From: Associated Press
Published April 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Hawaii Crews Vacuum Up Invasive Algae

HONOLULU — Marine researchers in Hawaii discovered a new way to clean ocean water from invasive algae -- sucking them up with an underwater vacuum.

The Super Sucker, a 4-inch modified gold dredger that runs on bio-diesel, proved to be efficient in collecting alien algae at Kaneohe Bay on Tuesday.

The device sucked 800 pounds of the plant per hour, work that would have required 150 volunteers and 10 divers to perform manually.

"The reef coral that was smothered and dying can return to health," said Eric Conklin, a University of Hawaii graduate student who was wearing diving gear while scooping the bay's reefs with the vacuum.

Alien algae is a serious threat for the islands' coral reefs. It dominates large regions on Oahu's south shore as well as on Maui and Molokai. The algae growing in the bay blocks sunlight and takes away habitat for fish, said biologist Cynthia Hunter.

The super sucker operates from a 13-foot by 25-foot covered barge that is docked at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at Coconut Island.

Powered by a 40-horsepower engine, it spews some 300 gallons of ocean water and algae per minute into a porous bin, where researchers pick out sea animals or native plants and return them to sea.

Another advantage of the vacuum is that it keeps the algae intact, which prevents the plant from regenerating through broken fragments.

The vacuum, which was developed by Eric Co of The Nature Conservancy, was the brainchild of officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, botanists and biologists.

It costs about $150,000 a year to operate the Super Sucker, which has removed 25,000 pounds in its first 12 months of operation, said Bryan Parscal, operations supervisor for the project.

The state also has funding for a Super Sucker Jr., which can be deployed in shallower waters outside the bay.

Source: Associated Press

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