H2O - Healthy Hawaiian Oceans

“Malama o kekai, kekai o ke malama”

Take care of the sea, and the sea will take care of you

Post Office Box 895

Honaunau, Hawai`i 96726


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Brief Note:  Limu Rash Perhaps?

RH Bennett PhD
Applied Life Sciences LLC

For some time now, people have been asking me why kids are getting strange rashes right after playing in the shallow waters of our beaches.  In particular, the reports are most common regarding Kohanaiki Beach Park aka Pine Trees.
I asked people to take a photo with your smartphone and text it to me.  A few weeks ago some images arrived.  The images showed as diffuse rash as if something had made contact with the skin.  Dermatologists aka skin doctors have a term called contact dermatitis, to suggest the source of the rash originates from without and not from within like some allergic-type skin rashes.

 We know that our ocean waters are contaminated with Staph. The hot or pathogenic strains of Staphylococcus aureus can cause skin infections.  Such infections often cause pustules and larger abscesses.  Paddlers and surfers in Hawai‘i are well aware of this problem. The rashes reported to me do not have the appearance of Staph infections.  While we should not make a diagnostic decision based solely on appearance, the images are reasonably different and suggestive of the different types of problems.                                         
Lyngbya Rash
 The suspect limu is a filamentous cyanobacterium Lyngbya majuscule.  This is an organism common to tropical waters the world around.  It is common to Hawai‘i and was first documented to cause skin rashes on people recreating in the ocean decades ago.

In subtropical Moreton Bay Australia, the problem was so prevalent; it became an economic concern for tourism.  We might take heed. Fortunately, the Queensland government took the issue seriously, and as                                                                                            
Staph. Aureus Pustules
a result of their work, we know a fair bit about this recreation hazard.

In Hawai‘i, the presence of Lyngbya appears to more common in the warmer summer months. However, from the Australian work, it seems that when the combination of higher, iron, nitrate and phosphate concentrations in the ocean water occur, a Lyngbya bloom is more likely.

Readers of this blog realize that the near coastal waters in Hawai‘i and specifically the Kona Coast, are nitrogen enriched and many locations are phosphate enhanced as well.  Iron is available to as it is a common component of lava and blue rock.  Thus it seems our water is well fertilized and most suitable when the water temperatures peak in the summer.   Perhaps during the El Nino summer, we had a few years ago the Lyngbya may have thrived.

Plan Ahead
As summer approaches there are a few things we can do, especially for the kiddies that like to play in the nearshore pools.

v Try to avoid tide pools that have filamentous algae or Limu present

v Rinse off quickly if filamentous Limu makes contact with the skin
v The filaments break off easily in rougher surf and handling and can become trapped under the bathing suit.  Rinse there well too.
v If a rash occurs, usually within 12 hours, wash it thoroughly with warm water and mild soap.   Some physicians recommend treating the site like a sunburn.  
v Should the rash be extensive or locally very severe, seek medical attention and don't forget to mention Limu Rash to the healthcare provider.

Protecting the beaches

Readers of this Healthy Hawaiian Oceans Blog will understand we have a nutrient problem.  Too much of OUR nitrogen and phosphorus is moving with the groundwater into the sea (Dailer 2010).  We can say with a scientific certainty where ever we feel cold water entering or emerging in the sea that water is nutrient rich (Johnson 2008).

At Kohanaiki the nearshore anchialine ponds are far greener today then they were 15 years ago when it was undeveloped.  Fertilizers applied to grass areas are known to leach out and move downslope with rain and irrigation water.  It is logical to assume that the waters in the ponds are enriched and thus so green. As the tide rises and falls water flows into the sea and if temperatures are conducive the Limu will respond and grow. Furthermore, when there are sufficient nutrients, the Lyngbya makes more toxins.  This toxin enhancement may help account for this growing concern.

Ahern, Kathleen S., Colin R. Ahern, and James W. Udy. "In situ field experiment shows Lyngbya majuscula (cyanobacterium) growth stimulated by added iron, phosphorus, and nitrogen." Harmful Algae 7.4 (2008): 389-404.

Dailer, Meghan L., et al. "Using δ15N values in algal tissue to map locations and potential sources of anthropogenic nutrient inputs on the island of Maui, Hawai ‘i, USA." Marine Pollution Bulletin 60.5 (2010): 655-671.

Johnson, Adam G., et al. "Aerial infrared imaging reveals large nutrientrich groundwater inputs to the ocean." Geophysical Research Letters 35.15 (2008).

Lyngbya Distribution and Growth Conditions

Treatment Recommendations

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Our Impaired Waters

It cannot be seen, but most of the waters along the Kona Coast are Impaired[1]
Richard H. Bennett Ph.D.
Applied Life Sciences LLC

Take a long drive along Hawai‘i Island State Route 19 and visit beaches and shores along the way.  This may be a keen idea for many tourists visiting our island.  At each stop along the way, from Miloli‘i in the South to Mahukona in the North, it is a good bet visitors will be taken aback by the beauty of those places where the ocean embraces the land.  Visitors will be in awe of the deep blue waters as they encounter the shore with rolling waves and swells that dash upon the rocks in an eternal dance.   Ask any one of these delighted tourists what they think, and they may use words like pristine, wild, natural, majestic and unspoiled.   This perspective arises from images of beaches and shores all over the world where the water is brown and opaque, where floating litter outnumbers the shorebirds a hundred to one. It is not surprising they view our water as a miraculous blessing.

Similarly, ask any kama‘aina (people of the land or locals) and they too, in spite of living here and experiencing these waters for a lifetime, they also will talk of the beauty with great reverence of our culture.  There is something about the beauty of the ocean that speaks to the souls of almost all people. 
When locals and visitors alike are asked how do the oceans here in Kona look, they almost to the person say it looks fantastic and so good.   They are not wrong the ocean does look great, clean and unspoiled.   The visual queues, however, have significant limitations’ and challenge the notion that “seeing is believing."
As most people will appreciate, there is far more to our world than our eyes can reveal.  Whether it is the tiny virus particle or an entire galaxy millions of light years away, without technology, these things would remain unknown.   This brings us back to "see" the ocean with the aid of established technology.
It may be unsettling to hear this, yet it has to be said.  There are things in our oceans we cannot see, and yet they indicate all is not well, not pristine and a clarion to action. 

Our national water quality policy, called the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires the states implementing the policy to monitor the quality of coastal water and inland lakes and streams.  This process creates a report that lists those water bodies that do not meet objective quality criteria, and those sites get "Listed” as “Impaired” by the state and the EPA.

As we drive along Highway 19 with the report in hand, we will find that in 2014 that 27 nearshore sites are listed as "Impaired."   Many of these sites have been listed for over eight years.  The list is growing as water quality standards attainment is not occurring.

After visiting all 27 shores, the viewer may well be confused and say,  “I did not see anything."  Unless they donned a scuba mask and went in the water, they still may not see anything.  Not unless they have been diving or snorkeling that site for years. In that case, it is not seeing more but seeing less!  What we divers call visibility is how far we can see underwater.  Tropical waters are historically known for great "vis” as we call yet.   In the Kona waters, the "vis” has been declining for decades.   The measurement that reveals the decrease in the “vis” is called turbidity.  A turbidimeter measures light transmission through a water sample.  As the water becomes turbid less light can pass.  The meter makes an objective measurement.  It is easy to do with a meter that typically costs less than $300.

Relatively recently the Keauhou Canoe club at the hands of Dr. Dennis Mihalka did an extensive study documenting conditions in the Keauhou Bay.   Measurements taken from the open ocean to the shores of the bay demonstrated very significant turbidity in the inner bay.

As shown in the study many things can temporarily increase turbidity.  Events like big swells and high winds do stir up the fine sediments for a short while.  During the warmer calm months of late summer, the water was quite turbid.
Our turbidity problems will cause a water body to become listed, but what is causing the turbidity.   In a word, phytoplankton. These microscopic plants are common to most oceans and overpopulate when conditions are right.  Ok, but what is driving the phytoplankton bloom.  In one word, nutrients and there is much more to the ecology, but nutrients, especially from humans has a lot to do with it.

Take a look at the table of data.  It is evident that many sites have exceedances of Nitrogen and phosphorus.  Where do most of these nutrients arise?  In one word, us.  
We eat nitrogen in the form of protein.  It gets digested and degraded, and the N is excreted most in the urine.  In the environment, bacteria convert it to nitrate.  Phosphate is a critical component of our energy metabolism and is an essential nutrient.  P gets excreted in the urine and feces.

To be sure there are other sources of nitrogen in the near shore environment, but people are the most significant and growing source.   We can carefully estimate how much nitrogen and phosphorus we humans add to the water environment. In one such lower estimate of about two hundred thousand of pounds of N are added to the environment in the greater Kailua Kona area each year.

There are some that want to deny this reality and speculate that all this nitrogen comes from the natural environment. Yes, some minor fraction does arise.  The work of Dr. R. Dialer at UH Manoa measures isotopic forms of N, and from that, we see that at the more urban locations on Maui and the Hawai‘i island the N signature is human wastewater.

On Hawaiʻi Island, wastewater is mostly out of sight and hence out of mind.  Upon closer accounting of this concern, it would appear we are indeed out of our minds.  Human wastewater is quickly moved underground via fifty thousand cesspools, hundreds to thousands of injection wells and discharged from centralized wastewater treatment plants.  All totaled is millions of gallons per day, every day.

For decades the state of Hawaii regarded this discharges as discharges to land, and there was no hydrologic connection to the sea!  On an island how could this be conceived, nonetheless be a reality? It took a citizen suit against the county of Maui to convince them that wastewater for their injection wells flowed underground into the sea and degraded the quality of the ocean.  Yes, Governor and Mr. Mayor, water flows downhill on an island too.

We cannot see N and P in the ocean.  That requires some pretty sophisticated auto-analyzers.  Fortunately, there are a couple of such machines on the island that can help us see below sea level.   What we are seeing is more and more ocean sites exceed the standards for N, and P.  Out of the 27 listed ocean sites 12 exceed the nitrogen standard and 10 for the phosphorus standard.  Concerning is that ten sites have exceedances for both N and P.   Why is the concerning?  At these sites the fertilization is complete, and the phytoplankton may respond accordingly, just a grass lawn responds to complete fertilization.

Right now we have enough data to know that 27 ocean sites on the Kona Coast do not meet the water quality standards determined by our policies.  Impaired sites, by law, must begin the process of remediation.   That is a government process which includes the establishment of TMDLʻs.  It stands for Total Maximum Daily Load.   It works by determining the sources of the nutrient in the environment and then limiting its discharge there.   As the name suggests this is a comprehensive process and when done right it works.  In spite of the law, Hawai‘i island has no TMDL Programs at all.   The other islands only have a few.   Thus the state via the Department of Health chooses merely to ignore the law and has done so for over a decade with consequences.

Given the current budgetary constraints and the pathetic policies of the EPA administrator, and the Department of Health,  nothing is going to change anytime soon.   We now are all we got, and many of us are arming ourselves with technology and the ability granted in the Clean Water Act for citizen legal actions.

The data the state generates has many holes in it.  That is the sampling and testing program is hit and miss for deficiencies in budget and staffing.  Even with those constraints resolved no one is compiling and evaluating all the data so we can ultimately see below sea level.  That is changing with some great personal and professional effort far apart from government.

A project we inspired locally with the academic assistance of Dr. Karen Kempʻs USC graduate student Don Borer is currently amassing over 60 thousand water quality data points from hundreds of sources all for the greater Kona coastal area.  This mega data set will be analyzed and mapped to show us the water quality data spanning decades.  Ultimately, it will create easy to understand Story Maps.  These maps will enable the students of Miloli‘i as well as the scientist in Waimea, to see, with little to incredible detail, what has been unseen for far too long.  For too long we have been “flying blind."

It is our hope and intention that when people can see the ocean and at the same time see below sea level, and understand the decline, more and more people will turn their love for the sea into action.  We will be informed by science but act from the heart.

  State of Hawai‘i CWA 303(D) Report

Entero TN NO3 TP PO4 Turb NH3 Chl
Second Beach Mahaiula N
Anaehoomalu N
Bayans N
Hapuna Beach N N N N N N
Honaunau Two Step N
Honokohou Beach N N N N N N
Ho`okena N
Kahalu`u Beach N
Kailua Bay N
Kahalu`u Beach N
Kawaihae Harbor N
Keahole Point  * N
Kealkekua Bay N N N N
Keauhou Bay N
Kiholo N N N N N N
Kuki`o N N N N N N
Mahukona Harbor Oceanic N N N N
Manini`owali N N N N
Miloli`I Beach N
Pelekane Bay N N N N N N N
Pine Trees N N
Pine Trees - Honokohou N N N N N N
Puako N
Spencer Beach Park N N
Wailua to Anaehoomula N N N N N N
Wawaloli- Pine Trees N N N
White Sands Beach N N

Entero Enterococci
TN Total Ntirogen
NO3 Nitrate
TP Total Phosphorus
Turb Turbidity
NH3 Ammonia
Chl Chlorophyll
P04 Phosphate
N Nitrogen

Note:  Nine of these sites have been listed for 8 years.
All tests are not conducted on all sites at the same time.  Blanks are no sample or meet standards

[1] USEPA  Section 303(d) Clean Water Act https://www.epa.gov/tmdl
State of Hawaii Water Quality Assesment Report 2016. https://health.hawaii.gov/cwb/files/2013/05/Draft-2016-State-of-Hawaii-Water-Quality-Monitoring-and-Assessment-Report.pdf