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You are here: /main/research expeditions/July 2007/Paul Jokiel Interview

Interview with Paul Jokiel

by Keeley Belva

Paul Jokiel
Paul Jokiel at Gardner Pinnacles.

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1. What is your affiliation, and where are you from?

I am a Researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii.  I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and moved to Hawaii with my family in 1968 because of my interest in coral reefs.

2. How did you become interested in your particular field/profession?

Coral reef ecology is my destiny.  Since childhood my interests have been focused on living things and their relationship to the environment.  As a small lad in Chicago I raised tropical fish and visited the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum to view the wonders of the oceans.  I was a water person even then, being involved in competitive swimming and working every summer as a lifeguard on the Chicago beaches of Lake Michigan.  Biology was my favorite subject in grammar school and high school.  I studied ecology at Northwestern University and Oceanography at the University of Washington and came to Hawaii when the opportunity arose.  All of these interests came together when I finally had the opportunity to conduct original research on coral reefs.

3. Have you worked in the Hawaiian Archipelago before? Or the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands?

I have been working full time as a coral reef researcher since 1969 with my major focus on the reefs of Hawaii.  I am Principal Investigator for the Hawaii Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (CRAMP), which is dedicated to describing changes in our reefs due to natural and human causes.  During 2001 we surveyed all the islands of the NWHI in support of the mapping mission of NOAA that led to the production of the NWHI habitat maps.  This voyage is an extension of that work.

4. Have you worked on a ship at sea before, such as this one?

I have work on research vessels, but not such as the Hi’Ialakai.  Most oceanographic research vessels are designed for offshore work and cannot accommodate coral reef biologists, so remote reef areas were difficult for us to study.  Thus the marine ecology of the NWHI was virtually unknown until fairly recently.  Most coral reef work has been done from shore dives or using small boats.  Often we worked under primitive conditions with only basic improvised support.  This vessel can handle the normal oceanographic operations but is unique in that it can support any type of inshore biological survey with two large jet boats and the smaller Zodiak inflatable boat.  Further, the ship is fully equipped to support SCUBA diving operations.  A large wet lab and dry lab are available for our use.  The accommodations and other facilities are very nice.  But most important of all is the crew.  The crew members work very hard to support the research and are very knowledgeable of our operations.  They launch and recover the boats, take us to the sites and assist us in so many ways.  We have a very knowledgeable dive safety officer and medical support staff with a decompression chamber and operators to cover us in case of a diving-related emergency.  All of the crew are expert in this type of inshore operation and work hard to insure our safety and to enable us to accomplish our mission.  They really know their jobs and are enabling us to do our job safely.   

5. What are your areas of interest, or your expertise?

I am expert in coral reef biology.  My work involves assessment of the condition of coral reefs and their future in a time of global climate change.  In the early 1970’s I published papers on response of corals to temperature which are very important now due to the increasing frequency and severity of coral bleaching events believed to be the result of global warming.  I have done extensive work on sedimentation, UV radiation, water motion, low salinity foods, storm impact and other factors that impact corals and coral reefs.  I also have been concerned with distribution of organisms on the reefs throughout the world (biogeography) and the mechanisms controlling these distributions.  I have published a number of research papers on how reef organisms disperse over long distances by rafting on floating pumice and other floating objects.

6. What excites you about working with these organisms?

Yesterday while doing my underwater survey work at Gardiner Pinnacles I was visited by curious endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals, groups of sharks, a school of hundreds of chubs and untold other species.  There is no human that would not get excited if they were in my place.  The experience is expansive and takes one outside of the little world that we normally occupy.  John Denver said it best in his tribute to the men of the Calypso when he wrote “To live on the land we must learn from the sea”.  These reefs of the NWHI are a great research challenge to all of us and provide inspiration and insights to the meaning of life and our future survival on this tiny planet.

7. Any favorite stories about a particularly unique organism from your field of interest, such as a unique story of working with them, their ecology or unique adaptation the organism may have?

Several years ago I participated with Dr. Chris Kelley of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory on a bottom fish survey off Oahu using the submersible Pisces V.  We were making observations of the bottom communities in dark cold waters at a depth of 800 m when suddenly a magnificent face appeared in my viewing port.  It was a very large and very old Hapu`upu`u (Epinephelus quernus), commonly called grouper or sea bass, which only occurs in Hawaii.  For a long time we stared at each other eyeball to eyeball seemingly from different worlds but sharing a common curiosity about each other.  The fish was blocking my view and would not go away.  This great fish was peering into its fishbowl containing three humans.  Who is the observer and who is being observed?  I was so amused by it all.  The fish could not live in my environment and certainly I could not withstand the pressure of his environment.  Totally different worlds on both sides of the glass and yet here are two living conscious organisms from planet earth and planet ocean that are somehow aware of each other.  We are all connected. 

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Coral bleaching

Galapagos shark

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