There have been times when some of us have become annoyed or downright angry at another diver underwater, but one scuba diver took it to the next level when he allegedly attacked another by pulling her regulator out of her mouth while 50 feet under.
Diver Rene Umberger was attempting to document damage to coral reefs on video, when she and another scuba diver approached another two divers who were allegedly collecting aquarium fish. While her camera was rolling, one of the two divers swam aggressively towards her and yanked her regulator of her mouth.
Umberger is the director of For the Fishes, a Maui-based marine advocacy group that “protects reefs and wildlife from the aquarium trade, which captures and sells these animals to saltwater aquarium hobbyists.” A native of southern California, she moved to Maui in 1981.
In 1995, Rene was awarded her Platinum Pro 5,000 Card, and adds “An inexperienced diver would likely panic. Either panic from the stress of the situation and shoot for the surface. They may panic because their air source is missing and they can’t find it. Any of those things causes a scuba diver to shoot for the surface and those incidents often lead to death,” said Umberger. “Never in a million years. Never in a million years did I think that someone would attack like that, especially from such a distance. It’s not like we were close up or in their face.”
“The greater issue is that Hawaii’s reefs are being emptied by these commercial operations,” said Umberger. “Hawaii’s reefs are suffering incredibly from this unlimited collection.”
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According to Umberger, around 11 million “ornamental” fish are purchased annually to supply just 700,000 hobby tanks, resulting in a drastic decline in populations on unprotected reefs. She says at least three times more fish are scooped up from Hawaii’s reefs for aquariums than are taken off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world. “It’s vastly more diverse and abundant than our reefs because it’s so much closer to the coral triangle.”
There is the other side to this story, of course: Reportedly a press release from Snorkel Bob’s alerted the media to the incident. According to that press release, DOCARE (Hawaii’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement) had cited a fish collector for reckless endangerment and intended to cite Umberger for harassing a fisherman. Reportedly the fish collector “claimed that Umberger had affected the behavior of yellow tangs and other exotic reef fishes he was scooping into his container. He and another aquarium collector were using ‘tickle’ sticks about 8 feet long to scare colorful fish from their hiding places.”
The State Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement is investigating the incident and will turn its information over to the County Prosecutors office.