Removing the Beast

Over 10,000 pounds of gorilla ogo algae pulled from Kaunakakai Wharf

By Dan Murphy

The Division of Aquatic Resources made a visit to Kaunakakai last week as part of an ongoing effort to eradicate invasive algae from Molokai’s reefs. The Alien Invasive Species Unit (AIS), led by Cecile Walsh, removed over 10,000 pounds of gorilla ogo from the wharf area during the week-long project.

Gorilla ogo is an invasive alien species that was first brought to Molokai in the early 1990s. The limu was hidden amongst native species that were brought to the island by a group of non-profit organizations looking to promote aquaculture. The groups distributed the algae to locals and said they would buy back the algae that grew.

“The native species didn’t grow, but the gorilla definitely did,” Walsh said.

The gorilla ogo has continued to spread throughout fish ponds and other rocky surfaces on the west side of the island. Walsh believes the wharf is furthest point west on Molokai that the algae have reached so far. It spreads quickly, and completely covers the shoreline reefs. Walsh said some reefs on Oahu are covered by patches of ogo up to three feet thick.

“The limu is overtaking and smothering the reefs, and it pretty much kills off everything else,” said Pohaku Stone, a Molokai resident who volunteered during the clean-up. Stone said he came down to lend a helping hand to the eight-man crew because it was a good cause.

“It’s better to do something about it than nothing at all,” he said.

Lending a Hand
Walsh said she hoped more local people would help with the clean-up effort in the future. She specifically chose to work at the wharf because of how many people would pass by and ask what they were doing.

Val Bloy was one of many Molokai residents who did stop to learn more about the algae.

“It looks like a huge project, but if it will clean up the wharf it’ll be great,” she said.

Walsh was confident the strong work ethic of Molokai residents would be enough to complete the difficult job.

“I think that the people on Molokai are really dependent on their resources and I think that they will actually do the hard work out there,” she said. “I’ve seen all of the hard work that they have put into restoring some of those fish ponds. If they can do that, they can definitely do this.”

After removing nearly 200 bags of the ogo last week, Walsh and her crew will move west on their next visit. The group, which is made up of seven experts from Maui, Oahu and the Big Island, will return once a month to help clean a different spot. In September they will be at Kaloku’ele and then Oalapu’a in October.

Walsh received a grant last year from The National Fish and Wildlife to pay for the project. She received enough money to pay for an employee on Molokai to keep an eye on things when the AIS team is not around. Walsh said she is narrowing her choice among a couple of groups that have expressed interest.  Whoever takes over will also be in charge of operating the “Manini” algae removal machine.

The Manini is a miniature version of two barges on Oahu that are used to suck algae off of the rocks. It was built to stay here on Molokai and to be used in the fish ponds, according to Eric Burgess, one of the Manini operators.

Gorilla Gardens
The limu is not going to waste. The AIS team distributed what they pulled out of the ocean to local farmers, who have been using gorilla ogo as fertilizer many years.

“It’s really rich in nutrients so when you grow something and all the nutrients are gone, you can replace them with the limu,” said Stone, who will be using the fertilizer in his own garden.

The College of Tropical Agriculture and Resources also received a large batch of the limu to use for experiments. They will be experimenting with how it responds to liquefying and dehydration and then sharing the results with local farmers. 


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