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Why We Need to Stop Eating Parrot Fish? (Part 2)

Why We Need to Stop Eating Parrot Fish? (Part 2)

Parrot Fish

Photo by Samson Bush

We recently released an article about the important role that parrot fish play here in Hawaii, and why it is important that they not be overfished. A lot of people responded to the article, some adding more information about the parrotfish (uhu) and others asking further questions so that they could better understand the issue. We were really stoked to see how interested everyone was in this topic and decided to do a bit more research based on some of the questions that we received.

One person noted that since the parrotfish eat algae and other microorganisms from the coral and then poop it out as sand, then they must be the source of all the white sand over on the Kailua side. This is actually true, to an extent. Parrotfish are one of many creatures that engage in something called bioerosion, or the breaking down of the reef into sand. Other creatures that produce bioerosion include other fish, bivalves, urchins, boring sponges, and boring worms. Parrotfish are one of the largest of these creatures, so they are the most noticeable producers of sand, but the others all play their part as well. In addition to bioerosion, mechanical erosion (primarily wave action) helps break reef down into sand and move it around, so this also contributes to the beautiful white sand beaches in Kailua.

Interestingly, different islands in Hawaii have different types and colors of sand, and this is due to the types of rocks and material that is being broken down. Black-sand beaches are mostly made of broken-down volcanic rock, while green-sand beaches, such as those at South Point on the Big Island, are made up of another volcanic mineral called olivine.

Another interesting fact about the parrotfish is that it is a protogynous hermaphrodites. They are born as females (which is considered the initial life stage) and then eventually become male (the terminal stage). Parrotfish live in harems, where one dominant male protects a group of females. The females are all dull colored, while the male has the brilliant green, blue, and purple markings that we often associate with parrot fish. If a male leaves his harem for some reason or is no longer strong enough to protect it, one of the females will change into a male and become the new protector and fertilizer of the females’ eggs!

When this sex change happens, the fish transitions from the dull female color to the brilliant male colors. However, halfway through the transition the new coloration might not be very noticeable yet. In this case, the half female/half male fish might sneak into another harem and pretend to be a female, and then go around fertilizing the actual females’ eggs when the dominant male is not watching. This is called streaking.

Why We Need to Stop Eating Parrot Fish? (Part 2)

Due to the fact that male species of parrotfish take time to develop (and aren’t simply born as males), the reproductive cycle of the parrotfish is quite vulnerable, particularly when the uhu is being overfished by humans. That’s just another reason we need to be careful not to decimate the parrotfish population and ensure that they are around to eat algae and create sand for future generations of beachgoers here in Hawaii!


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Why We Need to Stop Eating Parrot Fish?

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