Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, May 31, 1999

Two books to delight
ocean lovers

From the first moment I donned a mask and snorkel and dipped my face in the ocean, I have had questions about marine invertebrates.

What do you call that? I want to know when I see something new.

How does it eat? Why does it behave like that? Can it hurt me? Where does it live?

These questions seem elementary, but believe me, the answers can be hard to come by. After years of trying to get information about Hawaii's invertebrates for my readers, my friends and myself, I have found few books that fill the bill.

Now, my frustration has ended with the recent debut of two new books about Hawaii's marine invertebrates. And not only are their pictures pretty and the information sound, but these books are providing me with more fun in marine biology than I've had since my first course at the University of Hawaii.

One book is "Hawaii's Sea Creatures" by John Hoover ($23.95); the other is "Hawaiian Coral Reef Ecology" by David Gulko ($24.95). Both are from Mutual Publishing in Honolulu.

So far, I haven't been able to dredge up a Hawaii invertebrate question not answered by one of these two informative books.

Hoover's book is designed as a standard guide to Hawaii's marine invertebrates. No one book, of course, could include every one of Hawaii's invertebrate species, but at more than 500, this book covers most of those any of us will ever see.

While reading, I frequently found myself thinking, "Oh, so that's what those are."

For instance, I've always been fuzzy on the kinds of crabs people catch to eat in Hawaii.

Near my home, I often see fisherfolk dangling traps from a bridge spanning the Waialua River. The water is brackish there, and the crabs they bring up are big, gray, snappish things with claws that look like they could take your finger off.

According to Hoover's book, these are Samoan crabs, so-called because this species was introduced to Hawaiian waters from Samoa in the 1920s. But the crabs are not unique to Hawaii and Samoa. This species is found from the Red Sea and east coast of Africa all the way to Hawaii, probably spread much of the way by humans. These so-called Samoan crabs (a local name only) grow to a whopping 9 inches wide.

Then there are Kona crabs, which belong to the frog crab family. These are even more interesting to me, but you'll have to either buy the book or wait for a future column to find out about them because I must save room to express my professional opinion on Dave Gulko's coral reef book:

It's hilarious. And I mean that as the highest compliment.

Two friends and I examined this book together, and we cracked up anew at the turn of each page. This isn't to say that the book isn't scientifically accurate. It is. It's jam-packed with facts, concepts and theories. But Gulko presents the material in such a funny, refreshing way, it takes the drudgery out of learning.

Take the section called "Life as a Coral Larval Form, or I was a Teenage Planula." With some of the most entertaining illustrations I have ever seen in a biology book, Gulko explains a coral's life. A cute, fuzzy larva rides currents upon a tiny surfboard, wears a hat and sunglasses to survive the sun's ultraviolet rays, and eats a bag lunch or fast food or a snack on the job. I'm smiling just writing about this little guy.

This book is loaded with these graphics, but it also contains hundreds of superb color photos of the plants and animals of Hawaii's reefs.

These are two books that will never collect dust on my shelf. Reading them is too much fun.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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