Sea Shepherd Responds in Wake of Vicious Attack Upon One of its Divers by Wildlife Trafficker
Sea Shepherd is in Hawaii to Support the Big Island Community’s Initiative To Protect Its Coral Reefs For Future Generations
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is setting the record straight in response to aquarium trade collectors speaking out about Sea Shepherd’s effort to document trafficking of reef wildlife off the Kona Coast, in particular regarding their irresponsible re-framing of an attack last Thursday in which a Sea Shepherd Operation Reef Defense diver was nearly killed by a reef fish collector in an unprovoked and highly dangerous assault.
Now, despite the fact that they are the ones who attacked Sea Shepherd and are terrorizing reefs, aquarium trade collectors are disparaging Sea Shepherd in the Hawaiian community, stealing reef wildlife from future generations of Hawaiians, and destroying the tourism industry.
Sea Shepherd is in Hawaii to expose a multi-billion dollar industry that has little or no enforcement, monitoring and limits. This is another case of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue that is exploiting resources and trafficking wildlife for a hobby. Sea Shepherd is in Hawaii to support the Big Island community and their own initiative to take control of their ocean and reefs.
“Let’s not allow reef traffickers to cloud the issue. The assailant in this violent episode should be charged with attempted murder. This was a completely unprovoked attack. It is legal to have cameras underwater and whatever the collector’s feelings, it does not give him the right to assault anyone. The fish trafficker responsible should be charged and held responsible to the fullest extent of the law. A far less accomplished diver may not have survived,” said Sea Shepherd USA Administrative Director, Susan Hartland.
Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson, had this to say about the attack: “The spinning of this story by reef traffickers points to how far fish collectors are willing to go in their greedy pursuits that are turning reef ecosystems, once teeming with life, into barren wastelands. The reefs are dying in our time, and Sea Shepherd wants to help the local Hawaiian community protect their reefs for future generations,” Watson said.
Mike Long, Sea Shepherd’s Reef Defense Coordinator added, "As part of Reef Defense in Hawaii, Sea Shepherd is engaged in working with groups within the island community to support their initiative to respect the ocean and coral reef wildlife. This incident was very unfortunate and we know that it is not representative of the people of Hawaii. The aquarium trade is a dark hobby. We are grateful to be here and involved in a movement to protect such a remarkable ecosystem."
The assault occurred on Thursday afternoon off the coast of Kona. As the Sea Shepherd divers approached the coral reef, they came across two other divers poking coral and collecting fish. As they filmed from a distance, one of the collectors noticed the camera from afar and immediately “rushed” diver Rene Umberger without warning, struck her in the nose and pulled the air regulator from her mouth. A regulator device is what provides oxygen from a diver’s air tank, and forcibly removing it from a diver’s mouth can become deadly in a matter of seconds.
Due to the fact that Rene is a seasoned diver, she was fortunately able to put her air regulator back in place, despite some damage that was done to it, and the divers continued to document the incident on video as the reef wildlife trafficker continued to make threatening gestures.
The world’s coral reefs, often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea,” are in a state of immediate crisis. Sea Shepherd launched its campaign, Operation Reef Defense in Hawaii and elsewhere, to preserve these critical and biologically diverse ecosystems that provide habitat to approximately 25% of all marine species. Human activities including overfishing, coastal development, pollution and climate change as well as the removal of reef wildlife for the aquarium hobby trade, have had a devastating impact, leaving 25% of the world’s reefs gone and more than 60% damaged or at risk of collapse.