Hawaiian Oysters Return to Pearl Harbor

February 19, 2019

Scientists at the University of Hawaii–Manoa, the United States Navy, and Oahu Waterkeeper have joined forces in an effort to clean up Pearl Harbor. Not the memorials and exhibits that thousands of people visit daily, preserving the memory of December 7, 1941, but the waters ton which the naval base sits. Keeping the waters of the harbor from becoming polluted beyond repair, the trio of organizations has turned to using oysters to help with the cleanup.

Hawaiian Oysters to the Rescue

Once abundant in the waters of Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian name for the place is Wai Momi, meaning Water of Pearls, native oysters have dwindled in numbers over the years. While not generally known, the near-eradication of the oysters has led to waters that are teeming with bacteria, heavy metals, oil, and other harmful pollutants.

The partnership hopes to re-introduce a large quantity of two different species of native oysters to improve the quality of the water in the harbor. Stemming from a feasibility study conducted by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources that used non–native species to test their ability to improve water clarity, the project plans to shift focus to the once-thriving native shellfish. Additional studies have been performed at Hilo Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Respecting the Culture

Dendostrea sandvicensis, one of the Hawaiian oysters bring reintroduced to Pearl Harbor

Dendostrea sandvicensis, one of the Hawaiian oysters bring reintroduced to Pearl Harbor

More than an attempt at reintroducing the species into the waters of Pearl Harbor, the re-introduction of native oysters is also a means of respecting their cultural significance to the people of Hawaii. The Sandwich Islands Oyster (Dendostrea sandvicensis) and the Black-lip Pearl Oyster (Pinctada margaritifera) are the two species being used for this program.

Regarding the re-introduction process, Dr. Maria Haws, the Director of Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center at the University of Hawaii, said, “We are developing hatchery production methods for native bivalve species, in part because many local species have become rare and may possibly require protection. For example, the Black-lip Pearl Oyster is already a Protected Species under State Law.”

A Natural Solution

Hawaiian oysters are known for their ability to filter between 20 and 45 gallons of water every day. They have been shown to remove carbon from seawater and use it to build and strengthen their shells. Among the many causes for the pollution is the huge amount of activity at the naval base and even the oil leaking from the wreckage of USS Arizona. Ever since she exploded and sank during the Japanese attack over 77 years ago, oil has been slowly dripping out from the ship’s cracked hull. Studies have been ongoing to determine the effect this oil is having on the local ecosystem.

Though oysters are a delicacy throughout the Hawaiian Islands, those being utilized for this project are for restoration of the harbor's waters only.

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