Postcard from the Reef – Keferstien’s Sea Cucumber

As I have discussed before, there are some weird critters on the reef. Some of the more alien appearing creatures are the sea cucumbers of the family Synaptidae, the thin-walled sea cucumbers. These look like large worms, moving across the reef by expanding and contracting their bodies. At the front end are a set of feeding tentacles, sweeping out in slow motion to move food to the mouth at the center. The body is flaccid, supported and given shape through an internal hydraulic system.

The small brown Keferstein’s sea cucumber is surprising sticky, with small hook-like spicules on its outer skin. It sticks readily to dive gear, twice now I have seen these critters stuck to a diver without the diver knowing. Carefully peeling them off they make a nice photographic subject before allowing these normally nocturnal critters to escape back into a crevice in the coral.

Keferstein's Sea Cucumber
Keferstein's Sea Cucumber (Polyplectana kefersteini) at 30ft, Puako

The Usual Saturday Dive

Divers Down
Beginning the descent to the reef at Puako
It has been over a month since I have been in the water. We do live on an island, with world class beaches and reefs just 15 minutes from the house. How can we not go to the beach every weekend?

Well, there is work, and these little events like the Transit of Venus. One thing or another conspires to interfere with getting some proper time in the water.

With a holiday weekend on hand it is time to change that. Thus Deb and I joined the Keck crew for a Saturday morning dive. A routine dive at End-of-Road Puako, one of our favorite spots. It was a fair group… Kirk, Mark and Patti, Pete, Tomas and his daughter Angela, Deb and myself, a veritable pod of divers.

We parked under the usual trees, swam out from the usual spot and dropped into the usual set of canyons. I wandered here and there with the camera, looking for anything interesting to photograph. Nothing really special, a couple decent photos including a Keferstein’s sea cucumber. Simply a nice day to be in the water, perhaps the start of a pleasant summer dive season?

Diving Puako

The storms seem to have passed, the swell subsided, time for another dive.

While the invitation was extended to all of our usual crew, Pete was the only one to accompany us for the day. A small dive party this time, no problem, the arrangements were a little last minute. Some swell was forecast so we headed to a sheltered spot, End-of-Road, Puako.

Pete over Coral
Pete enjoying a dive at End-of-Road, Puako
With our tanks in for hydrostatic testing it was necessary to rent a pair for the day. No problem, just rent a couple tanks at Kohala Divers for the day. They always have tanks available for walk-in business. Worse yet, we have to return them, and they are just downstairs from Kohala Burger and Taco for an after dive lunch. Inconvenience all the way around.

Conditions at End of Road were fairly good, a bit choppy perhaps, but no current in the cove. Visibility was OK, but not great, a little bit of murk floating in the water from the swell. Having not used the End of Road site lately, we followed the usual plan, cut north out of the cove to drop into the first couple canyons. The goal was a long, relaxed, shallow dive to explore the caves and canyon walls.

I came across nothing new or spectacular on this dive. There were sleeping turtles everywhere in the caves, we found at least a half a dozen. A big moray met me face to face in one crevice. A nice weekend dive, another 80 minutes spent underwater.

The battery compartment on my strobe flooded. When I realized this I quickly surfaced and removed the batteries. At least the compartment is sealed from the remainder of the unit, thus there was little harm. The rechargeable AA NiMH batteries themselves are likely toast, with electrochemically corroded contacts.

Without the strobe I did use a small LED flashlight to illuminate some targets for photography. But the beam was much too narrow and concentrated. Perhaps a small modeling light is in order, something with a bright, but broad beam that can illuminate a target one or two feet in front of the camera. This would be great for cave and night diving, also providing a backup.

Deb and I are off for the week. I had to use up some vacation time, Deb is on spring break from the school. Our tanks have passed hydro and are ready to pick up. I expect another dive in our near future.

End-of-Road Puakō

Possibly one of the best dive sites in the islands and certainly a favorite with local divers. The reputation stems from two factors, great diving in interesting terrain and easy shore access. The diving here can range from acceptable to spectacular with stunning water clarity and spectacular views of the coral.

View Larger Map
Google map of the Puakō End-of-Road dive site, click on the markers and the course line for specific information.

Just north of the cove where you will enter, there is a series of deep canyons into the coral. These start near the surface in 6-10ft of water and descend to 25-30 ft. The result of the canyons are a range of vertical coral walls that reach from near the surface to depths of 20-40ft. At the head of several of the canyons are a series of arch caves and skylights to explore. You can just make out this cave on the Google map at right, just into the reef from the marker.

Puako WallA canyon wall at Puakō End-of-Road dive site with Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) and Raccoon Butterfly Fish (Chaetodon lunula)

In our favorite cave a large arch leads into a wide cavern with a skylight. A second arch leads to a smaller cavern, and so forth until they are too small to enter. Look into the side ledges and caves for squirrelfish and sleeping turtles. Much of the interesting diving is shallow allowing for long dives. If you want to go deeper just swim out further from shore as the reef continues to descend.

Reach this site by driving north from Kona on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy to the Puakō turn off. Drive down the main road through town, mostly just homes along the beach, for about three miles to reach the end of the road. The beach access is on the right about 100yds before the road ends in a locked gate to a private estate. The parking area is easy to spot as it will be busy with other divers and locals enjoying the beach. There is a fair amount of space but this place can get busy later in the day, particularly on a weekend. Park under the trees just a few feet from the water, you should not have to carry your gear very far. The map at the right should give you the right idea.

Puako Entry
The entry at End-of-Road, Puakō

Most divers enter from the rocks or use the slot into the rock at the north end of the cove. From here you need to swim to the center of the cove over shallow rock and coral (4-8ft) to go around a shallow bar that juts out from the north shore. Once over the bar bear to the north to find the canyons across coral at 10-15ft. A little swim, but very scenic snorkeling along the way.

Avoid use of the site if there is substantial surf across the bars at the north and south side of the cove. These create a stiff outwards current at the center of the cove that can be difficult to negotiate getting back to shore. Just look for the surfers! If they are happy and surfing nice waves, a diver will not be happy.

End-of-Road is a good dive site to consider if the more exposed sites further north or south are problematic with a large swell. The region from Waikoloa to Kawaihae is some of the most sheltered coastline on the island. We often head here during the winter for shore diving, leaving sites like O’oma or Mahukona for the calmer days.