Maui News

UH faculty, alumni support public education campaign to protect herbivore fishes, coral reefs

Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

A male Bullethead Parrotfish, or uhu, cleans algae from dead coral. (Photo credit: Jeff Kuwabara)

A local ʻohana of like-minded ocean lovers, scientists, water enthusiasts and fishers launched Fish Pono—Save Our Reefs, a public education campaign with the vision of bringing awareness to the importance of replenishing herbivore fish populations to foster healthy coral reefs.

Five University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty, staff and alumni are supporting this effort. 

Fish Pono scientific advisors include:

  • Alan Friedlander and Kawika Winter of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology,
  • Mark Hixon of the School of Life Sciences, as well as
  • Alumnus Randy Kosaki of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Photography on the Fish Pono website was provided by:

  • University of Hawaiʻi  alumnus Jeff Kuwabara, who directs the UH Mānoa Marine Option Program, and
  • Waterman Keoki Stender.
For generations of Hawaiians, pono has been the practice of living in balance. And with Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs severely threatened due to various human activities, understanding our role in the fragile balance of our reef’s ecosystem has never been more critical. Hear our ambassadors share the importance of reef herbivores and how we can all Fish Pono to ensure healthy reefs teeming with life for ʻohana to come.

When herbivores—our reef’s lawnmowers—such as uhu (parrotfishes), nenue (chubs), kala, kole, manini, other surgeonfishes and sea urchins are in low abundance, coral reefs are overgrown with seaweeds and begin to suffocate and die, according to UH. “These ever-important lawnmowers, especially the uhu, must be abundant and thriving for seaweeds to remain in check, our corals to survive and flourish, and our beaches to get their essential, desperately needed sand (uhu poop sand),” according to a UH news release.

“As our islands experience serious effects of poor water quality and climate change, including severe coral bleaching, a simple effort of giving uhu and other herbivore fishes a break, taking only what you need to feed your immediate family for that day, will save our coral reefs,” Kosaki said. “Scientists have found that uhu and important surgeonfishes are particularly overfished, and highly populated islands like Oʻahu are at less than 5% of their original herbivore fish abundance.”

Fish Pono TV and radio public service announcements feature well-known ocean enthusiasts, including ambassadors Nainoa Thompson from the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Dr. Randy Kosaki, research ecologist at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, waterman and ocean safety expert Brian Keaulana, bodysurfing champion Mark Cunningham, and champion spear fisher Kimi Werner. (PC: Fish Pono–Save Our Reefs)

Ongoing Fish Pono television and radio public service announcements feature well-known ocean enthusiasts, including:

  • Navigator Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society
  • Champion spearfisher Kimi Werner
  • Waterman and ocean safety expert Brian Keaulana, and
  • Bodysurfing champion Mark Cunningham.

The announcements were filmed around Oʻahu and offer testimony of the importance of saving coral reefs by saving the uhu and other herbivore species. The television and radio announcements can be found on the Fish Pono website.

“Herbivores allow corals to replenish and grow, and thus save our coastlines and coastal fishing for future generations,” Winter said.


Hixon added, “Coral reefs are extremely valuable to Hawaiʻi, providing subsistence and recreational fishing, coastal protection, surfable waves, tourism, medicines and spiritual connection.”

Coral Reef scape in Kona, Hawaiʻi. By Bryce Groark / via Fish Pono – Save Our Reefs

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Maui Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments