About the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (website here) is a unique research laboratory on the small 29-acre Coconut Island in Hawaii, and is owned by the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It studies sea life within the Hawaii Marine Laboratory Refuge, a sanctuary which includes Coconut Island itself as well as a small area of the surrounding coral reef.

– Creation and Heritage –

The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology is approximately one century old, and was created originally as a research facility of the Waikiki Aquarium before being drawn into the University of Hawaii and, through the assistance of several wealthy donors, moved to its current location on Coconut Island. (Historically, one of the most important financial sponsors of the research group has been the family of oil tycoon and Republican mover and shaker Edwin Pauley, who purchased the island.) The island, originally home to tuna fishing operations, is a partially artificial one, having been enlarged by Hawaiian Tuna Packers as a potential factory site before instead being used by the company’s owner as a private exotic paradise resort.

The actual term “Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology” dates to 1965, when the original name given during the move to Coconut Island – the Hawaii Marine Lab – was changed and roughly half of the island was seized by the state as part of a tax and real estate title dispute. The state’s land passed into the hands of a private Japanese developer, but was eventually re-purchased by the Pauleys and deeded to the University of Hawaii to prevent further such disputes.

– Current Research –

Twenty-two permanent faculty members and assistant researchers are now listed at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, including Jo-Ann Leong, Paul Jokiel, Gordon Grau, Marlin Atkinson, Robert Bidigare, Tetsuya Hirano and Whitlow Au. 

There are a wide number of research programs now underway at the institute. Many involve the key advantage of the facility, its proximity to the coral reefs. For example, the Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (CRAMP) coordinates Hawaii’s several dozen coral reef monitoring studies. Others are less focused; for example, one area of study, the Marine Mammal Research Program, currently involves the effects on cetaceans, like dolphins, of increased oceanic noise pollution.

The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology occupies a unique site: it is the only marine research facility in the world to be built on a coral reef. The institute is now hoping to leverage this advantageous position by getting public and private money to finance the construction of a new, larger research facility, making it the most advanced site in the world for the study of coral reefs. The institute possesses a genetics study facility, a fleet of small boats, special tidal research ponds, and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment for marine biology.

– Visiting the Institute –

The Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology does welcome visitors from other universities and research institutes, both professors and students. However, because Coconut Island is wholly privately owned, you must make arrangements with the institute and the University of Hawaii in order to visit. Swimming and fishing are not permitted within the marine refuge, except in the context of approved scientific research and subject to certain restrictions of federal law relating to vulnerable habitats. Potential visitors should contact a member of the faculty to sponsor their visit to the island.