Today Stacy and I took on another super-touristy day, much like the day we did Green Sand Beach and Volcano all at once a few weeks ago. A lot of people might not be up for such strict schedules, but we love packing our days full of everything we possibly can. Today also happened to be a highly educational day… who doesn’t love learning?
Around 9AM, we climbed into the car and went toward Kona. Our first stop of the day was the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm for a tour. Check out www.seahorse.com if you are interested in this awesome organization. Ocean Rider is a small “Mom-and-Pop” type of farm – it just happens that they farm seahorses instead of crops or other animals as you would usually expect. This is the only farm of its kind in North America, and they are on the cutting edge as far as breeding seahorses and other aquatic life.
Our tour guide was great. I now feel very informed about seahorses – and what interesting creatures they are! It would be sad to see these little guys become extinct, and this is part of the reason that organizations like Ocean Rider are so important. They are breeding seahorses to be pets in order to avoid having seahorses taken from the wild at all. Their populations in the wild are dwindling as is, and the hope is that one day Ocean Rider may be able to re-introduce species into the wild if they do become extinct.
Seahorses are in fact a fish, and they are actual predators when found in the wild – at least as far as plankton is concerned. The seahorses that Stacy and I met today have become accustomed to eating frozen versions of the food that they may have found in the ocean, but these guys were all bred in captivity. When this farm began, they had only one seahorse that would eat the food they provided. Because he liked it, they named him Mikey (as in “Mikey likes it!”). Seahorses learn by observation, so Mikey was moved from tank to tank, teaching the other seahorses that they could eat this food and survive. Eventually, young seahorses began to eat this food without question, which the biologists think is due to some sort of genetic mutation or natural selection. This meant that Mikey could retire from his job, and he now lives happily in an aquarium with the owners.
Seahorses naturally mate for life when left to their own devices in the wild. This animal is one of only a few that are monogamous, but the really fascinating thing here is that, by placing their seahorses in large groups, mixing them around often, and allowing for much social interaction, the biologists at Ocean Rider have now produced swinging seahorses. A problem with pet seahorses was that if you had a pair of them and one died, you usually had only a week or two before the next would follow. Now, these seahorses will usually recover and move on, pairing with a new seahorse. Another reason that I think seahorses are highly fascinating is because they are one of only a few animals in the world that have a male pregnancy. Male seahorses have a pouch on their stomach, and when they impress a female, she squirts her eggs into his pouch. He then fertilizes them internally and carries them to term, eventually going into labour to deliver perhaps over 1000 babies.
The pet industry has severely hurt the seahorse population, but another use has had an impact as well. Seahorses are thought in some types of herbology and naturopathic medicine to be a cure for everything, from sexual dysfunction to kidney ailments to joint pain and circulatory problems. This industry is incredibly damaging to the survival of seahorses in the wild as aquarium seahorses are not thought to produce the same results.
At the end of the tour, I got to hold a seahorse. It was actually a much more magical experience than I expected. My seahorse’s name was Nova.
At this point, I also want to discuss another project that Ocean Rider is currently undertaking as I think it is absolutely amazing. The organization has purchased four Leafy Sea Dragons. These animals are extremely close to extinction. They exist only in a very tiny location in Australia. These Leafy Sea Dragons reproduce interestingly as well. The female will spurt eggs onto the tail of the male Dragon, where they will stick and become fertilized. At this location in Australia, only one pregnant male Leafy Sea Dragon may be taken from the wild per year. These Dragons are incredibly popular in aquariums everywhere, so this means that they are in high demand and are in danger of continuing to exist in the wild. Ocean Rider has two males and two females. In the wild, Leafy Sea Dragons reach reproductive maturity at 4 years of age, and in the past, Dragons have often died after living only a year in captivity. Ocean Rider has a female Leafy Sea Dragon that is showing signs that she may be ready to reproduce. She has actually spurted eggs twice, but has missed the male’s tail both times, leaving the eggs to fall to the bottom of the tank, unattended. The biologists at Ocean Rider are working towards having the first successful captive breeding pair of these amazing animals. Here is a picture from the internet, if you don’t know what they look like. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Leafy Sea Dragons we actually saw as they were quite skittish.
Stacy and I bought a few trinkets, left a few tips for our guide and donations to the organization, and then got back into the vehicle to head to our next stop. By this point, I was definitely feeling a caffeine withdrawal headache coming on… so it was a very happy time for us to do a coffee farm tour. This was something I had expressed an interest in doing while I was here. I mean, if you know me, you certainly must know that I am a fan of coffee. How could I be in the heart of this amazing coffee-growing area for two months without learning more about it? Stacy wanted to do the Hula Daddy tour as this is where she sends many of her guests interested in a similar experience, and she had not yet seen this farm.
We arrived at an adorable country-style building, complete with clock tower. I can’t believe I completely forgot to get a picture of the building, but I did. We walked inside, and it was a modern but cozy store and office with a beautiful view.
Stacy and I drank a few coffee samples while our tour guide, who is also in charge of marketing for the organization, chatted away about coffee and everything to do with it. We hit it off well with our guide, whose name was also Stacy, so we ended up enjoying an extremely leisurely and informative tour. We walked down to the coffee plants and tasted coffee cherry, then went to the roasting room to watch as one lady had the job of roasting, taste testing, and packaging every single bag of Hula Daddy Coffee.
Hula Daddy is a boutique coffee farm in that they specialize in putting out an amazing product, but not necessarily mass producing it. The focus is on putting out the best product that they possibly can, and that has paid off – a few Hula Daddy coffees are among some of the the highest rated in the world. The Hula Daddy “Kona Sweet” is rated as a 97, which is extremely high on the coffee rating scale, for those of you that have no idea what this means. In fact, no coffee in the world has been given higher than 97, and there are only a handful that have achieved this rating.
On the Big Island, the coffee growing season runs from February to July, and the harvest goes from August to January. For those of you that know anything about farming, a 6 month long harvest is ridiculous! They have pickers at work every single day during the harvest season. Hula Daddy does things differently from many coffee farms in that they actually hand sort the coffee cherry after it is picked. Any cherry that is over-ripe or under-ripe is discarded and actually sold to another company. The defective cherry is still 100% Kona coffee, it just isn’t necessarily something Hula Daddy would put their name on. This means that every Hula Daddy coffee bean is roasted evenly and to perfection.
After we were finished wandering around the Place of Refuge, we went to a popular snorkelling spot near there and got into the water. Despite the fact that it was “cold” out (Stacy’s word, not mine), it was lovely in the water. There were lots of fish and the water was quite warm, especially around all the coral. This was a beautiful spot to snorkel. Here is a view of the Place of Refuge from this area.
After we were done in the water, we got back into the car and made a stop on Ali’i Drive for a drink on the way home. This was the view we were treated to at the bar. What a way to end the day!
There were so many amazing things about today, but I think my favourite part of it all was how very educational it all was – and I love how much I was able to regurgitate in this blog post! I learned so many interesting things and heard so many captivating stories that I am happy I was able to share at least some of this knowledge with all of you.