An Ocean of Life

By Rebecca Ingram

Living on an island, it is easy to see how intertwined our lives are with the ocean. We benefit daily from the ocean’s many resources, whether it be going fishing, diving, or simply walking along the shoreline. But if you live far away from the ocean, you may not realize that the ocean also influences your life in significant ways. The ocean affects weather patterns, the atmosphere, and contributes to global food supplies. Simply put, no matter how near or far, the ocean contributes to all life on Earth.

Scientists boarded the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette on April 17th to continue researching biological and oceanographic aspects of the West Hawai‘i marine environment. This research is fueled by the need to develop a better understanding of why this particular island region is so ecologically dynamic and productive. Specifically, we are researching fish larval habitats, species distribution in the water column, and productivity hot spots. (You can read more about our expedition here.) However, this important ship-based research does not tell the whole story.

Off the ship, scientists are investigating another important aspect of this ecosystem. There is a need to understand more about the connections between these biophysical ecosystems and the humans who live near them. People do not simply live in or near an ecosystem, but are an integral participant and rely on resources produced. So the question remains, in what ways does the West Hawai‘i community impact and rely on the marine ecosystem?

Answering this question leads to the primary strategy of Ecosystem Based Management (EBM), a holistic resource management approach that West Hawai‘i has been shifting towards in recent years. EBM recognizes that an ecosystem cannot be teased apart into neatly manageable pieces, but must be viewed through a unifying lens. EBM also specifically integrates humans, both our impacts and our reliance on resources, into management plans. (Read more about the shift toward EBM on the Big Island in a previous blog post.)

The West Hawai‘i Integrated Ecosystem Assessment helps pull both sides of the social-ecological story together and facilitate this fairly new style of resource management. It is a NOAA program focused on merging biophysical and ecological data with human dimensions. Essentially, this is a program that wants to provide managers with the means not only to conserve a species or place, but also conserve the resources valuable to the community. This includes activities like the opportunity to fish, dive, or appreciate the inherent value of being at a place. It also includes resources that stretch far beyond the island, since the health and productivity of West Hawai‘i coral reefs can be traced worldwide.

Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay: Looking down at popular tourist location, Kealakekua Bay, Hawai‘i, with surface slicks visible offshore. Photo credit: Rebecca Ingram, NOAA.


Kona Coast Sunrise

Kona Coast Sunrise: Looking at the Big Island from the ocean. Photo credit: Jamison Gove, NOAA.


Sette Scientist

NOAA Scientist: Jon Whitney (PIFSC/UH), aboard a small boat operation launched from the Sette. Photo credit: Don Kobayashi, NOAA.

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