They're innocent looking enough. Just some marine snails in conical hats, clamped to the rocks in the intertidal zone, and doing their part for the ecosystem by keeping the fuzzy algae in check. But the saying, He ia make ka opihi - the opihi is the fish of death, serves as a reminder that picking 'opihi for their tasty flesh is a risky business. While their shape and strong muscular foot allows them to hold fast through pounding surf, the tidal surge can be downright frightening for the 'opihi harvester. There are three species of 'opihi here: the blackfoot, 'opihi makaiauli; the yellowfoot, 'opihi alinalina; and the kneecap 'opihi, or koele. The blackfoot inhabits areas closest to shore, the kneecap likes it a bit deeper, and the yellowfoot prefers it where the surf is roughest. Despite the difficulties for the collector, 'opihi numbers have declined significantly due mainly to overharvesting. A gallon of 'opihi can go for as much as $200. Presently, the 'Opihi Partnership, spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy, is working to gather baseline data about 'opihi populations near Maui and Kaho'olawe. Others are attempting to raise 'opihi using aquaculture techniques to relieve pressure on this humble limpet. On a side note, genetic studies have been underway by researchers at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. They have determined that each island has it's own unique populations of 'opihi.
'Opihi are similar to other marine snails in that they have gills, a mouth tube, a head with tentacles, and a strong muscular foot. They are known to create shallow depressions in the rock which becomes their "base camp." After venturing out for feeding, they return to the snugly-fitting base camp for extra gripping power. Though they do not permanently attach themselves like barnacles do, they are the "super gluers" of the snails and may be near impossible to pry off once a failed attempt to pluck them has been made. Their low profile also helps them to remain steadfast through wave action and the ribbing of the shell allows water to drain off easily. Traditionally, 'opihi were also used as scrapers for taro, and for jewelry.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.