The VV Buoy: A Beacon of Hope off Hawai`i Island
By Lauren, Expedition Guide
Cruising around an endless desert of water, those on the Safari Explorer search in anticipation for some charismatic mega-fauna. It’s a seemingly impossible task as we glide through the expansive blue ocean. As we push further and further from the coast of Hawai`i island, we find an oasis within the sea. Approximately three miles offshore, a large yellow buoy emerges out the water with the letters VV on it. Initially, a person may not give much thought to this large float bobbing around in the ocean, but what people don’t realize is the potential for life to be surrounding it.
The buoy is actually called a Fish Aggregating Device, or FAD buoy. They were initially deployed in 1977 by the state in order to help attract pelagic fish and enable fishermen to have a more successful fishing industry. However, in 1996 the FAD program fell under the operation of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and today various major research programs utilize the FADs. For the Safari Explorer, the FAD VV buoy becomes a beacon of possibility. With its large float and chain descending all the way to the ocean floor, it becomes home to small bits of life, and the chain itself transforms into the food chain, in a way. All the algae and small organisms fastening to the bottom of the buoy and chain become food for small fish, which then become food for larger fish and so on and so forth. It’s not unusual to find schools of aku (skipjack tuna) or mahi-mahi alongside these buoys. There’s even the possibility of viewing various odontocetes such as Blainville Beaked whales, Pilot whales, and Bottlenose dolphins -- and if we’re fortunate enough, even sharks.
So, when we shoot offshore in search of some creatures, I always get excited to see what possibilities may be lying below the large yellow VV buoy.