The clouds this morning contained an angel — always welcome — an orange mushroom, a lavender-blue-black swirl that looked like a miniature origin of the cosmos and a shark, replete with hammer head and dorsal fin.
With the recent death of a German visitor who had her arm bitten off in Maui waters, the Star-Advertiser has begun beating “The Jaws” drum for a hunt, though its editorial euphemistically substituted the word “culling” for “killing:”
The practice of shark culling has both opponents and proponents. Critics question its overall effectiveness, noting the migratory nature of sharks; and point out that the ocean is the sharks' — not humans' — domain. Proponents, though, will note that culling could reduce the number of sharks appearing in near-shore waters, and fewer numbers lower the potential for encounters.
For an island state like Hawaii, and as dependent as we are on tourism and ocean recreation for tourists and residents alike, shark culling should be on the table of options given this "unprecedented spike" in attacks here since the start of 2012.
Yeah, because even though it won't actually have any meaningful effect, it will look like somebody's doing something — sort of like that silly water safety video that loops endlessly, unwatched and ignored, at the Lihue baggage claim.
I'll never forget standing with longtime North Shore fisherman Bito Hermosura at the Lumahai overlook when a tourist got out of her car and asked, with trembling trepidation, “Are there sharks down there?” Bito didn't miss a beat. “Of course. The ocean is their home.”
Enter at your own risk. Still, I can see why the visitor industry doesn't like it. First we had that spate of drownings, now there's a string of shark attacks. But when you consider how we regularly disrespect the ocean with our sewage, pesticides, silt, plastic trash, sonar exercises, military explosions, boat noise, fuel spills, overfishing, aquarium collecting and what have you, is it any wonder that every now and then it exacts a little revenge?
Meanwhile, a paragraph in an article by Léo Azambuja on the Kikiaola harbor sand replenishment project slipped by unnoticed until Councilman Gary Hooser posted a link on his Facebook page:
The sand and silt accumulating inside the harbor cannot be used to replenish the beach, according to [state DOBAR engineer Eric] Yuasa.
He said a ditch coming from nearby agricultural fields brings pesticides and heavy metal into the harbor. Chemicals bind easier to fine silt than to coarser sand, he said, so the silt is unsuitable for beach nourishment.
But Yuasa said he would encourage contractors to take it away once it’s dredged out of the harbor.
So where would that contaminated silt be taken away to? And just where are those pesticides and heavy metals coming from? Which ones, exactly, are we talking about? And how are they impacting the marine environment and human health?
Those are the kinds of questions that need answering far more urgently than the movement of tiger sharks around the Islands.
And finally, I noticed a letter to the editor today from Dr. Graham Chelius, a Kekaha physician who talks about public health concerns that he feels are more serious than pesticides:
Islandwide, homes built before 1978 may be contaminated with lead-based paint. High levels of mercury are in marlin, ahi, ono and other fish caught right in our waters.
While I don't think we should ignore pesticide exposure, mercury and lead paint are very real concerns, especially on the westside, with its plethora of fishermen and old plantation houses. Camp houses often contain not only lead paint, but canec, an old-time fiberboard material made from sugar cane pulp treated with inorganic arsenic compounds as an antitermite agent. As Dr. Chelius noted, a baby can suffer irreversible brain damage from eating a chip of lead-based paint the diameter of a pencil. And as the state DOH warns:
[E]xposure to deteriorating canec should be minimized.
I got incredibly sick and was diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning after living for six years in an old house with cracked and peeling paint that I later learned contained lead. Fine dust regularly sifted down from cracks in the ceiling, which was made from canec. The doctors who diagnosed and treated me said they see quite a bit of heavy metal toxicity on Kauai, especially among people who eat a lot of fish and work in the construction industry, where they work with treated wood and do demolition involving canec.
But heavy metal bioaccumulation often goes undiagnosed and untreated because its symptoms – fatigue, muscle ache, memory loss, depressed immune systems, digestive problems , insomnia, irritability, nausea — are similar to those caused by other health conditions.
So while we're scrutinizing the seed companies and their pesticide load, which we should, let's also spend a little time checking out westside schools and homes for deteriorating paint and canec, and step up the public education about mercury in our cherished ahi poke.
Because unless you bleed to death after a shark attack, it's often hard to identify just one cause for illness and death in our chemical-laden modern world.