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September, 2009:

Connected Oceans and the Tsunami Watch

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

On September 29, 2009, the state of Hawaii was on tsunami watch. The waves — which hit Samoa, taking lives and destroying property — were caused by a 8.0 earthquake about 120 miles south of Samoa and American Samoa. First things first — the Red Cross of New Zealand has a special appeal for help to the tsunami victims; please give here.

It’s 2600 miles from Samoa to Hawaii. The mind boggles to think of that big sheet of water, shaken from the earth’s movement, affecting the Hawaiian islands so far away. It’s sort of terrifying to think of the hotel lined beaches, the crowds of blissful tourists going about their routine tanning, unaware of the folding and approaching ocean. It’s terrifying to think of Hilo, on the south side of the Big Island — in 1960, an earthquake off the coast of South America caused a tsunami that destroyed the ramshackle little downtown. 1960 — there are still people alive who lived through the 1960 tsunami, how awful it must have been for them to hear the news.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo captures the stories of Hawaii’s tsunami survivors and educates visitors in tsunami safety. It’s a little place and it seems woefully underfunded given the important work they do. If you want to freak yourself out, you can click through the center’s site to the tsunami zone map for Waikiki and consider how likely it is that your Oahu hotel is right in the heart of that zone. To understand what a tsunami is, exactly, read this description.

A tsunami watch is just that — a watch — so if you find yourself on Hawaii’s beaches and learn that a watch is in place, there’s no need to panic. Do stay informed. This particular watch was canceled, meaning there’s no risk the islands will be hit, but according to this  Star Bulletin article, safety minded officials are saying beach goers should stay out of the water.

Because of possible strong currents and unusual wave action, state and county officials will be going to beaches to warn swimmers to stay out of the water between 12:30 p.m. and 7;30 p.m. Civil defense officials reversed an initial decision to close beach parks this afternoon and evening.

“We are asking for the kokua of all of our residents and visitors to keep out of the water and away from the beaches and river mouths,” Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. “These precautionary measures are being implemented to keep everyone safe.”

No More Sugar on Kaua’i

On our first trip to Kaua’i, we photographed the rusting sugar mill near Koloa  and watched the bulldozers turn the island’s red earth into flattened out plots. When we returned last winter, there were loads of new condos and vacation homes standing on land that had once been agricultural. Now, according to this KGMB report, Kaua’i’s last sugar plantation is pulling up stakes, laying off most of their staff and making plans to lease their 7500 acres of land to… well, it’s unclear.

Koloa has a little open air museum — the old buildings that make up the town bear plaques that tell of their history while Kaua’i was becoming established as a sugar producer. There are a few exhibits that show what life was like for the plantation workers, some tools and clothing are on display. There’s a concise history of sugar in Hawaii on this post about The Sugar Monument — a bronze sculpture depicting the diverse plantation workers. If you still want to learn more, there’s a good movie about the Japanese sugar plantation workers called Picture Bride. It was filmed on Oahu, though I imagine the lives of the workers were much the same on Kaua’i.

When I was a kid, there were still C&H sugar ads on TV, the jingle sung to the tune of Pearly Shells. I found a montage of their romantic ads of the sugar cane “lifestyle” on YouTube, of course. The Kauai plantation is run — or rather, has been run by — by Gay and Robinson, a company that’s been growing sugar on the island since 1889. There’s talk of the land going to biofuel crops, but having seen the speed with which farmlands are transformed into real estate, it’s hard not to wonder what percentage of the cane fields will be condos the next time I find myself on Kaua’i.

Here are the C&H ads, you’ll probably have had enough by the time you get through the third one.

Top Notch Snorkeling

Coastal Living lists Papalaua Wayside Park as one of the planet’s best snorkeling spots. I confess, I haven’t been there, though I have snorkeled at Molokini, the pretty little crater off Maui’s shores and at Kona’s amazing turtle packed little beach at Kahalu’u Beach Park.

Yellow Tangs by Nivek Woods via Flickr

Yellow Tangs by Nivek Woods via Flickr

I’m not surprised that a Hawaii spot is listed in an article about snorkeling wonderlands, but what, no Kaleakakua Bay? Those sparkling clear waters? Those friendly and wierdly grinning eels? Those schools of yellow coral munching fish, all facing the same direction like grazing cattle? Not to mention the tragic history underlying this magical spot — it is, after all, where the great explorer, Captain James Cook met his end.

If you are on the Big Island and looking to do a snorkel boat trip, I can’t recommend the Fair Wind tour enough. Great service, a clean boat, well maintained gear, yummy snackage, and location, location, location. Go in the morning and book in advance. It’s not cheap — today the web is turning prices at nearly 125 per person, ouch, but you get the best part of the day in spectacular waters and a late afternoon cruise back to Keauhou Bay. You’re as likely as not to see dolphins and, in season, humpback whales at no extra cost. It’s a splurge and every time I’ve made the trip, I have loved every single minute of it.

Hat tip for the Coastal Living links to the LA Times.

Hawaii’s Museums Need You

The Bishop Museum by Cliff 1066 via Flickr

The Bishop Museum by Cliff 1066 via Flickr

With the reopening of the Bishop Museum‘s gorgeous Hawaiian Hall, it’s especially sad to hear that the facility is hurting for visitors. From the Honolulu Advertiser:

In May, Bishop Museum closed the Hawai’i Maritime Center and began closing its main facility in Kalihi every Tuesday as a way to cope with the difficult economy. The museum also cut its staff.

Last spring, when we visited the islands, we got to preview the spectacularly renovated Hawaiian Hall. They were just in the process of replacing the artifacts in the new cases — the exhibits had been completely redesigned to help place the collection in a historical and cultural context. From the Bishop Museum site:

The result is a state of the art Museum that embodies a Native Hawaiian world view, layered in meaning and authentic in voice.

Hawaiian Hall offers visitors deeper insights into Hawaiian culture and access to a record number of the Museum’s treasured collections, together with Hawaiian interpretation and perspectives.

The museum is a great place to see the richness of Hawaiian culture, to get a sense of Hawaiian history. It’s easy to get to — the trolley runs there as does the bus, and it’s not that hard to find if you’ve got a rental car, which you probably do. The collection is beautiful and the hall with the feathered standards and portraits of Hawaiian royalty is a moving and important thing to see. There’s lots of other stuff there — natural history exhibits with hands on activities for kids, a crazy volcano, a planetarium — stellar navigation plays a critical role in the history of the islands — and lots more. But more than anything, it’s an excellent starting place to get a sense of Hawaii beyond the high rise hotels and shopping malls of Waikiki.

With the museums hurting for funds, it’s more important than ever that visitors get off the sand, out from behind that umbrella drink, and go learn a little bit about the place they’ve chosen to visit. I’ll get off my soap box now, but you know what to do.  There’s lots more information online, here.

Kanikapila Means Jam Session. Sort Of.

Kona Kitchen, a Hawaiian style restaurant in North Seattle, hosts a once a month kanikapila — or jam session. It’s at a funny time of day — nine to noon, that’s right, in the morning — but there’s still a decent showing. Yesterday morning (September 12) there were 12 or 16 musicians there. There were a few guitars, a bass, a lap steel and a couple of ukuleles.

The folks who show up at Kona Kitchen play a lot of traditional tunes or songs written in Native Hawaiian. I like to go because I can’t really read along with the words so I have to listen to figure out the patterns in the music. Most of the tunes are fairly simple three chord numbers, easy enough to strum along to once you’ve got the key and can hear the changes. I lurk on the edges, look over shoulders at music books, or try to train an eye on some other uke player’s fingers in order to keep up, but I never even pretend to sing along, no can do.

I went hunting for some kind of etiquette advice about what, exactly, you’re supposed to do as the newbie at the jam, but not much turned up. Maybe there’s a song book that everyone uses, maybe now and then everyone goes rogue. Maybe there’s a leader or maybe it’s just the player that starts the song. Maybe they ask the new kid what she wants to play — that song about the seaweed, what’s it called? — or maybe you have to shout something out. Maybe you need to throw in a couple of bucks or maybe it’s just a show up and play thing. Eyes and ears open, that seems to be the trick. Oh, and tuning up. That’s good too.

I’ve yet to attend a kanikapila in the islands — but a little judicious searching turns up this event in Kona. The Ukulele Underground has a regional get together section on the forum. Kona Web has a calendar that includes some jam listings if you’re on the Big Island. Honolulu on the Cheap mentions uke lessons at the Windward Mall this fall. I couldn’t find a definitive resource — I’d probably just ask at the nearest music store — that’d be a real music store, not a place selling cheap lacquer souvenir ukes — to find out if there’s a jam where outsiders are welcome.

I walked away from the Saturday morning jam with the tune from Ipo Lei Momi stuck in my head. There are worse ways to preoccupy your brain than filling it with a racy little Hawaiian song.

New Coral and Baby Fish

Image by Gore Fiendus (Jerry Frausto) via Flickr

Copperband Butterfly Fish on Blue by Gore Fiendus (Jerry Frausto) via Flickr

The mere idea of a junior butterfly fish (my first favorite fish of all time) makes me, okay, squeaky with the curse of cuteness. Come on, a tiny butterfly fish? Preferably the kind with the super long white snout? That, that, my friends, is a darned cute fish. Apparently, the little guys are interspersed with junior parrot fish out in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. That’s a place I’ll never get to, seeing as how you have to go by boat and seeing as how this Hawaii-lover gets seasick looking at boats. But hey, hardy scientist types head out that way under the auspices of research and they send back happy news of baby fish and never before seen corals.

“The coral reef habitat goes four times deeper than where we’ve been working prior to this,” Kosaki told reporters.

Kosaki’s team, which returned to Oahu on Sunday, used new technology that allows divers to descend deeper than was possible just a few years ago. For example, the juvenile fish nursery was spotted among algae 170 feet deep.

Brian Bowen, a research professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said scientists would need to study whether nurseries like these replenish fish populations in shallow reefs. Answering this question will help those managing coral reefs, he said.

“If you’re dumping trash at 170 feet of water, you might be dumping it on the nursery grounds that keep your fishery going,” Bowen said.

Ahem. No dumping trash on my cute junior fish, okay?

There are more details about the recent findings at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (say that out loud, three times, fast) on this article from the AP. There are also not enough photos, so if you have time, watch this amazing slideshow/movie so you can see what you’re missing.

Bali Hai

I’d meant — and had forgotten — to rent South Pacific immediately upon my return from the Garden Isle. (Hold, please, while I add it to my Netflix queue. Okay then.) It’s not that I’m such a crazy fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, though truth be told, I’m a sucker for a kitschy musical. Nope, it’s that I wanted to see the scenery, to see if I could name any of the locations where the movie was filmed.

IMDB states, minimally, that it was filmed on Kauai but this press release — which reminded me to rent the movie — names a few more specific sites and says that the landscape is “easily recognizable in the movie and visitors coming to Kauai’s north shore today will note how largely unchanged the area remains five decades later.”

I can’t tell from the clips I found on YouTube if it’s the landscape is truly familiar, but I love the completely tropics-struck expressions on the faces of the sailors in this bit. Oh, I’ve felt like that. I heard you the first time, Bali Hai. No need to hit redial.

Bali Ha’i may call you, any night, any day, in your heart, you’ll hear it call you: “Come away…Come away.”

Moloka’i’s Water Woes

When you’re standing on Molokai’s west end looking out across the Pacific, it’s hard to imagine that one of the biggest issues facing Moloka’i residents is water. The people of Moloka’i have been protesting about a projected hike in water prices, but there’s more to it than a simple rate increase.

Moloka’i Ranch — which closed its doors a few years back — operates the water utilities. With the Ranch closed and plans for further development by Ranch owners  blocked, it looks like Moloka’i residents are now relying on a no longer motivated offshore resort operator for their public utilities. It’s a mess.

There’s more on the complicated situation in the Honolulu Advertiser and wow, it’s a slugfest in the comments, pitting pro-development voices against angry residents against the usual trolls. There are limited suggestions  for longer term alternatives for Moloka’i — or any of the other islands, for that matter.

Weirdly, Hawaii has a history of drought — the Hawaii government has declared disaster conditions multiple times. The usual restrictions go into place — don’t water your lawn or wash your car, conserve, conserve conserve. I have a hard time processing the idea of a lawn anywhere, and when I think of those golf courses all over Maui, my brain seizes up a little bit. (Okay, golf courses anywhere make my brain seize.)

I don’t know enough about Hawaii’s natural resources to have any kind of insightful opinion on the situation, but I do think that as a visitor, it’s worth asking if those grounds — no matter which island you’re visiting — are kept green with recycled water.  Go ahead, be that guy, annoy your hotel desk staff. If the situation on Moloka’i is any indicator, your questions about water matter.