Human Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 365–374 | Cite as

Mapping Ocean Currents Through Human Observations: Insights from Hilo Bay, Hawai'i

  • Noelani PuniwaiEmail author
  • Steven Gray
  • Christopher A. Lepczyk
  • Aloha Kapono
  • Craig Severance


Complex systems, such as ocean currents, occur at multiple temporal and physical scales require simultaneous analysis across a range of geographic scales. Presently, there are few available nearshore current maps or models accessible to managers or the public in Hawai'i despite the fact that predicting nearshore currents and processes is important for understanding many other social-ecological interactions. Maps of coastal ocean currents are difficult to create because of constant change and the limited availability of nearshore data. Maps are symbols of our collective knowledge frameworks, representing various geographic areas and features that humans utilize. Our objectives were to understand human observations of nearshore ocean currents and the ability of ocean observers to communicate this knowledge. In Hilo Bay, Hawai'i, we asked 30 experienced ocean users, based on their natural observations, to create ocean current maps that share their knowledge of the seascape, and important processes that define each area. We then compared the scale of human observations of the seascapes with automated coastal observatories. We find that ocean observers were able to communicate their knowledge regarding ocean currents on maps at multiple spatial scales, and particularly commented spatially at a 1:5000 map scale. Understanding differences and similarities between the human observation scale and the in-situ mechanical observatories enable a more complete understanding of small-scale oceanic environments.


Cultural seascapes Hawai'i Ocean currents Knowledge systems Scale 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noelani Puniwai
    • 1
    Email author
  • Steven Gray
    • 2
  • Christopher A. Lepczyk
    • 3
  • Aloha Kapono
    • 1
  • Craig Severance
    • 1
  1. 1.HiloUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.School of Forestry and Wildlife SciencesAuburnUSA

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