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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/interviews/Dr. Randall Kosaki


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Chief Scientist: Randall Kosaki, Ph.D., Research Coordinator, Div. of Aquatic Resources Division, Hawai`i State Department of Land and Natural Resouces
Posted by Mark Heckman
, Educator, Waikiki Aquarium/ University of Hawai`i - Manoa

Randall Kosaki, Ph.D.How did you come to be Chief Scientist on this cruise? Tell me a bit of the path that brought you here?

"I was born and raised in Honolulu. You could say that what I'm doing now resulted from a "hobby" that spiraled way out of control. I've always been a water person, more at home in the sea than on land. My favorite pastimes were always skin diving, scuba diving, fishing, and similar things, and so it seemed natural to pursue marine biology in college and graduate school.

"This is my third trip up here. My first trip to the NWHI was twenty years ago as an undergraduate student at UH, during the Tripartite research cruises involving the State, the Federal Government, and the University. So I have seen a bit of the evolution of research in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Twenty years ago we did much of the same research, characterizing marine habitats, looking at fish and invertebrate populations and abundances, but the this was resource assessment with an eye towards consumption - what is here that we can take back and use or sell. Now, just twenty years later, the focus of our research has turned around 180 degrees. We are now asking questions such as: What is special about this place? How can we preserve this for future generations? Really, this is a fairly short time span in which to see such a dramatic turn about in attitudes, from consumption to preservation; to ask, what can we do, so we do not have to apologize to our children, or their children, for what we have allowed to happen to the reefs in our lifetime."

What were some of your hopes for this trip and how did they turn out?

"There are two levels that I can answer this on. As a Chief Scientist, I was hoping for good weather, that everyone would be able to complete the work they came to do, and most importantly, that we could execute this mission safely without injuries or other mishaps. I think that we succeeded far beyond my expectations. We completed over 1300 dives; this is a phenomenal amount of work for 28 days. Everybody went out and worked hard without complaint to get things done, working long hours under sometimes challenging ocean conditions. I think this is a reflection of the caliber of the people that came aboard and my position was just to facilitate that as best I could.

"On another level, I was really happy to see a strong education component on board, so that the research could get out to the public and into the classroom. And I think this was important for the researchers to see and understand as well - that it is not just their peers that they need to share information with, but with their public constituents as well. I like to think this has influenced the way they view their research. That they see it is of immediate value to the people of the state. We also included a cultural research component for the first time. I think we all learned something extra about respect for these islands and reefs because of this. The ancient Hawaiians were the first to use the "seamless ecosystem" approach to management, something that modern resource managers are only now turning to. I like to think that when the best of ancient wisdom and modern science converge on the same idea, that we're on the right track. I think this experiment in cross-fertilization between research, education, and culture was a great success."

Give me an example of a time or event during the expedition that sort of typifies the trip for you.

"I think being out in a small boat with the research dive team doing our transects day after day really builds camaraderie, and the daily routines I experience with my teammates typify the trip for me. The nice days are great, of course, but the bad days in driving rain and big seas may actually build that team spirit even faster. There's something about shared misery that does that. The daily routine of diving, interspersed with periods in the boat, kind of create a composite typical day in my mind, one that combines the best and worst of the conditions we experienced. But through it all, your team is always there for you, and that human side to the research is what I'll take away from this trip.

"My favorite moments of the trip were the few times I was able to skin dive between working scuba dives. Without the heavy scuba hardware, I feel much more maneuverable and fishlike. It was a privilege to skin dive with the large ulua (jacks). Just to see the kind of fish that you never see back home, doing what they do best, patrolling the reef, hunting, inspecting us - absolutely fearless. I believe that is what this is all about. Seeing what it was like before human exploitation, being reminded by the predators that we are only visitors in their realm. From that, we can get an idea of what we want for the main Hawaiian Islands - and setting the bar high for what they can be. I think we can get there."

Talk About It!

Is the Crown of Thorns Starfish an Invasive Threat?

Asked by Aaron from university student on Sep 2, 2003.
Randall Kosaki,

My name is Aaron Gehris and I am a university student at East Stroudburg University of Pennsylvania. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions. From your recent research do you consider the crown of thorns starfish to be a serious threat to numerous reefs of Hawaii? Can they be called invasive? I am doing a research project on them and am looking for any information on them as it relates to Hawaiian coral reef ecosystems. If you can at least direct me to someone who may know I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you!
Aaron Gehris

Answered by Randy Kosaki on Sep 3, 2003.
It is not uncommon to see several white Pocillopora meandrina skeletons in the vicinity of an Acanthaster, presumably recent meals of the coral predator. Fortunately, P. meandrina is a species that recruits readily and grows rapidly, so over time the losses to the population from Acanthaster predation are offset by recruitment and growth of new colonies.

Currently, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia (the only marine
protected area in the world that is larger than the NWHI) is in the midst of a major Acanthaster outbreak. The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has a strong program in coral reef monitoring, including Acanthaster densities. Their web site ( provides updates on Acanthaster survey techniques and results, as well as photographs of very high densities of Acanthaster.

Click here to ask question about the topic of this page!Ask About It!

Mark Heckman Mark Heckman

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