Four New Algae Species Discovered in Hawaii

New Algae Species Discovered in Hawaii

New species of deep-water algae, Umbraulva kuaweuweu, photographed by diver at 277 feet off Lisianski Island in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Credit: Brian Hauk/NOAA


Earlier this month, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the discovery of four new algae species in Hawaiian waters. Scientists working with their Office of National Marine Sanctuaries collected some of these fascinating species in deep water within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and some off the main Hawaiian islands.

According to the scientists, the algae was plentiful and large in size, despite living at 200-400 feet below the surface where algae doesn’t often grow because of the low light levels. Known in Hawaiian as “limu,” these marine algae looked almost identical to those found and harvested in shallow waters, such as the limu pālahalaha (Ulva lactuca), or sea lettuce species. Despite how difficult it would be to tell them apart by looking at them, their genetic makeup is different. The distinctions were made via a DNA analysis led by Dr. Spalding of the University of Hawaii, who has been working with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. She and her colleagues at the University of Hawaii and University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories were able to isolate the genetic differences .

The discovery is an exciting one, because limu is an important part of our ecosystem, providing food for many marine animals including the Hawaiian green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Not only that, but limu is involved in Hawaiian culture in many different ways. It has been an important food source since the days of the ancient Hawaiians and is also used in ceremonies and as adornments in hula.

Scientists conferred with the Native Hawaiian community for meaningful names in honor of Hawaiian culture. For example, one was named Ulva iliohaha, which refers to the foraging behavior of the Hawaiian monk seal.

If you’d like to take a look, follow this link to see images of the algae on NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries website. Hopefully we’ll hear about many more exciting discoveries from NOAA and other marine scientists here in Hawaii. In fact, we support peer reviewed marine scientists for their discoveries through our 100 percent research direct program. You can learn more about our donation recipients here. In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming you aboard one of our Maui ocean tours where you can get out and explore Hawaii’s spectacular reefs yourself. Mahalo!

Looking for a great deal on a whale watch tour in Lahaina? February is a peak month for whale watching in Hawaii, while their numbers are thickest here along our coastlines. Whale season ends in May, but hopefully you won’t have to wait that long to see these magnificent marine mammals in their natural habitat. In fact, if you’re currently here on vacation, we have an exciting limited-time deal to offer you.

We are excited to let you know that we are currently offering an amazing discount of 2-for-the price-of-1 on the adult tickets for our whale watch tours for the 2:15 pm time slot. We also guarantee humpback whale sightings on this tour, or you get your money back. Although, since February is the peek month, that’s least likely to happen.

If you’re interested in taking advantage of our special deal, go to our Maui whale watching tour page. During the boat tour, you’ll get free use of binoculars, an expert whale narration from our knowledgeable crew, and the opportunity to listen to whale songs and calls through the hydrophone depending on water quality and whale proximity.

Join us on a whale watch tour and you’ll spend two exciting hours observing these gentle giants aboard one of our spacious boats, which are designed for ultimate stability. That way, you’ll have the smoothest possible ride. For those of you who aren’t all that familiar with the humpback whale, this species is the most acrobatic of the baleen whales, with an impressive aerial repertoire. Hawaii’s population feeds near Alaska in the summer and returns to our warm waters every winter and spring to mate and give birth to their young. Adult males measure an impressive 40-48 feet while females range from 45-50 feet. Newborn calves are a petite 10-15 feet long at birth.

We hope you will entrust us with this incredible experience, which might just be your favorite Maui vacation activity if you’re only visiting our island paradise. For you local residents out there, when was the last time you hopped on a boat to watch the whales? Now is the best time to do it, especially if you want to take advantage of our special deal! Mahalo!

While you're out adventuring with us on our Maui snorkeling excursions, you'll have the opportunity to see Hawaiian green sea turtles, a rainbow of fish species, and maybe even dolphins, among many other fascinating creatures. It's interesting to consider that this vibrant ecosystem full of marine animals wouldn't exist without the coral reef, which plays a special role in the environment.

Visually, coral reefs might look like the underwater version of a forest, but the many little polyps that make up a coral colony are animals, not plants. While soft corals eat tiny drifting animals called zooplankton, most hard corals also get some of their food from plant cells under their skin, which are known as zooxanthellae. Corals typically catch their food at night, when many of their predators are asleep.

Here in the reefs around Maui, there are a few types of coral that you're likely to see at any location. One of those is loosely known as cauliflower coral. There are three kinds, including cauliflower coral, Hawaiian cauliflower coral and warty cauliflower coral. Featuring creamy, neutral colors, they tend to have an overall round shape, made up of stout, spiky branches. Within the same family are the lace corals, which are similar but with finer branches, and the antler coral with their long, dramatic branches that grow upwards in a fan shape.

Table and staghorn corals are also relatively common. The table corals are easy to recognize by their wide, flat shape, covered by tiny spiky branches. Many kinds of marine animals take advantage of the shelter they provide, hiding in the shady recesses beneath them.

There are a wide variety of other coral species that can be found in Hawaii, but these are generally the most common, depending on the reef. The best way to find out more about these and other fascinating organisms is to ask our knowledgeable crew when you're on a Maui snorkel tour with us. We look forward to seeing you out there!