Hawai'i is home to five species of indigenous freshwater gobies (four
species, three of which are endemic, from Gobiidae, and one endemic species
from Eleotridae). They are collectively referred to as 'o'opu and presumably
live in the same stream, but at different elevations. Unfortunately, I did
not do my homework to find out where precisely 'o'opu can be found. I knew
they were on the windward side of the island and that I was on the leeward
side, on the Kona Coast. We called a company that gives nature tours through
the rainforest on the windward side of the island near Hilo, asking if they
could take us to a site where we could snorkel to see 'o'opu. They said
their tours were at elevations too high for 'o'opu to reach (even though one
species, Lentipes concoler, is known to climb the 400-foot high Akaka
Falls.) Instead, the tour company recommended that we snorkel Kolekole
Stream, which empties into the Pacific at Kolekole State Beach.
The drive from Kona to Kolekole State Beach took a couple of hours and was
most pleasant. It was fascinating to see how quickly the terrain switched
from desert scrub (complete with cacti) to lush, orchid-filled rainforest as
we climbed the mountain. As we parked at Kolekole we saw a local coming out
of the stream.
"What's the temperature?" I asked. Since Hawai'i freshwater streams are fed
by snowmelt and rain, I knew they would be colder than the tropical Pacific.
"Around fifty," he said.
"Yikes," I said. If I wanted to see 'o'opu it was going to hurt.
The man then asked us why we were here.
"To see 'o'opu," we replied.
The man -- we never got his name -- was truly surprised to hear this. He had
never before met tourists who wanted to see 'o'opu. He thought only locals
knew that 'o'opu existed.
"There are no 'o'opu here," he said, in a bizarre accent and speech pattern
that must have been the model for Jar-Jar Binks. (40% of what he said was
unintelligible.) "All the 'o'opu are gone. Eaten by the Malaysian prawn."
The prawn was introduced by Filipinos, he said, as a source of food.
"Just curious, what were you doing in the stream?" I asked.
"Setting traps," he said, to catch prawns, which he uses as bait. He showed
us his homemade traps. A gallon milk jug with its bottom cut out and its
sides folded inward, which is then placed into a bigger plastic jug, like
the ones scoopable kitty litter come in, which also has its bottom cut out.
The trap is baited with coconut and is sunk underneath a rock with the
bottom facing upstream, into the current. Water flows through the trap,
exiting through the top of the smaller jug. The prawns enter the bottom of
the big jug and are trapped between it and the small jug. Quite simple and
ingenious. (I wonder if it would work for minnows?)
Anyhow, he said the water in Kolekole Stream was too high and turbid to see
anything anyway, since it had recently rained up in the mountains. I decided
to have a look anyway. Sure enough, the stream was cold and full of
whitewater rapids. It was hard to find calmer pool-like areas to stick my
head in. And when I did, visibility was restricted to just a few inches in
front of my mask. Jar-Jar Binks was right. Not an 'o'opu was to be found.
Nor did I see any prawn. But I did catch a glimpse of a silvery minnow-like
fish, which I later identified as a Hawaiian flagtail fish (Kuhlia
sandvicensis). Juveniles of this marine fish, known locally as aholehole,
occasionally enter fresh water.
We left the stream hoping to snorkel other ones during our drive, but
decided against it when we saw just how deep into the gorges the streams
were. Sure, we could climb down the gorges. But since everything was wet, I
doubted we would be able to climb out. Still, we enjoyed the scenery,
especially the 400 foot falls at Akaka Falls State Park. (And to think that
one species of 'o'opu can actually climb it!)
Should we visit the Big Island again -- and every indication is that we will
-- I will do my homework and pin down accessible locations were 'o'opu can
Of course, there are MILLIONS of fish to see in Kona, along its coral reefs.
We snorkeled at three locations, the best by far of which was the site in
Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook landed and later was killed. A white
obelisk on a small parcel of land (legally the land of England) marks the
location. Since it is not accessible by car, not may snorkelers visit the
site, which may explain why the water was so clear and the fish so amazingly
abundant. (We rented kayaks and paddled a mile-and-half to get there.) It
was truly breathtaking to swim inches away from green sea turtles, and
within a shoal containing 100+ fat yellow tangs.
I'm no expert on coral reef fishes, so the following list reflects only a
small portion of the total fish diversity we saw. Unlike sampling in
freshwater, where you can catch a fish and identify it on land with an ID
book in hand, it's difficult to catch a coral reef fish. (And illegal, too,
since we were snorkeling in protected marine preserves.) So the following
list includes only those species which I could visually identify with 100%
certainty (basically bigger fishes that swim higher in the water column) and
largely excludes the smaller wrasses and basslets which dart in and out of
threadfin butterflyfish ..... Chaetodon auriga
ornate butterflyfish ..... Chaetodon ornatissimus
fourspot butterflyfish ..... Chaetodon quadrimaculatus
longnose butterflyfish ..... Forcipiger longirostris
I was surprised to see an all-black form of this familiar species, and
initially thought it was a different species entirely. I later learned that
this species exhibits a black phase which is common on the Kona Coast of the
Big Island, but rare elsewhere. The explanation for the black phase is
unknown, and is said to revert back to the yellow phase in captivity.
moorish idol ..... Zanchus cornutus
yellow tang ..... Zebrasoma flavescens
One of the most common and easily the most conspicuous fishes on the reef. I
was surprised to see how stout they were, compared to the thin specimens for
sale in the aquarium trade. Obviously captive specimens never get enough
whitespotted surgeonfish ..... Acanthurus guttatus
achilles tang ..... Acanthurus achilles
goldrim tang ..... Acanthurus nigricans
convict tank ..... Acanthurus sandvicensis
goldring surgeonfish ..... Ctenochaetus strigosus
bluespine surgeonfish ..... Naso unicornis
sergeant major ..... Abudefduf abdominalis
blackspot damselfish ..... Abudefduf sordidus
brighteye damselfish ..... Plectroglyphidodon imparipennis
Christmas wrasse ..... Thalassoma trilobatum
saddle wrasse ..... Thalassoma duperrey
yellowtail coris ..... Coris gaimard
Saw juvenile, which resemble clownfishes. Adults look nothing like the
bird wrase ..... Gomphosus varius
cleaner wrasse ..... labroides phthirophagus
bullethead parrotfish ..... Chlororus sordidus
spectacled parrotfish ..... Clororus perspicillatus
black triggerfish ..... Melichthys niger
pinktail triggerfish ..... Melichthys vidua
Picasso triggerfish ..... Rhincanthus rectangulus
State fish of Hawai'i and common t-shirt subject. Local name is humuhumu
whiteline triggerfish ..... Sufflamen bursa
peacock grouper ..... Cephalopholis argus
Introduced from French Polynesia in the 1950s as a food fish. Even in the
coral reef there are exotics!
stripebelly puffer ..... Arothron hispidus
spotted puffer ..... Arothron meleagris
whitespotted toby ..... Canthigaster jactator
spotted trunkfish ..... Ostracion meleagris
manybar goatfish ..... Parupenus multifasciatus
yellowstripe goatfish ..... Mulloidicithys flavolineatus
trumpetfish ..... Aulostomus chinensis
Saw both the brown and yellow phases.
cornetfish ..... Fistularia commersonii
Stephanie saw one that was close to 5 feet long!
sharpnose mullet ..... Neomyxus leuciscus
whitemouth moray ..... Gymnothorax meleagris
I bought one of these disposable underwater cameras and took a roll of
shots. If any turn out I'll post them for you to see.
For now, here's a shot of me and a beachcomber.
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