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Hawaiian Marine Biotopes, Part 1

To: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7,

Bob Fenner

Squirrels and Goat, HI

The principal Hawaiian Islands vie with few other places in the world for degree of endemism of species. Fully a quarter of its near shore/shallow water species of fishes and twenty percent of invertebrates are found only here. Due to their isolation in space and current patterns, not many new species have invaded Hawaiian waters and reciprocally not many have made it off to elsewhere. One can imagine the effects of being no closer than 1,000 miles to the nearest island/population and how few planktonic larval forms might reach Hawaiis shores, not be eaten, manage to find space and food, reproductive partners


            Coupled with the abundance of only found here species is Hawaiis differences in abundance and appearance of those animals that are found about the U.S. 50th State. Some are much larger (e.g. the Tiger Cowry, Cypraea tigris), others outright relics like the Blue-Line Butterflyfish, Chaetodon fremblii, others appear in large aggregations nowhere else (e.g. the Millet-seed Butterfly, C. miliaris).


            All adds to the mystery and enjoyment of making a particularly Hawaiian biotope more interesting. And a challenge. Live rock and sand are sanctioned against collection and use here, though there are at times cultured sources So it is up to you to adapt/adopt other sources of these hard substrates to your use. Though there are some sandy flats areas on some of the older islands (those increasingly further northwest) most habitats here are decidedly steep and volcanic. The latter rock may be available or not in forms that are non-toxic to use and all should be tested for suitability before use.

Happily, LR and LS from elsewhere is entirely suitable for mixing and matching with invertebrates and fishes found in Hawaii.


            Hawaii's northwestern shores are at times (often) battered by large surf, therefore, most all livestock is collected from the calmer, leeward (Kona) sides of her islands. The surrounding waters can be cool, so temperatures ranging in the low to upper 70s suffice here. Water movement can vary from relatively calm to brisk, and aquarists may suit themselves in regards to water movement, providing aeration, circulation as necessary.


            What is shown here encompasses all species commonly offered from the region, a few that might be, and the same species that occur here that occasionally are available from elsewhere. Of course you should keep your eyes open for the rare miscellaneous specimen that shows from the region. The best sources of information re what occurs in Hawaii are listed in the bibliography/further reading section at the end.



<To do: Look up algae, add other species or delete biotope category>


A surgy, sparsely populated Hawaiian tidepool habitat can be a source of endless observation and study. For those fortunate enough to visit here and spend a while floating, watching in these regions, there are many fishes, juvenile transients of wrasses, butterflies and more, to permanent resident species to enjoy.


A Rough and Tough Damselfish:


Abudefduf sordidus (Forsskal 1775), The Black-Spot Sergeant or Dirty Damsel. Indo-Pacific, including Hawai'i. Lives in high surge areas. To almost seven inches in length. Only occasionally imported as a pet-fish. A pic made in Hawai'i.


Blennies, Some Intertidal, Some Amphibious!


Istiblennius zebra (Vaillant & Sauvage 1875), the Zebra Blenny. Oceania, a Hawaiian endemic. Males to nearly eight inches in length, females under five. This one at Shark's Bay in O'ahu. Jumps from tidepool to tidepool.




Sand and Rubble Shallow Reef Flats:




Sabellastarte sanctijosephi (Gravier 1906). Indo-Pacific; Eastern Africa to the Hawaiian and Cook Islands. Image shot off of Hawai'i.  Characterized by their two tentacular crown head. 



Two of the species of sharks found here make their way into our hobby from time to time, the Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, and are most often found in relatively shallow water, the Whitetip very often resting below ledges. Neither are suitable as aquarium specimens as they grow quite large, requiring HUGE volumes of water to survive.


Carcharhinus melanopterus (Quoy & Gaimard 1824), the Blacktip Reef Shark. Indo-West to Central Pacific, including the Red Sea. To six feet in length. Litters of  2 to 5 pups. Offered in the aquarium trade regrettably all too often. Requires very large systems. Public Aquarium photo.


Triaenodon obesus (Ruppell 1837), the Whitetip Reef Shark. Indo-Pacific, including Red Sea and eastern Pacific. Here sitting under a ledge off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, and below, cruising over the reef in Fiji. To about six feet in length. Only dangerous if molested. A typical view of one sitting on the bottom in.



Goatfishes, Family Mullidae:


            These prodigious sand sifters use their chemosensory barbells to hunt food amongst sand and muddy substrates. Useful as scavengers as such in systems that can accommodate their size.


Mulloidichthys flavolineatus (Lacepede 1801), the Yellowstripe Goatfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea over to the Hawaiian Islands. To a maximum of seventeen inches in length. The first one in Maui, small pair in the Cooks.


Mulloidichthys vanicolensis (Valenciennes 1831), the Yellowfin Goatfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea to Hawai'i. To fifteen inches in length. The first one in the upper Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea and showing their "pink" color in Hawai'i. 

Parupeneus cyclostomus (Lacepede 1801), the Goldsaddle Goatfish. Indo-Pacific out to Hawai'i, including the Red Sea. To twenty inches in length. Yellow form not found in Hawai'i. Pictured, a group in the Red Sea, and a yellow individual in captivity. The yellow variety not found in Hawaii.

Parupeneus multifasciatus (Quoy & Gaimard 1824), the Manybar Goatfish. Indo-Pacific, including Hawai'i. To a foot in length. A good looker. Here are specimens from Fiji and Hawai'i.



Shallow Rocky Shores:


            Unless youre amongst the fortunate to have a growth of native sponges and cnidarians arise from your cultured Hawaiian live rock, you will either have to be satisfied with a similar-appearing barren rock wall or use of non-native sedentary invertebrates in your Hawaiian biotope. Some areas of Hawaiis shores re nearly covered in their few species of stony corals, but most have spotty coverage. Often, rocky slopes are pock-marked with overhangs and lava tubes of various sizes. The insides of the latter can be incredibly rich habitats for exploration and emulation.




The simplest of living animal groups, with their specialized cells operating as advanced animals tissues and organs, sponges are mainly out of sight in Hawaii found under rocks, in caves.


Leucetta sp. Class Calcarea (have sclerites, internal structural units, composed of calcareous spicules). Appear as opaque white or colored masses with several osculae (excurrent openings). Tend to be small (a few inches), compact, "lumpy potato-shaped".  Preyed on by the Spanish Dancer Nudibranch.


Stinging Celled Animals:


As previously stated, no cnidarian life can be legally collected for pet-fish use out of HawaiI. However, the same or similar species of hard, soft corals, et al. can be had from elsewhere in the tropical Indo-Pacific. HawaiI does not have many species of scleractinians and alcyonaceans, but what few do exist can densely cover a space at times.


Family Acroporidae:


The genus Acropora, so important in reef-building elsewhere, is all but absent on present-day Hawaiian reefs. The genus Montipora is represented by seven species that are dominant at times.


Montipora capitata (Dana 1846), Rice Coral. Encrusting to massive colonies to thin plates in calm water. Dark to light brown  in color. Hawaiian endemic. Structural elements of polyps appear like grains of rice. 


Montipora flabellata

To do: check fs at res. Re blue rice coral pix and fill in here and on WWM


Family Pocilloporidae:




Pocillopora damicornis (Linnaeus 1758), Cauliflower Coral. The most common member of the family offered to the aquarium trade. Compact clumps of up to a few meters height. Verrucae and branches blend together. Of varying branch thickness (thinner in greater depths, less water motion areas). Several colors: overall brown, pink cream, greenish.

To Do: go thru fs at home and scan a HI ex.

Pocillopora eydouxi Milne Edwards & Haime 1860, Brush Coral. Distinctive large, upright branches with light-colored ends. A common species over its wide range.   colony in Hawai'i.


Pocillopora meandrina Dana 1846. Flat, short, curved branches, small verrucae. Regular arrangement of branch growth, verrucae placement.  A common species in Hawai'i.




Family Poritidae:


This is the most common and important reef-building coral family in Hawaii. Nine poritid species occur here.


Porites compressa Dana 1846, Finger Coral. A common (endemic) species in Hawai'i (85% or so of Kaneohe Bay, O'ahu). Generally light brown in color.  Finger like deeper, to knobby boulders in shallow. Below, shallow to deeper pics.



Porites evermanni Vaughan 1907, Evermann's Coral. A massive form that is sometimes similar to P. lobata (below), but never yellow in color (brown to gray to purple). Commonly knobby and fuzzy at close inspection (the latter due to partly retracted polyps). Likely endemic to Hawai'i. Image with P. lobata in background.


Porites compressa Dana 1846, Finger Coral. Another common (endemic) species in Hawai'i (85% or so of Kaneohe Bay, O'ahu). Generally light brown in color.  Finger like deeper, to knobby boulders in shallow. Below, shallow to deeper pics.


To: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7,

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