Bridging the Gap


Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.48.44 PMContributed by Leah Shizuru

Whooosh…

As I stood near the puka and gazed at the raw beauty of the steady flow of incoming ocean water spilling into the fishpond I listened to and appreciated the unmistakable sound of rushing water. What a thrilling experience for both the eyes and ears.

It was hard to fathom that the 80 ft gap directly in front of me would soon be closed. I pondered how the volunteers would ever complete this task when the water appeared to ebb and flow with such impressive speed. Though difficult to imagine, I was told that the enthusiastic bunch of men and women that worked daily on closing the puka, or gap, were making great progress with the help of a campaign to fund this labor-intensive project and raise awareness of the need to close the break in the wall in He’eia fishpondPani ka Puka.

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Bridging the gap would be a crucial step toward restoring this fishpond to its original state and enabling traditional aquaculture to ensue again. Ultimately, caretakers of He‘eia Fishpond would once again be able to raise enough herbivorous fish such as mullet (‘ama‘ama) and milkfish (‘awa) to provide for the community. Sustainability. Preservation. Tradition.

Bridging the gap

Benefits of traditional fishponds extend to research and education. That is how I became involved with He‘eia Fishpond. Last summer I had the opportunity  to intern at C-MORE (Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education), a NSF Science and Technology Center, to work on a research project with Dr. Rosie Alegado looking at the microbial diversity in this coastal ecosystem. As part of my research, I ventured to the fishpond once a week with my two lab mates in order to gather water samples. These water samples were then taken back to the lab, filtered, and subjected to extraction of genomic DNA.

During these visits we got to know the Paepae o He’eia stewards (kia’i loko), learn about the history surrounding the fishpond and see the progress of the various other restoration

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Pictured left to right: Dr. Kiana Frank, Charles Beebe, Kyle Yoshida, and Ka’ena Lee

projects including the removal of mangrove from along the ancient fishpond wall  and invasive limu (algae) from in and around the pond. Our research aimed to complement these restoration efforts. Through a better understanding of the genetic makeup of microbes such as photosynthetic bacteria and microalgae that form the base of the food chain in the fishpond, better management policies could be implemented.

Our weekly visits to the fishpond also enabled us to see, first hand, the outreach efforts of the fishpond stewards. One evening during a 26-hour diurnal experiment in which we worked with Dr. Kiana Frank (who was analyzing microbial communities at different depths within the sediment as well as their sources of respiration and respiration rates), we interacted with a few children who were on the property.  

During the process of water filtration and processing of sediment cores we were surrounded by a group of inquisitive and eager children who wanted to help. Ka‘ena, who was 5 years old, asked, “What are you doing?” as he looked at the filtration apparatus, bewildered. My co-workers and I told him that we were filtering water that we had just collected in order to study the microbes in the fishpond. Ka‘ena looked puzzled and we could see from the confused, yet still-interested look on his face that we needed to add to our answer and perhaps simplify it. I quickly began to think of a way to re-explain this so that he could understand it. Thankfully, my labmate, Mikela, interjected, “Oh, ok! So you know when you’re finished cooking spaghetti noodles and you have to drain out the water?” Ka‘ena nodded. “How do you get rid of the water that you cook your pasta in,” Mikela asked. He described a strainer and Mikela replied in an encouraging tone, “Yes, exactly, a strainer. So what this is [as she pointed to the filtration apparatus with the filter membrane] is like the strainer and the microbes are like the spaghetti noodles that we want to keep.” What a perfect analogy to give to this young child! Ka‘ena beamed at Mikela and responded, “Oh, I see!” We followed Mikela’s lead and continued to answer the other children’s questions in a simplistic, analogous manner. What a treat it was to be able to answer their thought-provoking questions.

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Illustration of Oahu fishponds by Robert Dampier, 1825. (Wikipedia Commons)

It was in that moment that I realized how this summer had come full circle: I was working for an organization that, in its very title, seeks to educate. I gleaned from the knowledge of Dr. Alegado and Dr. Frank and in turn was able to pass on that knowledge to these young kids. Not only had I learned more science this summer, but I had formed a deeper appreciation for my culture, for the faithful caretakers at He‘eia fishpond, and for the brilliant scientists (like those at C-MORE) who seek to better understand the environment in which we live. I saw the value of perpetuating knowledge from one generation to the next.

It was then that I understood the necessity of bridging the gap.

Hawaiian fishponds, also known as loko i‘a, were traditional forms of aquaculture that served as a dependable protein source for ancient Hawaiians. The oldest fishpond in Hawai‘i was built about 1200 years ago. By the 1900s there were only 99 of the 360 built in the islands that were operable. 


Leah Shizuru attends the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and will earn a B.S. in Microbiology Spring 2017. As a part-time lifeguard with Ocean Safety, she enjoys spending her free-time outside with her friends and family— surfing, hiking, swimming, paddling, and bodyboarding are just a few of her favorite hobbies. 

Leah would like to thank Yoshimi Rii, Hi’ilei Kawelo, Keli’i Kotubetey, and Dr. Rosie Alegado for their oversight and feedback on this blog post and would also like to thank Dr. Alegado for the opportunity she has to work in her lab.           

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HIMB30 – The Prius of Bacteria

By Jennifer Wong-Ala 

Jennifer Wong-Ala

“Ew, you work with bacteria?! Aren’t you afraid of getting sick?” This is what I usually hear whenever I talk to people who are not familiar with the different types of bacteria. When most people think of bacteria, they think of the harmful germs that get them sick. The “good” bacteria I work with are called HIMB30, from the Gammaproteobacteria class. Gammaproteobacteria are common in the marine environment, and HIMB30’s name comes from the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology on the east side of ‘Oahu, where it was isolated from.

So why is this bacteria “good”? HIMB30 is not harmful to human health, and serves many functions. Think of HIMB30 as a hybrid car. A hybrid car uses gas to power its engine and has an electric battery that it can recharge. HIMB30 is heterotrophic — meaning it consumes “food,” or organic matter in this case, like the gas you put in a car, but it also has the ability to use light to create extra energy, much like the rechargeable battery. Genes for phototrophy and genes that have the ability to fix CO2 into an energy source were found in HIMB30, which is unusual in this order of bacteria. With my research, I am trying to figure out how HIMB30 uses these genes to acquire its energy.

The gene found in HIMB30 that has the ability to conduct phototrophy is called proteorhodopsin. Proteorhodopsin is related to a pigment found in your eyes called rhodopsin that allows us to see different colors. This protein is able to harvest energy from the sun and it functions as a light-driven proton pump. A proton pump can be thought of as a gate that allows protons to enter the mitochondria. Since the discovery of proteorhodopsin, many bacteria have been found to contain this gene.

Stepping away from lab work for a moment to pose for a photo with Vanessa

Stepping away from lab work for a moment to pose for a photo with Vanessa

It is estimated that in one liter of water, there is about a billion bacteria. Since there are so many bacteria in the ocean, it must be easy to bring them from the ocean to the lab to start growing and experimenting with them right? Well, it is not quite that simple. It is suggested that less than 1% of the microorganisms in nature are able to be cultivated in the lab today. This being said there are even less microorganisms that can be cultivated that contain proteorhodopsin and this makes them difficult to study. This makes HIMB30 extra special, since it has proteorhodopsin and we have it growing in culture in our lab. I have been doing experiments with the cultures in order to learn more about the metabolism of HIMB30.

Many of you may ask, why is this important?  The carbon cycle in the ocean is responsible for the cycling of nutrients. In this cycle, bacteria play a huge part of the marine food web and process more than half of all the flow of carbon-based matter. There are many different types of bacteria in the ocean. Photosynthetic bacteria use sunlight and convert it into energy. Mixotrophs can use sunlight and organic matter for energy, while heterotrophic bacteria attack other organisms. Now where does HIMB30 come into all of this? HIMB30 has characteristics showing that it may be a photolithoautotroph. This means that it can use the energy it gets from light to convert substances such as carbs, fats, and proteins into simple substances. It also uses a form of sulfur and CO2 as a source of carbon for this to occur. But the big question is how would this affect the carbon cycle in the ocean? It is still unknown how some bacteria utilize the proteorhodopsin gene and the effect it can have on the carbon cycle.

Jenn's OSM2014 poster presentation

Jenn’s OSM2014 poster presentation

In February, I presented these exciting research findings at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting held in Honolulu. This was the first conference I attended and let me tell you, it was huge! At first it was overwhelming, but after a while I got the hang of planning out my day. At the end of the week, I was sad that the conference was over. I learned a lot from the vastly different sessions and I met many great people whom I plan on keeping in touch with for years to come. Science has taken me farther than I had ever imagined and I am super excited that this is only the beginning.

Jennifer Wong-Ala is an undergraduate student at Kapi‘olani Community College and is currently conducting research as a Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) Scholar. She plans on transferring to UH Mānoa in Fall 2015 and earning a BS in Global Environmental Sciences. She is a mentee as part of the SOEST/KCC Maile Mentoring Bridge Program (www.soest.hawaii.edu/maile).

A Bittersweet Cruise

A guest blog post contributed by Donn Viviani

I conduct my oceanographic research on a 186-foot-long ship at Station ALOHA, 60 miles from ‘Oahu and the site of the 25-year-old Hawai’i Ocean Time-series. Cruises last five days and are scheduled well in advance.  So I was surprised one evening when my advisor emailed, “we have to go sample the molasses plume right away!”  I thought he was joking: What molasses plume?

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses were spilling into Honolulu Harbor, and fish were dying by the thousands.  As microbial oceanographers, we immediately wanted to know how bacteria were responding.  Were they using the molasses to grow like crazy and breathing all the oxygen in the water?  We knew the Department of Health would look at fish and potentially harmful bacteria.  We didn’t think they would be very interested in the vast majority of microbes that are not dangerous to humans, but we sure were interested!

Thirty-six hours later, seven scientists, myself included, arrived at the University of Hawai’i Marine Center with all the equipment we might possibly need.  Scientists, captain, boxes of equipment, and the CTD (conductivity-temperature-density) sensor package crowded our 20-foot-long boat.  Out in Ke’ehi Lagoon, it was evident that something was wrong. The water was an odd dark color and the air smelled sort of like bread.  Later, I saw aerial photos that really showed the discoloration of the water.

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Lowering the CTD into the molasses plume.
Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

We motored down the channel to the places the Department of Health had collected water samples.  I’ve never seen so many small crafts in the harbor on any of my past 60 cruises.  There were dive flags up everywhere and guys scooping nets for dead fish.  It was surreal.

Station one, near Aloha Tower, was confusing and disorganized.  None of us had used this boat before, and we were crammed like sardines between boxes of empty sample bottles.  Two scientists lowered the CTD over the side.  To check the sensor depth readout on the laptop screen, I had to crawl along the outside of the boat.  Eventually, we figured it out, filled our bottles with samples, and moved on as more boats arrived.

Our second station stunk.  Off Pier 38, there was a strong rotten egg smell, causing some of us to say “yuck” and others to say “Wow! Smells like hydrogen sulfide!”  We suspected the water below us might be anoxic (no oxygen).  Sure enough, the CTD oxygen sensor reported almost no oxygen between the surface and just above the bottom.  Anoxic water could explain the dead fish, which would have been suffocated.  The molasses was like a huge holiday buffet for bacteria living in the harbor.  They ate up all the molasses, breathed all the oxygen, and now some of them were living anaerobically (without oxygen) and releasing hydrogen sulfide.   Water at the next two stations also contained very little oxygen. We didn’t smell any hydrogen sulfide, but  there were many dead fish floating under the docks at the final station.

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Taking oxygen measurements on board our “research vessel”.
Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

Back in the lab, we analyzed our samples to calibrate our CTD sensors, and to figure out what kind of bacteria were in the harbor and how fast they were growing.  We planned a second trip, to look for changes.  After washing some bottles, looking at data, and talking to some reporters, we were ready to go back out.

Our second cruise, a week later, was like going to a totally different harbor.  I saw both Jacks (‘ulua) and flying fish (malolo); I’ve never seen either in the harbor before.  At station one, the water surface was covered with a film of zooplankton, small organisms that eat bacteria and phytoplankton.  We didn’t smell hydrogen sulfide, and none of the stations were anoxic.  It seemed like microbes and water mixing through the harbor had cleaned up the molasses, and larger organisms were moving back in.

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Interviewing the “TV Star”.
Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

We’re still analyzing our measurements, but I’ve learned a few things from this experience. First, people get way more interested in my science when it affects something relevant to them, like my Aunties calling me “TV Star” because they saw me get interviewed on the news.  Second, lots of interesting science happens in my own backyard.  Third, even harbor bacteria have a massive sweet tooth!

Donn Viviani is a PhD student studying the partitioning of primary production between particulate and dissolved phases in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. He is looking forwarding to contributing more guest posts on spontaneous research in his backyard and beyond.

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Photo credit: Fenina Buttler