There’s just something magnetic about Bone Hook, Lei Crime #10, the book I’m currently writing. Reef conservation and fish poaching research is bringing me in contact with some of the most interesting people on Maui.
My time-tested method for developing a story is to find a topic that the mystery will touch on, then locate an “expert” willing to help me. I then meet with that person and pump them for information. Once I have enough to start with, I plow through the whole first draft, shooting questions to my “expert” as needed. After the initial draft is done, I give it to him or her to read and correct.
This method keeps my books fresh and relatively reliable in terms of readers learning about the topics covered by the mystery, but I don’t spend an excess of time researching arcane topics.
My “expert” for this book is Danielle Kornfeind, a 33 year old marine biologist and former DLNR agent here on Maui. She is a petite, beautiful woman with the deep tan of a sailor who wears her long hair in a careless knot.
Passionate about both fishing and reef conservation, she’s the perfect person to help me understand and present the issues. Today she took me out to the ‘Ahihi-Kina`u Natural Area Reserve near La Perouse Bay, an area I hadn’t visited since my kids were in high school when we’d four-wheel-drive out over the lava and camp without latrines or water under the kiawes lining the beach while ulua fishing.
I wanted to see an area where people engage in illegal aquarium fish trapping, and hear more about the methods that are used. I also needed to refresh my memory of an area where I hadn’t been in over ten years so I could describe scenes set there. We met early and drove her Tacoma down to La Perouse Bay with a kayak hanging out of the bed of the truck.
At the parking lot at the Reserve, I met her friend Joe, a long time DLNR agent. He was in a beefed-up county truck surveilling the area, and we talked story and then got the kayak out into the water.
Danielle put me in front, and we got out into some choppy water. We didn’t get too far because neither of us realized how much my greater weight, in the front of the molded-plastic kayak, would cause the nose to dip. With every stroke, we scooped water aboard. There was no way to switch places without jumping into the ocean and re-boarding, so we headed back after a short, wet, hilarious jaunt.
We then hiked along the trail into La Perouse Bay, the area familiar to me from the old unregulated camping days. Gone was all the trash and heavy-use damage. Danielle pointed out the different kinds of paths through the raw, rough a`a lava: fisherman tracks, new tourist paths put in by the DLNR/park service, and the original Hawaiian paths.
Getting a lot less traffic and use since being closed, the rugged lava area is much cleaner and the hauntingly-beautiful naio, feathery white blossoms among silvery green leaves, bloom here and there along with wild tobacco plants. The DLNR are building a fence to keep the goats and deer out, and which have continued to inflict a lot of damage on the area.
I learned about “shocking” the fish with sonic blast devices that stun them and allow them to be easily harvested, and dynamiting, which, while killing some, has a stunning effect as well. Physically visiting the area, with its heat and remoteness, the difficulty getting a truck anywhere past the boulders and fences of the area, showed me how hard it would be for poachers to penetrate very deep into the reserve unless approaching by boat.
“Yes, they do go in by boat,” Danielle confirmed. “Which makes it easier for the agents to catch them at the harbor areas.”
We hiked back and Danielle pointed to some divers in the water right in front of the parking lot. “Toby, they’re aquarium diving right there!”
Her friend Joe had pulled his truck up and was keeping an eye on the divers, who were swimming a circular pattern around a diving float that held a container for the fish they were catching with handheld nets.
“Why isn’t Joe busting them?” I exclaimed.
“Because it’s legal. All the way up to that sign.” She pointed to the nearby demarcation line, marked by a big yellow sign. “And he’ll check their permits and everything they bring in. By hanging out close to the edge of the Reserve, they get the spillover of fish who don’t know where the line is. But as you can see, it’s a lot of gear and hard work.”
I was surprised at how much would be possible to take from our reefs legally. Poaching isn’t even necessary, though the protected areas have triple the fish populations. I also learned about a marine bacterial disease that decimated the rice coral population in the reserve.
“We think a diver brought the disease in from another country by not cleaning his gear properly,” Danielle said. “It’s tragic. People don’t know how important it is that they don’t carry seeds, spores, or other trace into delicate areas.”
“Was it boring, being an agent?” I asked as we drove past Joe, his sun-creased eyes still on the divers.
“Yeah. I would hide out, and take pictures with my camera or Go-Pro. We have to catch people in the act before we can even cite them.”
I went home with a new respect for the dedicated men and women who hang out for long hours in hot trucks and walk the beaches alone, trying to protect our reefs and wildlife. If you see them, give them a ‘shaka’ or a thumbs-up. They deserve it.