Chalk it up to being old and cranky. The "news" on television has become less informative and more annoying. It's not so much the content as the presentation. Admittedly, there's a bias here, one created by a half century of working with ink on paper.
The annoyance factor has deeply eroded a very old habit of having the boob tube on around dinnertime to catch whatever the talking heads in Honolulu have decided is "news." The habit began decades ago with a couple of Bobs, Sevey and Jones. The newscasts were mostly an appetizer with the entree coming the next day when the paper was devoured.
The change from "just the facts" broadcasts to information-based entertainment - radio is a different story - led to giving local TV newscasts something less than complete attention. Occasionally, a local teaser will jump out of the electronic wallpaper. The other day it was the unique name of a professional dive guide.
In the late 1990s, Rene Umberger was the guide to a number of underwater explorations around South Maui. As a member of Ed Robinson's team, Umberger was a passionate naturalist concerned with the health of Maui's reefs. Unlike other divers who used knives to tease he'e out of their holes, Umberger used plastic chopsticks. She didn't want to risk hurting the animal while showing divers an octopus.
Apparently, the big Hawaii story of the day involved an underwater confrontation. The video showed a couple of divers around a couple of canisters. One of the divers swims toward the camera held by Umberger. There's a tussle. Umberger says she was attacked, her respirator ripped from her mouth. From the video, it's hard to tell just what happened.
Umberger said she was part of a team surveying coral growth off the island of Hawaii when they came across aquarium collectors, divers scooping up reef fish for sale. She said the attack amounted to attempted murder since losing your air supply at depth, even briefly, can be lethal. She credited "10,000 dives" with giving her the training and ability to avoid shooting to the surface and risking a case of the bends.
The news presentation four days after the event seemed an overblown excuse to run underwater video. As reported, the divers were down only 50 feet or so. Barring panic on the part of the diver, that's a manageable depth, with or without air. CBS picked up the video story and ran it on its national newscasts and website with the headline "Environmentalist attacked while scuba diving in Hawaii."
The next-day follow-up, which included replaying the murky video, indicated the episode was part of an ongoing dispute between conservationists and divers exploiting Hawaii's diminishing reef life. It's an old dispute. Conservationists say there is a need for more legal protection of the reefs. No argument there. Aquarium collectors and hunters say dive tours scare off fish.
Years ago, stories circulated around the Maui scuba community about aggressive skin divers and fishermen. Shoreline night dives were harassed by ulua fishermen who bombed them with heavy sinkers. "They know exactly where we are because they can see our lights," said Charlie, a veteran, freelance scuba tour leader. He moved his night dives to a less-desirable location. Another tour leader told about diving off Puu Olai and having a spear sizzle past her. Kim said she looked up to see skin divers aiming their weapons in her direction. She said it appeared to be a group of tourists being led on a hunting tour. She made a rude gesture toward the "thanks, no tanks" guys but let the incident pass.
There were questions to ask about last week's incident, particularly since Umberger was a longtime acquaintance. They went unanswered. Umberger's Maui phone listing didn't work. She had no listing on the island of Hawaii, if she'd moved from Haiku. Maybe, like many others, she'd eschewed a landline in favor of a cellphone.
The most disquieting aspect of the whole affair was the apparent enmity between two types of ocean users who should be united behind the idea of protecting the ocean and its critters from overuse and land-based abuse. For some, it provides food. For others, it is a recreational escape from the stresses of modern life. For an island economy based on tourism, a healthy ocean is essential. Whale watching, sport fishing, diving and snorkeling bring millions of dollars every year to Maui-owned small businesses.
Sensational "news" coverage doesn't help.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.