Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, October 4, 1999

Ocean life: Don’t abuse it,
or we’ll all lose it

WHEN I was studying marine biology at the University of Hawaii, I wished there were more articles in the newspapers about the ocean and its inhabitants. Each day, I looked for marine stories, hoping to find something, anything, that told me details about Hawaii's marine creatures.

I was learning the scientific side of the subjects in school but I wanted to know the fun stuff. When and where could you see these things? How do the creatures behave around people? I wished that one day I could write the kind of column I longed to read.

Star-Bulletin editors granted that wish and for the last 12 years, I have been happily sharing my knowledge and experiences with others who want to know. This column will end soon but my love for Hawaii's marine animals will never end. Here's what I wish for now:

I wish people would stop killing animals for pleasure.

Everywhere I go, someone is spearing, hooking, netting or collecting some hapless marine creature. I am disgusted with people at the beach who are amused when their dogs dig up and kill ghost crabs. I'm sickened when people pull tilapia from the Ala Wai Boat Harbor and leave the fish suffocating on the sidewalk. My heart aches when I see people, for entertainment, crush sea urchins, spear moray eels and stomp on periwinkles.

AND then there's shell collecting. I once came across a man busily working among the rocks near the Hilo breakwater. Peeking into his bucket, I saw about 30 cowry snails. There was no water in the bucket; the snails were clearly dying. "What are you going to do with these?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said sullenly.

"Then why kill them?"

He looked at me defiantly. "Because I want too."

Another sour moment occurred during a conversation I had with a physician friend who caught a big marlin. "Oh, it fought hard," he said, gleefully. "It took hours but we finally got it aboard."

"And then?"

"We killed it."

"What did you do with it?"

"I don't eat fish. I gave it to the captain."

OK, I know a killer instinct lurks in the psyche of members of our species. We are here, after all, only because we learned to be efficient hunters and gatherers.

But most of us don't have to kill and collect animals to live anymore. If more members of our species would rein in that hunting and gathering impulse we might evolve to a higher level -- become preservers rather than destroyers.

In the same vein, I wish our state and city governments would get the gumption to create more underwater parks. I know all the arguments against doing it: I fished there all my life; it's a free country; it hurts residents for the benefit of the tourists, etcetera.

It's time to rise above this rhetoric. There's a stack of scientific papers showing that protecting parts of the shoreline increases fish and invertebrate populations in adjacent areas. It could be a win-win situation for everyone concerned.

"Take, take, take," a local fisherman once shouted at a public meeting. "That's all we ever do. It's time to give back."

He's right. I wish our local governments would ban all gill nets in Hawaii, improve education at Hanauma Bay and stop all fishing at Shark's Cove, Waikiki and Kahe Point.

My final wish is that I continue hearing from you. Please don't stop e-mailing me those great stories about your favorite golden plover, that weird thing you found washed up on the beach or your painful experience with a jellyfish sting. It's Susan Scott,

I promise I'll write back.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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