State researchers are enjoying a rare opportunity to observe the formation of new life on Hawaii Island's Pohoiki shoreline.
When Kilauea erupted in 2018, lava poured over the shore, destroying the site of a former boat ramp and creating a new black sand beach.
Now, 14 months after the lava stopped, researchers at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources are beginning to see life in newly formed anchialine pools. Anchialine pools are land-locked and filled with brackish water. The pools are connected to the ocean and groundwater, and flow with the tide.
Tiny red shrimp native to Hawaii, ʻōpaeʻula, are beginning to thrive in the newly formed pools.
Troy Sakihara, a biologist with DLNR, explained that new coastlines can sometimes be difficult to observe.
“The coastline is still very unstable and, even if new habitats form, sometimes the new coastline breaks off. It really takes a matter of time until the coastline stabilizes,” he said. If the anchialine pools form and stabilize, ōpaeʻula and other anchialine life can grow in the new habitat.
Sakihara said the biggest threat to ʻōpaeʻula is invasive and introduced fish.
“Anchialine habitats are naturally free of fish so these shrimps can thrive in them, but anytime invasive fish are introduced to these ponds, it throws the ecosystem off balance,” he said. “A lot of the times, these fish are actually introduced whether intentionally or unintentionally by humans.”
Sunscreen and body oil from humans can also harm the natural wildlife in the anchialine pools.
He advised visitors not to disturb the new ʻōpaeʻula habitat and encouraged people to enjoy the pools with their eyes only.
“Just like the coral reef, trying to reduce direct human impact, we try to discourage people from jumping in or swimming in or bathing in these pools just to minimize the impact we have on the habitat,” he said. “The anchialine habitat that are forming at Pohoiki affords us a unique opportunity to be proactive with our management.”
Sakihara explained that anchialine pools hold cultural value as well. Historically, they were used as a source of fresh water by Native Hawaiians.