Published May 27, 1996 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1996Susan Scott
YEARS ago, when I was living in Denver and had yet to dip a toe in the Pacific Ocean, a co-worker with a similar dryland background took a trip to Hawaii. When she returned, she was raving.
“I went snorkeling,” she gushed. “It was fantastic! The fish there are absolutely beautiful. And TAME.”
I ignored her, mostly because I didn’t know a snorkel from a snowstorm and therefore hadn’t the foggiest idea what she was so excited about.
“Listen,” she pleaded several times that week. “This snorkeling thing is so much fun. You put on a mask with a tube to breathe through and you can see all these gorgeous fish. They come right up to you.”
“Mmm,” I said.
I just didn’t get it.
Eventually, my friend chalked me up as a lost cause and stopped praising the miracles of snorkeling. But whenever anyone else even mentioned the word, she was off and running, a true evangelist in the ministry of pretty fish.
This long-ago incident came to mind while I pondered some recent task force suggestions about how to better manage Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Some recommendations would significantly reduce the number of park visitors.
THIS may be reasonable for preserving the park. But few other areas on Oahu are protected from fishing. Where will the people turned away from Hanauma Bay go snorkeling?
Who cares? Why should people who grew up fishing in Hawaii waters give up their sport or profession for a bunch of fish-huggers who don’t even live here?
My co-worker above is one good reason. She, and thousands of people like her, are walking around their hometowns telling people not to miss snorkeling when visiting Hawaii. When those people get here and can’t go snorkeling, they’re disappointed. The vacation becomes unremarkable. Next time they try the Caribbean.
Again, who cares? My friend in Aiea who can’t find a job cares. So does my neighbor whose ice cream shop is failing. Much as we love to talk about diversifying the economy, the reality is when the tourism industry coughs, we residents get pneumonia.
By creating more marine preserves, the state can boost the economy in another way too: Such preserves help bring back dwindling fish stocks.
I recently visited a huge marine preserve in Western Australia where fishing was restricted in certain areas but allowed in others. A map of the area, shaded to show fishing areas, looked like the pattern on a Holstein cow.
OUR guide explained that fishing areas had mostly been chosen for their boundary clarity. Managers wanted to leave no doubt about where fishing was legal and where it was not.
“How do they enforce this?” I asked.
“We all do it,” the dive guide said. “If we see someone fishing in a restricted zone, we call an officer who comes out and fines them.”
I’m happy to report that this system not only makes good diving, it also makes great fishing. Each day, as we passed through fishing areas on our way to preserve waters, we put out lines and lures. Each time, within seconds, we had a strike, punctuating excellent dives with fresh sashimi.
The making of more marine conservation districts in Hawaii has been stalled for years by people arguing, often bitterly, against regulations to protect our marine life. Ironically, by refusing to work together, fishermen, tour operators and snorkelers are destroying the reefs and fish stocks each claim rights to.
We’re in the dark ages on this. We need a leader with some political savvy, someone to jump the hurdles and hammer out a solution.
Restricting visitors to Hanauma Bay but creating no alternatives not only lacks vision, it makes us all losers.
Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, www.starbulletin.com