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May 19, 2008

"Super Sucker" to the Rescue!

Posted: 09:21 AM ET

Coral reef before \

There's an 800- pound gorilla lurking under Hawaii's beautiful waters. Several types of invasive algae (and one species is actually called gorilla ogo!), are overwhelming coral reefs and other animal and plant life.

For years researchers have been searching for a way to eliminate the alien algae, without killing or damaging the native wildlife.

(Photo shows a choked coral reef before Super Sucker)

Then a couple of years ago, University of Hawaii botany professor Celia Smith had a "Eureka" moment. She was watching her husband clean their 40- gallon aquarium at home with a small vacuuming device, when the idea hit her: what about super sizing that sucker?

"We knew that the whole dream of an underwater vacuum was technically feasible, but we had to do a lot of biological tests to determine the effects on the reef," said Smith.

A lot of brainstorming by a lot of researchers led to several prototypes of the "Super Sucker," powerful enough to clear out the choking algae and help restore the native species around the reefs.
"Just the weight of this algae caused substantial smothering, primarily in Kaneohe Bay," said Smith. Kaneohe Bay is on the eastern side of the island of Oahu. Along with the weight of these invaders, the intrusive algae blocked out sunlight that coral needs to survive.

Since there's no "Extra Large Underwater Appliances" aisle at Lowe's or Home Depot, the researchers had to design the device from scratch.

"We needed something that we could move around, because other parts of the islands, Waikiki and Diamondhead, were also being impacted by alien algae," said Smith.

While most of the work is in shallow water, (10-15 feet) there is still a significant amount of training necessary, to make sure the device's hoses don't get tangled or cause any damage to the reefs.
While it's hard work, it's also more fun than vacuuming the living room.

"The guys love this thing: It's big, and it makes a lot of noise," said Smith.

The Super Sucker can slurp up several hundred pounds of algae per hour.

Researchers on a barge above the device carefully sift through what's been sucked up, returning any captured marine life to the water. The scooped up seaweed is then bagged and taken ashore and used as fertilizer. Once an area is cleaned up, the plan is to let nature take over, relocating native sea urchins to chomp through the remaining alien algae tidbits to keep it from growing back.

(Photo shows the same coral reef after Super Sucker)

Invasive marine species can come from many places, often stowing away on ballast water in cargo ships. But this gorilla- sized dilemma resulted from a scientific experiment that solved one problem but created another.

Scientists back in the '70s wanted to find an economical way to grow algae crops in warm waters, especially to help the economies of developing countries. That seaweed would be used in the agar and carrageenan industry, growing the gelatinous material that's used in everything from desserts and firefighting foam to shoe polish and biotechnology.

While the experiment worked, creating an underwater cash crop for parts of Asia, at least a half dozen non-native algae species overwhelmed the research area.

The Nature Conservancy, University of Hawaii and Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources are all involved in the Super Sucker project. And the dilemma has taught some lessons.
"There's been a definite change in our appreciation of a community and the impact of an alien species," said Smith.

Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology Producer

Filed under: environment

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dave   May 19th, 2008 11:08 am ET

This is nothing new... these have been available for many years ( see link ). BTW, the name is copyrighted, too...

Franko   May 19th, 2008 12:04 pm ET

Algea Burgers, BioDiesel
Scoop up some from the pond ?

Gene   May 19th, 2008 12:27 pm ET

Is this "Alien" algae as in Extraterrestrial? Maybe we could adapt this super sucker to work in WaDC or along the Rio Grande.

Larian LeQuella   May 19th, 2008 2:08 pm ET

Maybe they can make some new product for people to eat with this algae. We'll call it Soylent Green maybe? 🙂

Jesse Pennington   May 19th, 2008 4:02 pm ET

Better living through science. Once again we display our ability to solve one problem and create another in the process. The last statement, "the impact of an alien species" makes me wonder about our own origins considering the impact we have had on mother earth in comparison to all other forms of life here. Maybe it isn't just a crazy conspiracy theory. You know what I mean?

Franko   May 19th, 2008 4:28 pm ET

The oceans are Iron deficient. Rusting ships make good coral reefs.

Sprinkle the ocean with Iron dust and the Algae asorb the CO2.
An explosion of marine life.
But the trees will become CO2 starved.

Does Mother Earth have enough CO2 to make 100 billion people ?

Gil   May 19th, 2008 10:14 pm ET

I guess the Japanese should use this to get rid of the Giant Jellyfish that are posing such a problem in certain fishing areas.

Kathleen Rogers   May 20th, 2008 11:34 am ET

How impressive! We went snorkeling near Molokini off Maui in 1985 and then about 20 years later. The difference in the coral was depressing. I'm hoping this invention will help bring the beautiful coral back into view.

Franko   May 20th, 2008 12:12 pm ET

Jellyfish jello, burgers or sushi ?

Jellyfish Vegetarians. Algae Vegetarians ?

But is undecided if some algae are plant or animal.

Mete   May 22nd, 2008 9:20 am ET

who is going to pay to vacuum the ocean?

Nighthawk   May 23rd, 2008 11:47 am ET

Just shows you that even if mistakes happen ( as they do in the learning process ) science, technology and innovative thinking always find a way to resolve a problem. I'm glad the coral has been given a second chance.

Maria   May 18th, 2012 11:42 pm ET

Your friend isn't much of a fish eexprt And goldfish definitely don't need seaweed or coral, they're not marine fish and could damage themselves on the coral. And she didn't tell you never to add so many fish at one time as it overloads the tank and can kill them all? Algae builds up over time in a tank/pond naturally, they won't die with a week without it, lol. If you want to give them algae, just buy algae wafers from your local fish store, but they don't need them.You mention having a big tank'. The absolute minimum size tank for 12 goldfish would be around 130 gallons That's a 72 inch long tank, 15" deep and a minimum height of 24", and the absolute minimum size. Not many people have the room for 6ft long tanks Do you really have a big tank? Your goldfish may be tiny now, but they need space to grow and should reach 8-12" each within a year.

trungsam   December 21st, 2016 11:18 pm ET

thanks for your post!

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