Robert Toonen
Researcher, HIMB; Dept of Oceanography
PhD Population Biology, University of California, Davis
MS Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
BSc Honours Zoology, University of Alberta, Canada
Phone: (808) 236-7401
Fax: (808) 236-7443

Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology
46-007 Lilipuna Rd.
Kaneohe, HI 96744

Current Sea Grant research projects:

Predicting and mapping Hawaiian mesophotic coral ecosystems for sustainable coastal development
Although there is little question about the economic, ecological, cultural, and conservation value of coral reef habitats, growing population, tourism, and coastal development are rapidly degrading them. Our fundamental lack of knowledge regarding deeper mesophotic coral ecosystems (found at depths of ~30-180m) is a serious impediment to resource management. Here, we seek to use a statistical model to predict where mesophotic coral reef habitat will be found throughout the Main Hawaiian Islands and to test that model with observational data. We will use this model to produce maps of where MCE habitat occurs across the state, and hope to be able to predict MCE habitat at other remote locations across the Pacific where exploration is unlikely in the near future. The maps and underlying model will provide a scenario testing tool that will allow resource managers to explore consequences of some management decisions; for example, if sedimentation increases in an area, what will be the predicted impact on adjacent MCE habitat? Finally, the availability of MCE habitat maps will make it possible to begin considering these valuable natural resources in marine spatial planning for proposed activities, such as undersea cabling, that are not currently possible in the state.

Integration of next-generation sequencing into traditional Hawaiian practices to improve management and restoration of fishponds
Hawaiian fishponds, or loko iʻa, are ancient aquaculture systems that are models of sustainable aquatic resource management based on long-term experience from traditional Native Hawaiian practices. There is much to be learned from a system in which 100% of the population lived off the land for centuries relative to the decline of ecosystem services over the past century, when nearly 90% of food must be imported. For this proposal, we will be working in two mostly restored and large fishponds: one on the eastern coast of Oʻahu and a second on the southern coast of Molokaʻi. Using the culturally important kuahonu, or white crab (Portunus sanguinolentus), and the economically important Samoan crab (Scylla serrata) as our model fishery species, we ask three primary questions: 1) What are the life history characters of these species that can aid in resource management? 2) Are fishponds self-seeding, importing, or exporting crabs to the surrounding fishing grounds? and 3) What are the traditional management practices for kuahonu, and can those harvest practices still work today?