Snorkel Bob Foundation, U.S. Humane Society Launch Reef Protection Effort

The Snorkel Bob Foundation has announced a grant of $31,650 to match funds committed by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for a campaign to protect Hawaii reefs and wildlife from aquarium-trade collectors.

Snorkel Bob Foundation Executive Director Robert Wintner explained the objective of the funding: “Underwater was under the radar to most people in Hawaii until our campaigns in the legislature and at County levels around Hawaii. Every campaign requires educational outreach that opens eyes and hearts around Hawaii. Hawaii Island County Council got it right, passing a resolution for a statewide ban on the trade. The council affirmed, ‘…in a cultural and environmentally driven tourism economy the continued protection of our reefs and reef inhabitants enhances the overall cultural experience and brings millions of tourism dollars into State coffers.’” Wintner said many people around the Hawaiian Islands know that Kona is the hub of aquarium extraction in the Islands. Now they’re learning of the animal cruelty aspect of the aquarium collecting business at the county level.”

“We seek to stop the atrocious mortality I have seen in reef wildlife shipments,” said Humane Society International Executive Director Teresa Telecky. “Polling shows that Hawaii residents overwhelmingly want the aquarium trade to end. Barring that, they strongly support county action such as the landmark anti-cruelty law Maui County enacted which ended harmful practices that sacrificed wildlife well-being to a business bottom line. Ending the waste of wildlife will lead to healthier reefs and more fish up and down the food chain.”

Big Island fisherman and Aquarium trade opponent Mike Nakachi said, “I’m an endemic species here on Hawaii Island. I served on a fisheries council for fifteen years and saw nothing but aquarium collectors take over and call the shots. It’s not right. I’m grateful that two outstanding organizations on Hawaii Island will now enable meaningful management to a Hawaii public trust.”

The Snorkel Bob Foundation also works in conjunction with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, where Wintner is also national vice president. “Both organizations were represented on the Kona Coast last month, when an aquarium collector attacked a woman with a GoPro camera, ripping out her air supply at 5 feet [in depth]. That Big Island county prosecutor is currently investigating that attack, and so is, presumably, DLNR,” said Wintner.

Wintner also announced “another gift to the people of Hawaii Island, a big screen virtual reef TV, on loan, to demonstrate the fragile beauty of Hawaii’s coral reefs and wildlife. The video reef system will show Big Island reefs and critters at home in the wild, with reef cam footage provided by UNtanked. The TV and reef cam footage will be on display in the Kona County Council office reception area. The video features native reef species on West Hawaii reefs, their natural homes.

UNtanked inventor Shawn Verne said, “Unlike fish captured and shipped in the aquarium trade, no wildlife is harmed in the UNtanked virtual aquarium system.” UNtanked also plays on multiple screens throughout the recently dedicated, $331 million NOAA Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island in Honolulu.

Hawaii Island County Council Vice-chair Karen Eoff, representing North Kona, said, “Our coral reefs are among Hawaii’s most precious resources. Having the large screen virtual reef displayed in our lobby allows people to experience and appreciate the beauty of the fish and wildlife in West Hawai’i in their natural environment. We need to do all we can to protect our fragile reef ecosystems.”

5 replies
  1. naaupono1
    naaupono1 says:

    We need to put this issue to vote.
    Aquarium fish collectors AND scuba spear fishing should be BANNED forever.

  2. hazen
    hazen says:

    As someone who worked doing coral reef research, worked in three public aquariums, is an active scuba diver, spearfisherman, snorkeller, and kept tens of my own aquariums i feel qualified to speak on this.

    I think it is important to limit collection to a very high extent. That said you do have an established and profitable industry. It’s very politically unpopular to kill local jobs. There are many collection groups that have excellent ethics, certifications, and techniques. I have not researched if they are operating here. Those that practice highly sustainable techniques with an eye to stewarding our populations should be given permits. The role of aquariums in education and environmental promotion should not be overlooked. How many people are encourage to try snorkelling because of what they see in aquariums.
    Many, many advances in our understanding of marine organisms has happened through hobbyist aquarist. Collection for scientists and public aquariums should be allowed without change. The role in our knowledge that these two agencies fill is incomparable and of immensely more good than ill. I also think that home aquarist here should be able to collect WITHIN LIMITS.

    Things seem to have gotten out of control with the for profit collectors here. Any taking of marine life is hard to limit. We seem to have good regulations, just poor enforcement.

    Personally, i think it’s great more attention is being paid to this issue. I do see some hypocrisy in Snorkel Bob’s endorsement of this issue, clearly they profit from more populated reefs, and clearly their unsupervised empowerment of tourists has led to a great deal of damage to our reefs.

    I hope that the coming discourse can be one of cooperation instead of polarization. There is no absolute right or wrong answer to this issue, but instead as we face growing ocean pressures just a well educated and intelligent compromise.

    After all we all want the same thing. If collectors are despoiling the reefs to such an extent they would be hurting their own industry, taking the long view whether they want to or not is in their best interest. Marine Protection Areas are coming. Too many fisherman, too much need for conservation for tourism. Lets start talking about what that looks like. I know that the spearfishing community has actively addressed the problem by targeting invasive species for fishing. There are tournaments that are held frequently to see who can catch the largest or the most invasives. Proceeds go to kids groups and conservation. This is a creative and intelligent solution that helps our reefs.

    Perhaps more pressure to captively raise marine fish and advance those technologies can put. Captive raised fish are hardier and easier to keep. Marine fish are infamously hard to breed in captivity, perhaps focus can be put there, that’s a great and sustainable industry.

  3. Rene Siracusa
    Rene Siracusa says:

    This program appears to be limited to the Kona side. Yet at Puna’s Wai ‘Opae, aquarium collectors collect at night and have been known to clorox the water to stun the fish. Do wew want to support this “industry”? Who is enforcing at 3 am?

  4. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    I’ve seen the bleach action at night, but it was for pilau-style holo-holo, not aquarium harvest. Wicked tho.

  5. Russell Ruderman
    Russell Ruderman says:

    Hazen, I agree with much of what you said, but there is no balanced view of this possible. One cannot complain that Snorkel Bob profits from populated reefs. So does every one of us, the reef itself, the near-shore fisheries, and our collective heritage. By contrast, only the collectors themselves profit by taking and selling fish, while everyone else and the environment suffers.
    If tourists are empowered somehow, that is not the fault of those who guide them to enjoy the ocean non-destructively.
    Protecting our reefs, which are the nurseries for our near-shore fisheries as well as the lifeblood of our shores, cannot be compared to destruction of our collective natural heritage.
    And to be clear, there is no correlation between so-called aquarium collectors and real fishermen, who fish for food and must follow sustainable practices. Opposing the collectors is supporting the fishers, although some fishers have been fooled into allying with the collectors.
    There may or may not be responsible collectors somewhere, but we cannot tolerate the selfish irresponsible collectors here in Hawaii. Have you seen this dramatic example of the morality of these people?

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