Michael Hadfield is director at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. He's worried about finding a new location for the lab.

Marine lab looks
for new home

Kakaako's waterfront redevelopment
is likely to displace a renowned UH facility

An internationally famed University of Hawaii-Manoa research facility is likely to lose its 10.3-acre Kakaako site at Point Panic to waterfront developments.

UH officials say they're working with the Hawaii Community Development Authority to try to find a new location for the Kewalo Marine Laboratory.

"The problem is the nature of research being done needs a constant supply of good sea water," said Gary K. Ostrander, vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

He said the Kewalo laboratory might not have as much visibility in Hawaii as the UH Institute for Astronomy or School of Ocean, Earth Sciences and Technology, "but it is internationally recognized as an outstanding group that has made outstanding contributions to evolutionary biology."

The laboratory moved to its present building in 1972 under a state lease that runs until 2030, said laboratory director Michael Hadfield, noting it can be broken only if the property isn't being used as prescribed.

A zoology professor, he arrived in Hawaii in 1968 and worked four years at the Waikiki Aquarium until the then-new Kewalo Marine Laboratory was finished.

It was the first piece of land cleaned up on the waterfront, he said. "The rest had big mounds of dirt with refrigerators and car bodies." Just enough land was leveled for the lab and parking area, which occupy about 2.5 acres of the site, he said.

One of the collection tanks at the lab contains nudibranch (on Hadfield's finger), which lays its egg masses on the coral. The eggs hatch and the larvae will only settle on that specific Porites coral, which will eat it.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority issued a request in January for proposals for commercial, public, entertainment, retail, residential and parking developments on 36.5 acres of Kakaako waterfront land, as well as 29 acres of submerged marina land offered for management and potential redevelopment.

The authority plans to select a master developer in September, said Daniel Dinell, executive director. "Both UH and HCDA are working cooperatively to find a suitable relocation site (for the marine lab)."

This is critical because the laboratory's researchers have more than $5.6 million in federal grants and more are pending funding, Hadfield said. "The UH has to guarantee that facilities are there and functional for the grants."

Ostrander said he's looking at all possibilities that would provide a flow of sea water and be close to the Manoa Campus for faculty members who teach and students who work in the lab.

"I'm working very hard to try to find a location for them between the current location and Diamond Head, even within a couple blocks from the ocean."

If a new facility must be built, Ostrander said, "it makes sense to have 20,000 to 30,000 feet" instead of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet. This would allow for potential expansion and other researchers on campus that might want to use sea water flowing through aquariums, he said.

The present site has a stunning view towards Diamond Head but the big draw for the researchers is the water.

About 500 gallons an hour of "superb" sea water are pumped from 900 feet off shore to the laboratory, Hadfield said.

Tucked away in a corner of his office are plans drawn up by San Francisco architects a few years ago for a new laboratory envisioned as part of a KUD International LLC complex on 11.5 acres at Point Panic. It would have been built at the rear of the present laboratory site.

"They were willing to build us a new lab but they wanted to build it and have us pay for it," said James Gaines, UH interim vice president for research. "How we would have paid for the lab was something none of us had an inkling of."

Still, Hadfield said, "It was a dream come true," with four floors and a sea water lanai for aquarium tanks. "I can't bring myself to throw them (plans) away."

The idea of an HCDA-KUD partnership fell apart last fall when the authority decided to seek a master developer for a larger development project.

Although the lab isn't well known locally, Hadfield said, the research being done there "is fundamental with important breakthroughs in biological science." Major science publications have featured the work.

"Kewalo has been true to its mission all the way," he said, "to be an experimental biological lab, a place where marine organisms are selected for special traits and brought to the lab to answer fundamental questions in biology."

Kewalo Marine Laboratory

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