November 9, 2010

 Tonight’s program focuses on the health of the ocean and its inhabitants. We’ll be talking with Robert Wintner  in Maui, Hawaii, about his new book called, Some Fishes I Have Known: A Reef Rescue Odyssey.  Listeners may recall that we’ve done several programs about ocean health over the past two years, including plastics in the ocean, hormones and other chemicals in the seas, and issues concerning the health and preservation of whales.  Our guest, Robert Wintner, also goes by the name of Snorkel Bob, and he shares those concerns and adds his own particular interests in preservation of the Hawaiian coral reefs and the tropical fish that are being extracted from those reefs to live (and mostly die) in hobbyist aquarium tanks.

Background: The Kululipo Creation Story

The word “Kumulipo” translates roughly as “a source of darkness and origin.”  This segment appears in Robert’s book, and it describes the origins of the corals and many of the sea creatures that we’ll be describing tonight:

 The night gave birth, born was Kumulipo in the night, a male.
 Born was Po’ele in the night, a female
 Born was the coral polyp, born was the coral, came forth
 Born was the grub that digs and heaps up the earth, came forth
Born was his child, an earthworm, came forth
Born was the starfish, his child, the small starfish came forth
Born was the sea cucumber, his child the small sea cucumber came forth
Born was the sea urchin tribe
Born was the short-spiked sea urchin, came forth
Born was the smooth sea urchin, his child the long-spiked came forth
Born was the ring-shaped sea urchin, his child the thin-spiked came forth
Born was the barnacle, his child, the pearl oyster came forth
Born was the mother-of-pearl, his child they oyster came forth
Born was the mussel, his child the hermit crab came forth
Born was the cowry, his child the small cowry came forth
Born was the naka shellfish, the rock oyster his child came forth
Born was the drupe shellfish, his child the bitter white shellfish came forth
Born was the conch shell, his child the small conch shell came forth
Born was the nerita shellfish, the sand burrowing shellfish his child came forth and
Born was the drupa shellfish, his child the bitter white shellfish came forth and
Born was the fresh water shellfish, his child the small fresh water shellfish came forth
Born was man for the narrow stream, the woman for the broad stream
Born was the Ekaha moss living in the sea
Guarded by the Ekahakaha fern living on land
Darkness slips into light
Earth and water are the food of the plant
The god enters, man cannot enter
Man for the narrow stream, woman for the broad stream
Born was the tough seagrass living in the sea
Guarded by the tough landgrass living on land.

The Hawaiian creation myth, the Kumulipo, quoted by Robert Wintner in his book, Some Fishes I Have Known: A Reef Rescue Odyssey.

Our Discussion with Robert Wintner

On the phone with us now is Robert Wintner, the founder of the Snorkel Bob Foundation.  He runs tourist services that includes snorkeling, helicopter and boat tours, and action sports, and one of his many interests is in rescuing the Hawaiian reefs, as described in his new book, Some Fishes I Have Known.   Welcome Robert Wintner. 

  • Early in your book, you describe how you first became enchanted with snorkeling and the oceans.  Please tell us that story. 
  • Where did snorkeling take you after that?
  • Your book argues that not only are the coral reefs in danger, but the fish that live in them are threatened  by overextraction.  Please explain these dangers.
    • Who are the people harvesting tropical reef fish?  How many fish are harvested annually?
    • Where are the fish shipped?  under what conditions? What’s the future of a reef fish that is placed in a hobbyist’s aquarium?
    • How are reef fish captured?  (You were instrumental in getting a ban on gill nets in 2006.  How are the fish caught now?)
    • Which of the fish in your book are under the greatest stress?
    • What’s your definition of “sustainability” for fish populations?  How does that differ from the definitions of the fish harvesters?  (Please explain your analogy between tropical fish harvests and strip mining.)
    • How is the coral affected by the removal of these fish?
  • What laws or conventions are in place now to protect fish.  (CITES, Lacey Act, Endangered Species Act).  In what ways do these succeed or fail?
  • What additional legislation or regulation is needed?  Are there campaigns underway (e.g., Maui County) to bring about needed protection?
  • Thus far we’ve been talking mainly about fish—“tropical” destined for aquariums.  Please tell us about other creatures mentioned in your book that are in trouble-e.g., sea turtles, sharks, hermit crabs.
  • Do fish have souls?

Our guest has been Robert Wintner, author of Some Fishes I Have Known: A Reef Rescue Odyssey, published by Skyhorse Book.  It’s a beautiful book, gorgeously illustrated with photos, most of them taken by Robert Wintner himself.  You can learn more about the book and about the work of the Snorkel Bob foundation at  We have just finished our KZFR pledge drive, but if you forgot to phone in and make a late pledge, we’d like to give you our copy of Robert’s book as a thank you gift.  And thank you, Robert Wintner, for being with us this evening.

Resources for Further Research and Action

In closing our show tonight, we’d like to share a few links with ocean conservation organizations.  We’ll post all of these links on our website,

 The Ocean Conservation Portal is a clearing house of web sites and organizations concerned with ocean preservation

Their “editor’s pick” organizations include:

Greenpeace “Defending Our Oceans:  Myriad of human pressures are being exerted both directly and indirectly on ocean ecosystems the world over. Consequently ecosystems are collapsing as marine species are driven towards extinction and ocean habitats are destroyed.  Degraded and stripped of their diversity, ocean ecosystems are losing their inherent resilience. We need to defend our oceans because without them, life on Earth cannot exist.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose work includes much more than just protesting the slaughter of the whales.  They have campaigns to preserve animal rights on the Galapagos Islands, to end the Harp Seal hunt in Canada, to defend dolphins, to save sea turtles, and to help restore the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography of UCSan Diego, with numerous projects including the Gulf Oil Spill, ocean currents, global warming, and ocean acidification.

World Ocean Observatory with projects including managing ocean resources (including mining, energy, and pharmacological extraction), sea life census, history of oceanography, and educational materials, plus an electronic newsletter and a series of radio essays on mp3.

Playlist for Ecotopia #110: Some Fishes I Have Known

1. Minnie the Mermaid        4:32        The Fryer-Barnhart International All Star 

Jazz Band        The First Album       

2. Coral PSA-3        7:17    Snorkel Bob Founhdation                                             

3. Pacific Ocean Blues        2:37        Dennis Wilson        Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu –

4. Joy To The World        3:16        Three Dog Night        Three Dog Night – The 

Complete Hit Singles       

5. 111 The Ultimate Sink        4:41        Ocean Conservation Society                                        

6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary        The Very Best of 

Peter, Paul and Mary       

7. Save the Water        3:36        Stan Breckenridge        Reflections       

8. Song Of The Whale – Part One: From Dawn …        8:20        Tangerine Dream        

Underwater Sunlight