Volcano keiki help contribute to ‘citizen science’

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Third- and fourth-grade students from Volcano School of Arts and Sciences last Tuesday learn how to observe coral bleaching at Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo.
  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Rachel Carlson, a doctoral student at Stanford University, discussed how to observe coral bleaching with students from Volcano School of Arts and Sciences last Tuesday at Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo.

“There’s sand at point 8!”

Wading in the shallow waters at Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo last Tuesday, a student in Laura Warner’s third- and fourth-grade class shouted his observation to a fellow student taking notes.

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The students spent the morning learning how scientists collect data on coral bleaching and got the chance to try the techniques themselves.

Broken into two groups, each team measured out 10 meters.

The students, who attend The Volcano School of Arts and Sciences, a Hawaiian-focused public charter school, relayed what they saw.

Rocks. Sand. Occasionally a fish.

The students’ studies are part of a “citizen science” initiative to report coral bleaching at hawaiicoral.org.

The Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, out of Arizona State University, is collaborating with the state Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Aquatic Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the website.

“That website is our citizens’ science platform that’s welcoming contributions from the public at large,” said Rachel Carlson, a doctoral student at Stanford University and an affiliate of GDCS, who led the lesson.

The website is intended as a place for people to report any coral bleaching they may see in the water. Reported locations of light, medium and severe then show up as a point on the map.

Carlson’s lead adviser, Greg Asner, leads GDCS.

Together, the organizations working on the website, “kind of collectively realized that all of us who are doing research on corals need contributions from the public … ,” Carlson said. The ocean is so vast, “you need lots of people reporting on what they see there and the more people in the ocean who can tell us what they see, the more power our data has and the more we’re able to prioritize our monitoring and figure where to look for bleaching.”

Principal Kalima Kinney said the school has been trying to help with coral monitoring between Ka‘u and Hilo.

Kinney said most of the coast is difficult to get to or deep, so students at the school have been coming to local beaches “as a demo to learn about it, learn how to do it and what they’re looking for, and we’ve been pushing the citizen science work with the families. So we have families that have adopted different sites and they’re going and (monitoring) weekly.”

Kinney had heard about the ongoing work from acquaintances, and asked how the school could help.

“It’s super important for a whole bunch of reasons,” she said. “One is that there is an actual need for this data to inform science and this is science research that is going to potentially help save coral. Then the educational side, our students get to be active partners in helping their environment and helping to solve a real world problem.”

The school has done other citizen science work, said Kinney.

“It certainly has the aspect of they learn about coral bleaching, the problems of coral bleaching (and) climate change. … ” she said. “A lot of times those kids feel like it’s hopeless, like they feel overwhelmed and there’s nothing they can do, and this helps them feel like there actually is someway that they can help.

“And we also really believe in (that) children are not the citizens of the future. They’re citizens right now, today.”

Warner said the experience was an example of “place-based teaching. … They’re out here learning it, rather than seeing it in a film or reading it in a book. It’s much more meaningful.”

It’s important for the students to do such citizen science projects “to be aware and be a part of what’s going on, not only locally but globally,” she said.

Charlie Beevers, 9, had fun last Tuesday. He liked swimming with his friends and looking at coral.

Learning how to collect the data “was really fun and neat.”

He said his dad has a boat and will do his own coral monitoring.

“Almost every year, my dad goes on a kayak trip to a different island … and he’s just been noticing coral bleaching, and I want him to start logging it,” said Malia Wells, 8. “… So I am going to start telling him to log it, especially when he goes on his trip because when he goes to different islands, he can see different things …”

Malia said she likes helping.

“I think that it’s really cool that we can help the coral, because I really think that it’s a big thing that (there is) going to be less and less coral.”

Coral bleaching is a change from normal coloration of browns, yellows and greens to a nearly white color. This occurs when corals are stressed by environmental changes, especially temperature increases.

DLNR and NOAA predicted widespread and severe coral bleaching earlier this summer because of warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures.

However, DLNR said earlier this month that bleaching was not as severe as predicted but was still widespread.

According to a news release issued Nov. 5, a majority of sites surveyed by DAR on Hawaii Island showed some levels of bleaching.

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Areas most affected were along the Kona coast, with an average of 40% of live coral bleached in many survey locations.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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