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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 25, 2010

Throwing coins in koi pond only makes fish sick

By Leslie Kawamoto

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Every morning, Guy Kmett, owner of Aloha Pets, removes coins from the mall's fountains.

Photos by C. Lum

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Despite this sign at the Ala Moana Center koi fountains, people still throw coins in. Copper toxicity can kill the fish.

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When I visit Ala Moana Center, I like to watch the koi in the ponds on the mall level. I don't have a fish tank at home, so watching these graceful creatures glide in the water is fun and relaxing.

The koi have a long history of being selectively bred in rice paddies in Japan to develop the beautiful markings and colors that we see today. The multi-colored koi symbolize strength and perseverance in Hawai'i and in Japan. Unfortunately, some visitors to Ala Moana Center don't regard them with reverence and respect.

Why do people throw coins in those fountains? This isn't Italy.

My ultimate pet peeve is seeing coins at the bottom of the pond. Those coins are making the fish ill. I want to jump in the water and scoop the coins out, but I can't because it's illegal to remove them from a fountain. Those coins become the property of the fountain owner.

Guy Kmett, owner of Aloha Pets, has been caring for the 75 to 100 koi at Ala Moana since 2004. Every morning, he removes coins from the three ponds. When asked how much he collects, he said, "It varies. Now it's down. There's more at Christmastime."

Coins and fountains have a long history, so people may be compelled when they see a fountain to toss in a coin or two. At the Trevi Fountain in Rome, if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the water, it's believed you will come back to visit Rome one day.

There are folktales that if you throw a coin in a well, your wish will be granted. That sounds nice and sweet, but does anyone think of the fish that live in that water?

If the koi could talk, I'm sure they'd say, "Please leave your spare change in your pocket. It is much better that you have it than we do."

"Koi are very sensitive to the copper contained in pennies and quarters. Copper affects the blood cells and increases mucus production in the gills, both of which makes it more difficult for the koi to breathe and absorb oxygen," says retired state aquatic biologist Mike Yamamoto.

"Symptoms of copper toxicity include gasping at the surface and disorientation," adds Yamamoto.

Poor fish! That sounds like a painful and cruel death.

If you see someone about to toss a coin in the fountains at Ala Moana or anywhere else there are fish, please ask them to think about these living creatures.

I hope to see the koi at Ala Moana as long as possible.