Tower takes 12 hours.

After shuttling ashore in the inflatable with the other passengers, I stand in the shallows and watch Hopkins head back through the dark to the Makani Olu. No doubt, the captain wants to discuss the mooring troubles with the crew. But I’m struck once again with the miracle that, against all odds, young people still go to sea. The idea makes me smile. Boats and the wind and snarled lines will always give sailors trouble. But, if an old schooner like the Makani Olu can still make a go of it, perhaps there’s still hope for those who make a living on Kaneohe Bay.

Freelance writer Dennis Hollier grew up in Enchanted Lake. His last piece for HONOLULU, in our July issue, was on a downtown barber school.

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Getting Your Hands Dirty

Far back in Oahu’s Makiki Valley, where the stream chuckles through the lush grounds of the Hawaii Nature Center, Ena Sroat kneels and gently hefts a hibiscus sapling into a shallow hole.
“This is a kokio [hibiscus],” she says, using her fingers to shovel soil around its roots. “When it blooms, it has brilliant orange flowers.”

By now, the small group of visitors listening to Sroat knows that the kokio is an endangered native plant, one that’s become almost impossible to find in the wild. Adding it to the center’s patchwork of native gardens is their small contribution to the survival of this rare species. Solemnly, they douse the little plant with water from their Dasani bottles.

Sroat is one of the guides and owners of Hina Adventure Tours, and this stop is the last on a tour called Ancient Waikiki and Sacred Valley Exploration. Like all the tours offered by the young eco-tourism company, this one is built out of the intricate stories, legends and natural history associated with a very particular place the royal sites of Waikiki and the inshore valleys that supported them.

“We want to show visitors why Waikiki was so beloved by the Hawaiians,” Sroat says.

The tour includes a short hike down Kalakaua Avenue, a stop at Tantalus Lookout for spectacular views and an exclusive tour of the Manoa Cultural Center. But for clients, it’s the quiet planting ceremony at the Nature Center that sets this tour apart. This simple act tourists giving back to the community they visit makes the tour a part of the growing field of voluntourism.

Sroat and her partner, Uluwehi Hopkins, have based their voluntourism program on their unusually close relationships with several of Oahu’s cultural and environmental organizations.

“That’s really why we started this company,” says Hopkins. “To help these kinds of groups succeed.”

For clients, the charms of voluntourism are obvious: They get the satisfaction of doing good work and the opportunity to interact with locals. But Sroat is quick to point out that community groups are also excited about the tours.

“They’re very open to tourism done with respect,” she says.

Hina Adventure Tours works with organizations like Hui Malama o Lokahi, a group that cares for sacred sites on Oahu’s windward side; Pae Pae o Heeia, the caretaker organization for an historic fishpond; Kaala Farms, a cultural education center for Hawaiian youth; and the Nature Center, which manages natural sites on three islands.

Hina Adventure Tours offers several different levels of voluntourism. The least demanding is the brief visit to the Nature Center, perfect for clients who just want to know their visit has had a positive impact. It’s also the easiest to schedule, since it runs more or less like a regular tour. Their most popular voluntourism offering is the Hoolaulima Community Service Project and Sacred Sites Tour, when clients work side by side with members of Hui Malama o Lokahi. Afterward, they have a potluck lunch with the work group before heading down to the beach for a swim.

With enough advance notice, Hina Adventure Tours can arrange work trips with any of their community partners. Each has its own charm. The Hawaii Nature Center, for example, manages a couple of wetlands on Oahu.

“That’s good for bird-lovers,” says Hopkins.

At Pae Pae o Heeia, clients join local volunteers in rebuilding the lava stone walls and removing invasive plants in a 1,000-year old fishpond. As an option, the staff will take visitors out into the pond on a small boat to fish for moi (threadfin), then cook it up for lunch.

For corporations and community service groups, Hina Adventure Tours can arrange more traditional voluntourism opportunities. These programs often a week or longer blend real community service with a series of tours and cultural activities. This kind of voluntourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, and the women of Hina Adventure Tours see it as the future.

“That’s the direction we want to grow,” says Sroat. “I believe there are a lot of people out there who want to reach out that way.”

For Hopkins, the commitment of this new kind of tourist is inspiring.

“They have no investment in this place,” she says, “and yet they work so hard.”

Obviously, local communities benefit from all the dedication. But the payoff voluntourism offers clients is equally clear.

As Sroat points out: “They can actually touch Hawaii as it was in ancient times.”

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Bishop takes Night

After hours, Bishop Museum comes to life.

It’s a typical evening at Moonlight Mele, the Bishop Museum’s annual summer concert series. The crowd is sprawled down a slope of lawn, staking out territory with blankets, woven mats and low beach chairs. There’s a festive atmosphere as they share teriyaki beef and Longboard Ale purchased from the vendors around the perimeter. But when Hawaiian musician John Cruz begins to strum the opening chords of his theme song, a calm comes over the crowd and they quietly sing along.

For the growing number of clients who seek an authentic experience during their visit to Hawaii, Moonlight Mele is an excellent opportunity to experience the local lifestyle. In fact, despite its focus on the past, the Bishop Museum provides a surprisingly valuable window on contemporary Hawaiian culture, especially after hours. In the daylight, of course, the Honolulu-based museum is one of the state’s most important visitor attractions. But its nighttime activities — cultural lectures, films and special events — are decidedly local. Collectively, they give travel agents unexpected opportunities to tailor their clients’ trips to their particular interests, while helping their clients mingle with likeminded residents.

Bishop Museum has dubbed 2008 The Year of the Hula, so as part of its Traditions of the Pacific series, it’s running a series of fascinating seldom-seen films that celebrate the role of hula in Hawaiian culture. During informal seminars and presentations, Traditions of the Pacific also encourages clients to hobnob with cultural practitioners and learn about the essence of Hawaii.

Since the museum is one of the world’s premier natural history institutions, clients of a more scientific bent can attend fascinating public lectures given by informed scholars. Sometimes, the lectures tie into current exhibits; for instance, the upcoming Whale Talks correspond to the Whales-Wonders of the World exhibit that runs through Sept. 21. Other lectures look at subjects like the coral reefs of Hawaii and the world’s largest sharks.

For clients traveling with children, the Bishop Museum offers a variety of family-focused events that are an important part of living in Hawaii. Take Treat Street, an elaborate celebration of Halloween that has become a local tradition. Family Sunday, an event that precedes the opening of any major exhibit, is a festival of local food and entertainment as well as an opportunity to preview exhibits.

But it’s the Moonlight Mele concerts that offer clients their easiest access to local culture. Inevitably, they come away with the same mix of nostalgia and conviviality that, for years, has drawn islanders to a night at the Bishop Museum.

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Preserving Culture

The old Hawaiian lady smiled wistfully as Mr. Young tonged her order of wet li hing mango out of a massive jar. When he put them on the scale, the scarlet slices glistened in the afternoon light.

“Every time I come here,” the lady said in a strong pidgin accent, “it’s like I goin’ back to old-time Hawaii.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by customers a thousand times a day in the old store. But, if a visit to this Oahu institution, known simply as the Crack Seed Store, is a dose of nostalgia for locals, for visitors it’s a charming glimpse into the real Hawaii.

Crack seed, fruit preserved in a concoction of sugar, salt, licorice, star anise and li hing, a tart red powder made from the pits of plums, was brought to Hawaii by Chinese immigrants more than 100 years ago. Ancient Chinese warriors are said to have carried crack seed under the saddle of their horses. But despite its immigrant past, the crack seed store is thoroughly Hawaiian.

Pre-packaged crack seed can be found in almost any supermarket on Oahu, but if clients are eager for an authentic crack seed experience, encourage them to visit Mr. Young’s pleasantly grubby shop in the old neighborhood of Kaimuki. Inside, hundreds of great apothecary jars line the shelves, each filled with a different variety of crack seed: rock salt plum, candied ginger, li hing mango, sweet sour lemon. The atmosphere is like an old-fashioned candy store, a place where grandparents and children both feel at home.
When your clients are ready to order, Mr. Young shuffles out from behind his battered counter and scoops the sticky morsels into little plastic bags. The sheer number of options can be daunting, and even old hands often walk out with four or five varieties.

A more modern version of the crack seed store can be found among the luxury outlets at Honolulu’s Ala Moana Shopping Center. The Crack Seed Center is a bright, clean shop with an enormous selection of traditional fruits, crackers and dried seafood. Its central location makes it tremendously popular with locals, and a squadron of young women in red smocks are quick to offer their help.

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Raising the Reef

story by Dennis Hollier

The Waikiki Aquarium might seem modest compared with some of the super-aquariums that have sprouted around the country. It doesn’t offer the drama of great white sharks, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, for example, or of whale sharks, like the Georgia Aquarium. But it does offer exhibits of astonishing beauty and naturalism. In one room, swarms of ghostly jellyfish pulse slowly through a spectral realm that recalls the mysterious lakes of Palau. The two giant clams hulking in the heave and surge of the Barrier Reef exhibit are the largest and oldest in captivity—gorgeous, 200-pound, purple-fleshed animals billowing out of boulder-size shells.

Yet these enormous bivalves are overshadowed, even in their own tank, by something even more remarkable: the massive purple, gold and sanguine colonies of live coral, which make the scene so realistic you almost want to snap on your snorkel. What really sets all the aquarium’s exhibits apart is the diversity and abundance of live coral, more than 100 species in all. This dazzling display of bright colors and fanciful shapes is unmatched in any aquarium in the world.

The full story of the aquarium’s coral collection isn’t apparent from the virtuoso displays out front. It’s to be found in the warren of labs and offices behind the tanks and especially in the sheds and holding tanks lining the narrow access road beside the aquarium. Here, in this ramshackle setting, is the world’s most successful coral farm.

The man behind the coral is Charles Delbeek, an aquarium specialist and former hobbyist who’s been raising coral for nearly twenty years. Delbeek is quick to point out that the aquarium’s coral program began long before he got there. “The previous director, Dr. Bruce Carlson, started bringing back corals from his travels in the 1970s,” he says. At that time, the display of live corals was largely the province of hobbyists rather than professional aquarists, especially in Europe. The big public aquariums relied upon rocks, dead coral or man-made substrates for their displays. “Back then,” Delbeek says, “marine scientists would have told you that you couldn’t keep corals alive. Meanwhile, people in Germany were keeping them alive in their living rooms.” Carlson met Delbeek at a conference where Delbeek was giving a talk on raising coral. Some years later, the aquarium offered Delbeek a job presiding over its growing collection. The Waikiki Aquarium became the first public aquarium in North America to display live South Pacific corals, and it still has the largest, most diverse exhibition of live corals in the world. One of its founding colonies, a bristling head of Acropora bruggemanii, is probably the oldest live coral in captivity.

More than two decades ago, the Waikiki Aquarium began systematically raising coral for use in its exhibits. In the early 1990s there was a growing concern about the sources of the coral displayed in public aquariums, which rely upon suppliers in places like Fiji, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. Although there’s now a trend toward culturing corals and other organisms for the aquarium trade, back then much of the live coral was collected right off the reef. Aquariums had little idea where their coral came from or whether harvesting them harmed the reefs. “We’re probably unique,” Delbeek says, “in that we can say exactly which reefs all our corals come from in the wild. We even have the GPS coordinates for some of the species in our collection.”

Visitors to the aquarium can get a sense of how coral farming works in a special exhibit near the Hawaiian monk seals. Despite the prior reservations of marine biologists, who felt corals were too fickle and sensitive to raise in captivity, coral husbandry turns out to be fairly straightforward.

What we perceive as a single mass of coral is actually a colony of thousands or millions of individual organisms called polyps. In the hard or stony corals, these polyps remove calcium from sea water and secrete the skeleton most of us know as coral. Soft corals don’t grow this hard skeletal structure; instead, their polyp colonies coat rocks or dead coral stone and can resemble a mass of anemones. For both kinds of coral, one form of reproduction is asexual, the simple multiplication of polyps in the colony; thus all you need is one finger-size fragment—a “frag” in the trade—and you can grow a new colony, a genetic clone of the original.

The tanks of the aquarium’s coral farm are fabulously congested with colonies of both stony and soft corals. They grow surprisingly fast. Stony corals can grow as much as 8 inches a year. The impressive samples of purple-tipped staghorn coral that overshadow the giant clams in the Barrier Reef exhibit began as basketball-size chunks only a little more than two years ago. Now they’re shading out other corals, and Delbeek is considering replacing them with smaller pieces. Soft corals are even more prolific. “They grow like weeds,” Delbeek says.

Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It turns out that there are a lot of things to know about growing coral. Lighting, for example, is critical. The Waikiki Aquarium is unusual because its tropical location means that natural light can be used for many of the exhibits. The climate is also a factor. “We can easily do exhibits outside,” Delbeek says. “Other aquariums really can’t. We can just dig a hole in the ground, where other facilities would have to spend millions.”

Delbeek also stresses the importance that water chemistry—calcium levels, alkalinity and pH—has on the health of coral. Part of the aquarium’s unusual success in growing coral might have to do with its extraordinary water, which comes from a saltwater well deep underground. After percolating through 80 feet of calciferous rock, the chemistry of the water is different from normal sea water. Then it’s vigorously aerated to remove excess carbon dioxide. The result is a perfectly clear fluid that one researcher calls “miracle water.” Its superior quality is so sought after that one of the benefits of membership at the Waikiki Aquarium is the privilege of bringing its water home for your private aquarium.

While most public aquariums now have a live coral exhibit, at the Waikiki Aquarium almost every display contains live coral. Except for a small amount of seed stock—frags carefully collected from around the tropical Pacific—all the coral on display at the aquarium was raised on the premises. But one of the principal functions of the aquarium’s coral husbandry program is to supply live coral to other institutions. “I’ve been here since 1995,” Delbeek says. “During that time, we’ve sent out more than 6,000 frags to other aquariums. There’s probably not one aquarium in America that we haven’t sent coral to.” Kathryn Harper, the aquarium’s director of community outreach, highlights the scale of the operation: “We could do this full time if we wanted—there’s enough demand.” The aquarium, which is owned by the University of Hawai‘i, cooperates closely with scientific institutions like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology. “Right now we’re working with scientists who need samples of genetically identical Hawaiian coral,” says Delbeek. “We also sent about 600 Acropora frags to an environmental consulting company doing research on the effects of crude oil on coral.” Concerns about human effects on coral reefs, like the ship grounding that wiped out nearly 20 acres of reef in ‘Ewa, lend impetus to the coral research at the aquarium.

“Now we’re working with rare Hawaiian corals,” says Delbeek. “That’s the direction we want to move in.” Among the more fascinating corals in his care is a small collection of deep-sea corals recently collected in the ‘Au‘au Channel off Maui. “These are Leptoseris,” Delbeek points out. “They were collected at more than 100 meters—the world’s deepest-occurring photosynthetic coral.” The aquarium is trying to grow this species out so that scientists will have enough material for their research. Another Hawai‘i species in the collection is Montipora dilitata. “This coral is believed to be only found in Kane‘ohe Bay,” Delbeek says. “It’s currently classified as a species of concern by NOAA, but it may soon be listed as endangered.”

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the world’s corals is the worldwide epidemic of coral bleaching thought to be associated with global warming. When exposed for an extended period to higher than normal temperatures, many corals will expel their zooxanthellae—the symbiotic algae that live within the polyps, produce their food and give them their color.

“Hawai‘i’s far enough north that we haven’t really been affected by frequent coral bleaching events yet,” says Delbeek. But eventually, Hawai‘i’s reefs will also face this threat. Hawai‘i’s corals are already under stress from pollution, human damage and invasive algae that choke out the sunlight. Part of the aquarium’s interest in expanding the coral farming project is to be able to restock wild populations of Hawaiian corals after a die-off. The aquarium has more than 100 species of stony coral alone, including several Hawaiian species. Although the current state of the world’s coral reefs is alarming, Delbeek says there’s still some room for optimism. “If the conditions are good, the coral comes back,” he says. “Last October, I was diving in the Solomon Islands and saw a section of reef that just ten years ago was all dead. Now it’s completely covered with living coral.”

That resilience is crucial to the aquarium’s vision to become a kind of seed bank. And maybe one day, in addition to supplying coral to the public aquariums of the world, the pullulating colonies of coral in this improbable farm will help save the fragile reefs of Hawai‘i.

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Mapping the Void

Tracing the arc of the sea turtle.

story by Dennis Hollier
photos, courtesy Shawn K. K. Murakawa
NOAA Fisheries

Far out in the North Pacific, a loggerhead turtle paddles lazily with the current, glutting itself on jellyfish and pelagic snails. The water is tinged green with the plankton and other nutrients that are the basis of life in the ocean. A vast, warm-water eddy concentrates all this bounty into a narrow band along its edge. Eddies like this one are common in this part of the Pacific. Sometimes reaching 200 miles across, they spin like tumbleweeds off the great Kuroshio Current, which passes just to the north. This loggerhead has patiently foraged the edges of this eddy for several months. Four, five, six times, it has spiraled around the broad perimeter, just as loggerheads probably have for millions of years. It has the same sad eyes as all those that came before; the same tufts of red algae grow on its carapace; the same species of pelagic crabs hitchhike in the leathery creases around its tail. But there is one small difference between this turtle and its ancestors: a small, white ARGOS satellite transponder fixed to its shell.

Fifteen hundred miles away, in the Manoa office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the signal from that transponder pings Jeffrey Polovina’s computer. Polovina, an ocea-nographer and Director of the Ecosystems and Oceanography division of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, has been following Turtle 124 for almost three years. Two or three times a day, the loggerhead’s position is updated on the computer, revealing a breathtaking migration that has crisscrossed 12,000 miles of the Pacific. Together with turtle experts like NOAA’s George Balazs, Polovina has been charting the movement of more than 200 Pacific turtles this way. Some were hatched in a Japanese aquarium and released with satellite tags. Others were by-catch on commercial fishing boats, and NOAA fishery observers aboard the vessels tagged and released them. Using this data, researchers are finally shedding some light on the mysterious and complicated journey of the loggerhead.

Polovina has the dignified, gray-haired eminence and measured cadences of a scientist, but his bright eyes and elfin features belie a youthful enthusiasm for his work. For him, tagging turtles is less about the turtles themselves than the opportunity to study the ocean through their eyes: The ocean is not, it seems, a vast, featureless desert that they drift aimlessly across. It’s a diverse and intricately structured habitat that they exploit meticulously.

Polovina describes the journey of the loggerhead as “one of the world’s great migrations.” All of the loggerheads in the North Pacific were born on beaches in the southern islands of Japan. Genetic studies have shown that these same turtles are often observed along the coasts of California and Mexico as adults. Although there is no practical way to tell the age of wild turtles, juvenile loggerheads can spend as much as thirty years at sea. In fact, even at the leisurely pace of turtles, some of Polovina’s loggerheads travel more than 3,000 miles a year.

No one really knew, though, what happened to the turtles in between. Experts—even scientists like Archie Carr, perhaps the pre-eminent authority on sea turtles—believed that the juvenile loggerheads were passive migrants on the great ocean currents like the Kuroshio. Maybe the most dramatic discovery that Polovina and his colleagues have made has been the clear demonstration that loggerheads are not mere passengers on a transoceanic cruise; they are some of nature’s most accomplished navigators. They do not swim in a straight line from west to east; their erratic paths crisscross thousands of miles of ocean in a way that looks, at first, to be random. But it’s not.

The ocean, as it turns out, is far from homogenous. Satellite imagery has revealed it to be an intricate assemblage of vast and changing features. “There are eddies, meanders, fronts, upwellings, downwellings, convergences and divergences,” Polovina says. For turtles and other marine animals, these features are critical habitat. “To find them and to see how the animals are using them is a real advantage.” To do that, he relies on several different satellites. Some measure the ocean’s temperature, mapping thermoclines—boundaries between cold and warm water. Others exploit tiny variations in sea surface heights to chart currents, which, on a map, look like a paisley of eddies and meanders. Other satellites detect the color of the ocean’s surface, revealing, for example, the dramatic Chlorophyll Front, an oceanwide boundary between the cold, green, plankton-rich water of the Arctic and the warm but much more nutrient- poor blue water of the subtropics.

Combined with the satellite maps of the ocean’s features, the turtles’ route begins to unscramble. It’s clear that the turtles are traveling among the ocean’s varied features, seeking the most productive habitat. Like Turtle 124, they spend months feeding at the edges of warm-water eddies. They nuzzle into the crooks of meanders and into places where converging currents crowd their food sources together. In the winter, they’re especially fond of the waters along the Chlorophyll Front, which continue to bring food to the surface even when the great eddies of the Kuroshio Current have petered out.

Knowing where loggerheads are likely to be found isn’t a purely academic issue. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists them as “endangered,” meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the near future. In the United States, they’re listed as “threatened” and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Swordfish and tuna longliners sometimes accidentally hook turtles, but NOAA has set strict limits on by-catch. Once the Pacific Island fleet catches eighteen loggerheads or seventeen leatherbacks, the whole fishery is shut down for the season. The fishermen clearly have a real incentive to avoid snagging turtles. In 2006, the first year of the regulations, the eighteenth loggerhead was caught in March, sending the entire fleet back to port after only two months. Now, though, Polovina’s maps are available on the Internet; the longliners can simply avoid areas where there are likely to be loggerheads. The fishery hasn’t shut down since 2006.

One of the more remarkable things about Polovina is that he’s not a turtle biologist. “I’m an ecological nomad,” he says. Scientists typically become specialized over the course of their careers, but Polovina’s career has been characterized by highly productive dabbling. After an undergraduate degree in biology and graduate work in statistics, Polovina has bounced in five-year increments among different specialties. He did work in aquaculture and population dynamics. He studied the efficacy of artificial reefs in Japan and managed commercial fisheries here in Hawai‘i. Among his peers, though, Polovina is probably most closely associated with something called Ecopath modeling. “I’m famous for that,” he says. Employing simple statistical methods, Ecopath allows ecologists to predict the effect small changes will have in a large ecosystem—in essence, Ecopath is the precursor to modern ecosystem management.

It was probably his statistical bent that led Polovina to oceanography and the high tech world of satellite telemetry. The power of statistics to make predictions—their principal value to scientists—depends upon having sufficiently large and stable data sets. Some of the satellites Polovina uses have scanned the surface of the ocean continuously for decades. With these “very large and very unusual data sets,” he can study ocean features spread thousands of miles across the globe—often without leaving his desk. For example, he used a decade of satellite data to prove that the ocean’s desert zones—the vast, almost lifeless blue areas at the centers of the ocean’s equatorial gyres—are growing at a faster pace than would be predicted by current models of global warming. The unexpected growth could just be part of the cycle of El Niño and La Niña events, or it might forebode the continued decline in the world’s fisheries. “We may need another decade of data to know for sure,” Polovina says.

In the absence of this kind of data, the ocean can seem mute and undifferentiated to us. Though satellites can reveal some of its features, they don’t always tell us what those features mean to the animals and plants that live among them. Tracking the turtles allows Polovina to see the ocean through their eyes and to begin to understand the ocean as habitat. In addition to turtles, Polovina has tagged tuna and opah (moonfish) and even whale sharks. In effect, in addition to the satellites, Polovina has hundreds of little remote submersibles constantly scanning the features of the ocean. Polovina’s eyes narrow conspiratorially when he thinks of all these turtles gathering data for him. “Each satellite gives you a different way to find these features and to measure different aspects of them,” he says. “Then you put the animals out there. These turtles are 100 million years old; they’re sensing the ocean in a different way. In a way, we’re using these animals to tell us what part of the ocean is important.”

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Lord of the Flies

The art of Japanese fly tying

Lord of the Flies
Story by Dennis Hollier
Photo by Brad Goda

Craig Sako works the far end of Lake Wilson. From a small boat, he fishes the shallows along the banks, orchestrating one elaborate cast after another. His rod is a simple bamboo pole with a line tied to the tip, like a child might use, but he works the line with a graceful flourish. This is clearly no ordinary fly-fisherman.

Sako, a chef at the Halekulani Hotel, is one of a cadre of Hawai‘i anglers who practice the Japanese art of tenkara (literally, “from the skies”). This elegant form of fly-fishing developed at least 200 years ago in Honshu and Hokkaido, where the lithe poles and short lines made it possible to cast along narrow, wooded streams. In Japan, tenkara remains an art form, like haiku or ikebana. During the Edo period, when weapons were forbidden to samurai, warriors practiced tenkara; balancing on rocks while precision casting was a useful substitute for training with swords. To many contemporary aficionados, the charm of tenkara lies in these cultural ties.

While tenkara has become something of a craze on the Mainland, where its archaic simplicity is an antidote to the gear mania of Western fly-fishing, it’s just catching on in Hawai‘i. Sako began practicing the art while working in Japan; a friend there took him fly fishing, and he quickly saw that tenkara would let him get into places that regular fly-fishing wouldn’t.

“I went right from the stream to the sporting goods store,” he says.

When he returned to Hawai‘i, he brought tenkara with him. Sometimes he goes after peacock bass and red devil in Lake Wilson or smallmouth bass in the riffles of Nu‘uanu Stream. Although Hawai‘i is no freshwater fishing Mecca, Sako believes tenkara is still a useful skill. “It has a place in every fisherman’s quiver,” he says.

While Sako uses the technique mainly for practical purposes—to catch fish—he’s attuned to tenkara’s mystical quality. “The good thing about it is it’s just a leader, the rod and then your flies,” he says. “And when you go up to Jackass Ginger Falls, it’s usually only you and the friends you bring. I don’t want to sound like a hippie, but it’s just a nice way to be alone with your thoughts.”

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