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CRAMP Study Sites: Pupukea, Island of Oahu

Pupukea -- Waiāhole -- He‘eia Kea -- Moku O Loe -- Hanauma Bay -- Ala Wai -- Kahe Point -- Pili O Kahe

Geographic Name: Pupukea

CRAMP Site Code: OaPup

Geographic Coordinates:

21° 40.525' N, 158° 02.597' W

21° 40.628' N, 158° 02.712' W

Located on the north shore of Oahu adjacent to Waimea Bay.

Chart of Pupukea area and Waimea Bay.

Chart of Pupukea area and Waimea Bay. (Click for a larger view)

Aerial photo of Pupukea area and Waimea Bay (1993 NOAA image courtesy of Steve Rohmann).

Aerial photo of Pupukea area and Waimea Bay (1993 NOAA image courtesy of Steve Rohmann). (Click for a larger view)

Physical Features (Physiography):

The Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District extends from the shoreline to a line connecting Kulaloa Point on the east to a basalt headland at (21° 38.75' N, 158° 03.95') on the west. A coastal plain approximately 0.5 km wide occurs between the Pupukea shoreline and the steep bluff that parallels the shoreline. The top of the bluff grades into a plateau at approximately 500 foot elevation. The shoreline is complex and consists of eroding limestone formations overlaying basalt. This platform extends to depths of over 40 feet on the seaward margin. During periods of high wave energy large boulders and cobble are mobilized to depths of 40 feet as evidenced by accumulations of clean rounded boulders in low spots and channels. The boulders are old shoreline material from an ancient sea level stand and can be seen weathering out of a basalt conglomerate that underlies the carbonate platform. The emergent portion is quite wide at the eastern edge extending to a distance of 200 m from the shoreline to form Kulaloa Point. The exposed reef flat portion of the carbonate structure narrows and disappears west of Three Tables at the southwestern edge of Pupukea. The emergent platform is bisected by Shark's Cove, with the eastern segment forming Kualoa Point and the western segment forming the large "tide pool" area between Shark's Cove and the Three Tables area. The eastern segment from Kulaloa to Shark's Cove is riddled with submarine caves. Some local residents believe that the tide pool area was created at the result of the quarrying of limestone rock here many years ago, but this has not been verified. A small sand-gravel beach exists within Shark's cove. An excellent sandy bathing beach exists inshore of the Three Tables area. The sub tidal area adjacent to the beach consists of basalt and carbonate cobble overlying the carbonate platform. The "Tables" are small emergent remnants of the carbonate platform. The small pocket beach that exists inshore of the Three Tables has formed due to the presence of the dense basalt ridge that runs seaward to the west of the Three Tables area. A large boulder field exists along this basalt structure and extends seaward.

Encrusting corals dominate colonized hard bottom in this high wave energy environment. Photo by Paul L. Jokiel.

Encrusting corals dominate colonized hard bottom in this high wave energy environment. Photo by Paul L. Jokiel. (Click for a larger view)

Reef Structure, Habitat Classification:

The coral reef communities along this north-facing shore are poorly developed due to the large swell that strikes this coast during the winter months. Coral cover is relatively low and consists mainly of encrusting species that are wave resistant. The most common corals are Porites lobata and Pocillopora meandrina. Encrusting corals such as Leptastrea purpurea, Pavona varians and Montipora flabellata are found throughout the area.

Physical Oceanography:

Pupukea faces NW and is directly impacted by North Pacific Swell. The NE Trade Winds tend to blow parallel to the shoreline, moving surface water to the southwest. NE Trade Wind Waves do not strike this NW facing coast directly, but can influence the area when coming from a more northerly direction. Some refraction also occurs. Between May through October the water is generally calm, but surges can develop. During winter months current and wave conditions become extremely dangerous in all areas of the MLCD, including the tide pool area.

Adjacent Land Tenure, Land Use:

Public park (City and County of Honolulu) along the immediate shoreline, with a residential area along the shoreline outside of the park boundaries.

Human Use Patterns:

Heavy human use of the Pupukea reef area results from the easy public access and the large resident and tourist population of Oahu. Bus service to the area is readily available from throughout Oahu. Parking is available at the beach park adjacent to the Pupukea MLCD. Park benches, restrooms, showers, emergency and pay phones are readily available to the public. A small shopping center is located immediately across the street from the park. A low-density residential community exists along the coastline beyond the park boundaries and inland of the beach park. Local residents from the surrounding area frequent the Pupukea reef. Pupukea includes two major swimming and diving areas, Shark's Cove and Three Tables. Shark's Cove, near the eastern end of the MLCD, is a fairly popular site for snorkeling. Depth maximum is approximately 20 feet at the mouth of the cove. The origin of the cove's name is uncertain, but sharks are no more common here than anywhere else on the island. Shark's Cove is one of the North Shore's most popular SCUBA destinations. Diving conditions are better outside the cove. Caves can be found around the cove's northeast point. The bottom outside the cove slopes to about 45 feet. Visibility is generally poor inside the cove, but improves quickly outside. The tide pool area adjacent to Shark's Cove is an excellent site for reef walking or snorkeling, depending on wave and tide conditions. Three Tables Cove, located at the western end of Pupukea, gets its name from the flat sections of reef rock visible at low tide. Snorkeling is good around and just outside the tables area to depths of 15 feet. SCUBA diving conditions improve farther out at depths of 30 to 45 feet. Boulder habitats, ledges, arches, lava tubes and other features are found in this area. Subsistence fishing by local fishermen occurs from shore by hook and line fishing and by netting in the permitted offshore area. Spearing by skin divers is presently allowed. Reports from local fishermen are that the area has been "fished out".

Economic Value and Social Benefits:

This popular destination is probably the most important major shoreline entry for SCUBA and skin divers on the Island of Oahu. As such, it contributes substantially to the economic activity of dive shops. Resident divers, as well as visitors, use this area frequently. Further, the site is generating employment for SCUBA instructors who use the site for training. The local merchants realize substantial economic benefit by selling food and services to visitors using the reef area. the area is a valuable recreational resource for residents as well as visitors.

Regulatory Status (Degree of Legal Protection):

The Pupukea MLCD is located offshore of the Pupukea beach park, from the high water mark seaward to a line from the point at the beach park's southwestern end to Kulaloa Point. The Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD) is a designated marine protected area established in 1983. This MLCD includes two major swimming areas, Sharks' Cove and Three Tables as well as the near-shore region just north of Sharks' Cove. The large tide pool area between Sharks' Cove and Three Tables is not currently part of the MLCD but negotiations are underway with the City and County of Honolulu to include this portion under State management. Under current regulations, pole-and-line fishing for fin fish is permitted from the shoreline and taking of limu (edible algae) is also permitted. Spear fishing without SCUBA is permitted within the MLCD. SCUBA divers may transit the MLCD with fish taken outside the area. The use of nets is currently allowed in the northern portion of the MLCD. Authority for managing the marine resources within three miles (4.8 km) of the high tide mark lies with the Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources. All laws pertaining to the management of state marine resources apply (see pamphlet "Hawaii Fishing regulations, September 1999", 51 pp. available from Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kalanimoku Building, 1151 Punchbowl St., Rm. 330, Honolulu, Hawaii). Pupukea also lies within the boundaries of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Management Concerns:

Divers, bathers and shoreline fishermen are increasingly using Pupukea for recreation and sustenance fishing. The level of activity at the adjacent park has increased dramatically in recent years. Parking at the County Park is saturated by 8:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays. A City and County of Honolulu project to improve roadway drainage culvert to empty directly into the MLCD has raised environmental questions about possible impact on the reefs. Various user groups in the areas have expressed concerns for the level of activity that is occurring at the site and the safety of all users due to the mix of ongoing activities. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is currently evaluating a number of changes to the current management structure of the area to increase the safety of all users and better manage the marine resources. The Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) has begun the process of obtaining public input. The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) is reviewing the potential need to limit commercial SCUBA diving activities and training in the MLCD due to the ever-increasing numbers of divers using this resource. Consideration is being given to a ban the use of motorized vessels in the confined waters of the coves. See the DAR Pupukea management web site.

Noteworthy Biota or Ecological Conditions:

This site has an extremely complex overall bathymetry and provides an outstanding natural laboratory for the study the ecology of high wave impact environments. Scientific value would be enhanced if the proposed expansion of the MLCD with associated closure of fishing activity is implemented. At this time fish stocks appear to be depleted in the area because of virtually unrestricted fishing activity (shoreline fishing with hooks, spearing by skin divers, some netting is permitted). Rare corals such as Montipora studeri  have been noted in the area.

Video frame by Will Smith.

Spearing by skin divers is allowed within the Pupukea Marine Live Conservation District. This image was taken along the basalt ridge that forms the western boundary of the MLCD. During our CRAMP surveys we observed fairly intense fishing effort within the MLCD. Local fishermen complain about the area being "fished out". Video frame by Will Smith. (Click for a larger view)

Watershed Information:

Pupukea Aerial Photos:

1962 Aerial photo of the Pupukea area. Photo by USGS.

1962 Aerial photo of the Pupukea area. Photo by USGS. (Click for a larger view)

1977 Aerial photo of the Pupukea area showing heavy surf conditions. Photo by USGS.

1977 Aerial photo of the Pupukea area showing heavy surf conditions. Photo by USGS. (Click for a larger view)


Last Update: 04/21/2008

By: Lea Hollingsworth

Hawai‘i  Coral Reef Assessment & Monitoring Program

Hawai‘i  Institute of Marine Biology

P.O. Box 1346

Kāne‘ohe, HI 96744

808-236-7440 phone

808-236-7443 fax