Day Nine – Snorkeling at Two Steps


After spending the morning in the forest, it was time to get in the water! We went snorkeling at Honauanu Bay, at the site known as “Two Step.”  Honauanu means “Place of Refuge” because it historically was a place for Hawaiians could seek refuge from the death penalty after breaking kapu. Today, Two Step is a popular snorkeling destination and received its nickname from the rock formations that naturally provide “two steps” to enter the water.

Upon entering the water, we were immediately greeted by a green sea turtle, or “Honu”, gliding over the coral reef.

Honu_2 Honu

Two Step is known for its beautiful corals reefs, which play an essential role in an ecosystem by providing habitat and food for a variety of fish and invertebrate species. Here are some of the different species we saw:

Racoon Butterflyfish

Raccoon Butterflyfish, “kīkākapu”, (Chaetodon lunula). These fish are nocturnal and will remain resting motionless in midwater during the day, making it easy to snap a picture!


Whitemouth Moray “puhi” (Gymnothorax meleagris). the most common moray seen in Hawaii. Sometimes they will open their mouth to display a threat.

yellowmargin moray

Yellowmargin moray “puhi”, (Gymnothorax flavimarinatus). This is one of the largest morays of Hawaii, growing up to four feet. Commonly regarded as the “fierce eel”.


Red-lipped Parrotfish “uhu” (Scarus rubroviolaceus).


Yellow Tang, “lau-ī-pala”, (Zebrasoma flavescent). The juveniles do not school like the adults do. Also present, a Trumpetfish, “nūnū”, (Aulostomus chinensis). Can you spot the Trumpetfish? They utilize their yellow color and will swim alongside schools of Yellow Tang to create confusion and snatch a fish!

Black_Triggerfish Black_triggerfish_group

Black Triggerfish, “humuhumu-‘ele’ele”, (Melichthys niger). When this species gets agitated they display a radiating pattern of iridescent blue lines between their eyes. (No sign of agitation today!)


Cornetfish, “nūnū”, (Aulostomus chinensis)

Blackside Hawkfish

Blackside Hawkfish “hilu pill-ko’a” (Paracirrhites forsteri)

Flat-tailed needlefish

Flat-tailed Needlefish “’aha” (Platybelone argils). This species is commonly found in schools just below the surface.


Bigeye “āweoweo”, (Heteropriacanthus cruentatus). This Hawaiian word means “glowing red”.

Long-spined sea urchin

Long-spined Sea Urchins, “wana” (Diadema paucisinum)

 Peacock flounder

Peacock Flounder “pāki’i” (Bothus mancus)

Orangespine Unicornfish

Orangepine Unicornfish, “umauama-lei” (Naso lituratus).

As you can see, coral reefs support a diverse ecosystem. About 500 million people worldwide are dependent on coral reefs for food and protection from storms and erosion. They also have a strong cultural significance for Native Hawaiians, as they have provided the main source of protein.


But with our rapidly changing climate, coral reefs are seriously threatened by warming temperatures, increased acidity, and increased disease.  According to NOAA, global warming and El Niño are currently contributing to the longest coral bleaching die-off on record, and it is predicted to extend until 2017. Coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed from conditions such as increased water temperatures.  As a result, algae that live in their tissues is expelled, which makes them loose a significant source of food and makes them more susceptible to disease. This in turn causes reefs to die-off, incurring catastrophic impacts for the ecosystem that is dependent on them. Some of the coral we saw at Two Step had been bleached recently.

Luckily, we are young marine conservationists full of vim and vigor to help find solutions to help maintain the health of this valuable ecosystem. But you do not have to be a scientist to help make a difference! Follow this link to see 10 ways you can make a difference for conserving coral reefs!

Snorkel Group

Duke Marine Conservation Students (Homo sapiens)