Today I would like talk to you about Hawaii’s beautiful tropical reef fish…
In Hawaii we have about 600 different species of tropical reef fish and 25 % of those are endemic ( found nowhere else in the world but here ). Our fish in Hawaii are very special. Have you ever wondered how our fish got here or where did they come from? Let’s start by learning more about this.
Scientists believe that most tropical marine life ( even that of the remote Caribbean ) originated near Indonesia and the Philippines. More marine species are found there than anywhere else. In the Philippines, for example you can find up to 2,000 species of tropical reef fish.
How did they get here?
The ancestors of Hawaiian tropical reef fish drifted as larvae. But only species with long-lasting larval stages made it; those with short larval stages died before they got here. Ocean currents did not move them fast enough.
Once the fish got here they had to adapt to our water temperatures and evolve some time creating a different species, therefore becoming endemic or indigenous of Hawaii.
A good example of adaptation to our environment is the millet seed butterfly fish (photo) and the saddle wrasse, two of our most abundant reef fishes.
Here are photos & information on a few other endemic Hawaiian tropical reef fish.
Moorish Idol Hawaiian name: Kihikihi.
Common at any depths alone or in small groups. Scales are minute and not visible to the naked eye . Feeds upon sponge and encrusting invertebrates. Attains 9 inches. Hawaii, Indo-Pacific, Tropical Eastern Pacific.
Yellow Longnose Butterfly Fish, Hawaiian Names: La-u wi-li-wi-li nu-ku-nu-ku ‘o-i ‘o-i, and La-u ha-u.
Long Nose Butterflies are, as their names would imply, quite interesting in shape. Their elongated snouts distinguish them from many other Butterfly fish.
The Long Nose Butterfly is often found in pairs. These fish feed on small invertebrates, plankton, fish eggs, and various other items that they find scavenging in tiny cracks or crevices in reefs. The long-nosed adaptation that gives the Long Nose Butterfly its name aids it in this search for food.
Parrot Fish, Hawaiian Name: Uhu
Parrot fish inhabit shallow, tropical seas around the world. They are easily recognized by their parrot-like beak of fused teeth, a bluntly rounded head, large scales, and brilliant colors. Like their relatives, the wrasses, parrot fishes have a single continuous dorsal fin and swim with lazy rowing motions of their pectoral (side) fins.
Some Hawaiian endemic reef fish are unusual and not seen around our main Islands but abundant in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. For example, the Yellow Bar Parrotfish and the Lined Coris are uncommon to rare, while the Hawaiian Black Grouper and the Masked Angelfish (Blue Masked Angelfish in photo below) are almost never seen in our waters.
How to protect our reef fish.
Reef fish are a very important part of a healthy reef’s eco system.
All fish have a job to do. Some eat algae which keeps the reef’s clean from algae overgrowth, some eat parasites from other fish and marine life, which helps the fish stay healthy, indeed, the ocean works in a symbiotic way… everybody helps each other.
Remember these simple things:
When you go out surfing or snorkeling please remember do not step on the reef or touch anything.
Going in the ocean for surfing, snorkeling or free diving should be a completely visual experience. When I go in a protected area or a Marine Preserve I make sure my sunscreen is chemicals free or don’t use any sunscreen at all, instead I wear a long sleeve rash guard that protects me from the sun. These areas are visited by people by the hundreds on a daily basis and the chemicals in the sunscreen are harmful to the reef and the reef fish.
Never feed the fish or any marine animal. There is plenty for them to eat and what we eat is not meant to be eaten. Things like peas and corn and bread will only harm their digestive systems.
Pick up any rubbish you see and around beaches and the reef, little by little we can all help keep the reef’s clean.
Recycle so nothing ends up in the ocean.
Other Threats to reef fish in Hawaii
Did you know, one of the biggest threats to our tropical reef fish in Hawaii is the Aquarium Trade business i.e. Mainland Pet Stores?
“Forty five percent of all tropical reef fish sold in the USA mainland and pet shops come from Hawaii.”
For decades now our tropical reef fish have been taken from our islands and sold as pets all over the world. Some fish like the Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse (blue and yellow fish in photo)only eat parasites, this fish will die within a month after taken from Hawaii.
The photo below is sadly of more than 600 dead fish discovered January 2010 in two bags in a Dumpster near a launch ramp at Honokohau small boat harbor on Hawaii. Mechanical pumps fail, big surf makes for difficult and dangerous catch returns, live wells on boats malfunction, and pipes leak, along with many other malfunctions, which cause this type of sad loss.
Many algae eaters like the Yellow Tang (photo) are taken, therefore in some areas the algae has grown too much and it’s suffocating the reef and killing it. The Bandit Angelfish only eats sponges, they also die quickly and are quickly replaced by another… Imagine how many fish we have lost throughout the decades.
How can you make a difference? Education and information is the best we can do now. Inform all your class mates, teachers, friends and family about the troubles our Hawaiian tropical reef fish are going through, that helps a lot. Follow reef guidelines and remind others not to walk on the reef or take reef fish for aquariums. Ask questions and do research!
If you own a fish tank with Hawaiian tropical reef fish and you collected the fish yourself ( or your parents ) then you can return the fish to the same place they came from. If you bought the fish from a pet shop, please don’t buy any more and take good care of the fish you have now.
For more information on the Aquarium Fish Trade check For the fishes.org
Together we can protect our oceans and all marine life!
Thank you for doing your part,
Ocean Defenders and Ocean Girl Project Sustainable Surfers Hawaii
What You Can Do Links:
For more information on the Aquarium Fish Trade check For the fishes.org Snorkel responsibly, without damaging reefs.
Support efforts to cap carbon pollution at levels that won’t overheat the earth or turn our oceans more acidic.
- big fish gone missing from eastern caribbean reefs? (greenantilles.com)
- The Basic Life Cycle of Reef Fishes (brighthub.com)
- Just Listen to the Fish (sierraclub.typepad.com)
- Taking the pulse of coral reefs (eurekalert.org)
What do you do to help the reef? Feel free to leave suggestions, photos and comments!
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