Kupuna knew taking of fish kills coral


The underwater scuffle between Rene Umberger and the aquarium fish collector printed in your May 16 West Hawaii Today paper implies that maybe the environmentalists are taking more aggressive steps in obtaining their goals. On the other side, the fish collector considers this a job that feeds his family. The long-term consequences of this occupation is yet to be determined.

The May 20 West Hawaii Today headline read: “Parks in peril as sea rises.” A research group attributes damage affecting the Great Wall at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park to the “rising tide and storm surges.” Nothing is mentioned about the possibility that maybe that section of the island is sinking or erosion taking place in the ocean.

Whatever the case, the above two stories may be connected.

Approximately 6 miles east of South Point is Kaalualu Bay. Seventy years ago, a man known, by all who visited that bay, as Kapu or more fondly as Kupuna Kapu lived there. He was not employed, lived in a weather-beaten shack with no utilities, no automobile, no phone or any of the comforts of life that would make living there bearable. Kapu was an old Hawaiian man who would share his knowledge of the ocean with anyone who would listen. His meals all came from the ocean unless brought to him by a visitor. That visitor would then be rewarded with fresh fish caught by Kupuna Kapu in return.

Kupuna Kapu was like the volunteer caretaker of Kaalualu Bay. He knew every coral head in the bay and what fishes visited what part of that bay at any given tide. He patrolled the bay on foot and lectured the fishermen on “kuleana” (responsibility) or what we commonly refer to today as “good, sound, environmental practices.”

He lectured us about disturbing the little fishes that dart in and out of the coral heads. “They live there, it is their house,” he would say. “The coral can only survive because these little fishes kept the coral clean. If not, the coral ma ke (dies),” he would emphatically claim.

To make this long story short, one day, the Department of Social Services came to check on Kapu and found his living situation deplorable. They took him away from Kaalualu Bay and placed him into a sanitized home with modern utilities and a flushing toilet. In a few weeks, he died as those who knew him expected he would.

Today, Kaalualu Bay is dead compared to the days when Kupuna Kapu lived there as a watchman. The coral heads that provided homes for the little fishes are gone, and so are the fish. Some of them may have been sent to aquariums with all of the utilities that humans can provide but without a purpose for life, they too soon die like Kupuna Kapu did.

If Kupuna Kapu was right, then removing the little fishes from the coral fields in the ocean will deplete the workers whose purpose and reason for existing is to maintain the coral heads that they call home. The byproduct is a more healthy environment and coral reef that protects the shoreline,

But then again, this could have been the ranting of an old man with no college degree who just wanted to pass on his “manao” (wisdom) to some impressionable kids.

This is a true story of a real person I knew, Kapu, who lived at Kaalualu Bay.

Leningrad Elarionoff is a former Hawaii County Council member and resident of Waimea.

Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.