Though they recommend students learn and explore the ocean responsibly, BYU-Hawaii marine biology students and faculty said people should be cautious of the marine life they interact with.
Roger Goodwill, BYUH professor of marine biology, said there are important reasons for beach closures around the island. “If they close the beach for jellyfish, the box jellies are the ones they’re watching for. They’ll send you to the hospital. [Box jellyfish] come out about eight days after a full moon and can leave you with a giant welt on your arm.”
“The ocean is fun and safe,” Goodwill said, “but you have to follow the rules. You can always get yourself into trouble. Generally if you know the rules, you’ll be all right. Observe the signs on the beach, don’t ignore them.
“Some people think things like seals are really neat and they are unless they bite you. They’re predators and they can move faster on land than you think.”
Goodwill explained that there is another common creature that most people are unaware of: the textile cone snail. “All cone snails are venomous–some are not so venomous, but some are deadly. Each one has a whole bunch of different proteins that attack the nervous system. Every animal needs to feed itself. If you think about how fast snails move, it’s not very quick. They have a little harpoon that can shoot a few feet to catch their prey,” he said.
Landon Gold, a junior marine biology major from California, said he came in contact with a textile cone snail recently. “The other day I went over to my friend’s house. His roommate walked up to the back deck from the water. He was diving and showing us an octopus he caught and was excited about. Then he pulled a textile cone snail out of his pocket and was holding it in his palm. The animal was alive and still moving around so I grabbed it from him immediately.”
Gold said the guy looked surprised and wondered what was going on. He said, “To him it was no big deal. You just don’t want to handle those things because it doesn’t take much for them to sting you. Once it gets you, it injects you.
“Luckily it didn’t sting him. It had been out of the water so long that it probably wouldn’t have made it if we put it back in the water again. We are preserving it and adding it to the school’s museum collection.”
Another marine biology major, Daxton Brooks, said he has come across some dangerous marine life during his time here. “My first time going on a night dive here, I came across a box jellyfish. I felt something sting me and it didn’t hurt that bad. So I started playing with [the jellyfish] and another classmate told me to stop. It’s one of the most dangerous things on the island. Cone shells are the most dangerous,” he said.
A senior from Utah, Brooks said, “The box jellyfish here won’t kill you, but you’ll wish you were dead. They just hurt really bad.”
Brooks encouraged students to understand how important it is to be mindful of the ocean. “We cancel so many field trips because of conditions. Last semester we had four planned, and we had to cancel every single one because the waves were too big or it was stormy.
“Very little of the ocean is actually mapped out. There’s always new discoveries everyday. A new species of anemone was just discovered at Kaneohe Bay.”
According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration website, less than five percent of the ocean has been explored. According to its Ocean Facts page, “Much remains to be learned from exploring the mysteries of the deep. The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet's surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms.”
Brooks said students should attend a marine biology class. “I learned about the cone snail [and other sea animals] in Marine Team. It’s a one-credit class and anyone can come. The first week of each semester we go over what’s dangerous and how to handle them.”
Marine Team meets once a week to discuss topics that include ocean safety. The class also does field trips and research. The class is offered every semester and meets on Mondays at 6 p.m. in McKay 129.