Corwin explores Kona's deep


By CHELSEA JENSEN

Stephens Media

The waters off the Kona Coast are teeming with life, a sign world-renowned animal expert Jeff Corwin said Sunday is hopeful and encouraging. But, the conservationist also cautioned many challenges lie ahead.

"You're seeing all the sturgeons, parrot fish and others in a great kaleidoscope of life that is just thriving here," Corwin said via phone while taking a break from diving in waters off the Kaloko-Honokohau area. "From what I'm seeing here, my overall impression is one of hope, and I am encouraged."

However, despite that good news, Hawaii, like many other places around the world, will see its natural resources face many challenges in the future, he said. Habitat loss, climate change, pollution, exploitation of resources and, in Hawaii, invasive species are just some of those challenges, he explained.

"But, this idea of this renaissance where you see people being very proactive and motivating themselves to get out there and protect their territory and what's in their backyard is helping," he said. "And, that's why things are doing good and it is looking hopeful here. There really is this sense of ownership and stewardship in Hawaii."

Corwin, the host of the ABC series Ocean Mysteries, spent Sunday diving in waters off the Kona Coast along with experts from the Georgia Aquarium, which has partnered with Corwin for the 26-episode series. The dives, which are being filmed for a future episode, continue today.

While in the water Sunday, Corwin said he got to view quite an array of viper eels, dolphins, humpback whales, sea turtles, and various fish. He was most amazed by the behavior of green sea turtles, also called honu.

"(The honu) just came our way. He wasn't threatened. He just hovered along side us, giving us the chance to have an intimate look at the creature," Corwin said before noting in other areas of the world, a sea turtle would have quickly disappeared. "It was amazing to have that sense of almost being in a sanctuary where we can really see this creature."

The television series is based at the world's largest aquarium in Atlanta, but travels the world partnering with other aquariums and research facilities to help viewers understand the Earth's oceans, said Ashley Lansdale, Georgia Aquarium spokeswoman.

A total of three episodes, focusing on the Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, ocean life and birds, are being taped while the crew is on Oahu and the Big Island for about three weeks. A tentative date of when the Kona dives will appear on the series was not available. The show airs Saturday afternoons on ABC-affiliate KITV-4. Check your local listings for an exact air time.

Also while touring the 50th state, Corwin took part in tagging and assessing native monk seals and observing and giving health assessments to green sea turtles with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials on Oahu. He is also scheduled to assess birds later this week in East Hawaii.

Corwin said the green sea turtle appears to be doing well in Hawaiian waters thanks to conservation efforts. As for the Hawaiian monk seal, continued conservation efforts may increase the number of native seals, which stands about 1,100 with an estimated population loss of four percent annually, he said.

"Overall the population of monk seals isn't doing great, but the good news is that we're seeing results when the community gets involved and partners with local Hawaii-based advocacy groups and agencies like NOAA we see good results," he said. "These creatures have a robust ability to survive."

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com