Polly, a sweet little parrotfish, awoke to the sweet sounds of the doves as they sang their morning songs. She looked up from her sleeping cove and saw the palm trees swaying gently in the cool Kona breeze. Half asleep, she remembered the promise she had made herself the day before, “I will not be late to the feeding pool tomorrow!” She had reached a point of frustration because all of the others in her school teased her and called her “Polly Come Lately.” She realized that if she were to change the way her friends looked at her, she would need to make an attempt to get to their favorite reef before that bigger school of Humahumas arrived. They could be so pushy, eating everything in sight and making it difficult for the others to get their fair share. The reef had changed so much over the last few years. Coral was no longer plentiful as it had been in the past. Strange creatures were visiting her favorite spot and killing off her food by standing on it. “Don’t those human creatures know that standing on our plants, kills them?” Flash screamed in frustration yesterday. “You have got to get here early tomorrow so those big creatures leave our coral alone. If we linger around here, they are too busy watching us and won’t stop to take a break, then they step on the coral. So if we get here early we can save our food. So quit playing around tomorrow and get here on time!”
Polly did have a reputation for being late. She just couldn’t help herself. She enjoyed the trip to the favorite reef because each day presented so many different surprises. No telling who would arrive to visit her regular spot. Just the other day, she was twenty minutes late because she was distracted by a beautiful yellow tang who darted between the rocks and played hide-and-seek with Polly. Polly couldn’t resist a good game of hide and seek no matter how many times her friends had teased her about her tardiness. She will never forget the time she was really late when she was swimming along minding her own business and a flying canard surprised her by spreading its wings and scooting along the floor of the ocean. Polly was so intrigued by its colors and how they blended into the sand below, that she nearly followed it out of the bay. Good thing her friend Warning Warren, stopped her just in time. She would have met with certain death out in the wide open ocean. The bigger fish were just waiting out there to make a meal of fish like her. She would have made a tasty treat for a shark.
So, not wanting to be teased again, Polly made her way to Kahaluu, the hang out of her school of friends. The sun had just shown itself over the mountains. Its rays were beaming down on the water, creating light shows. Polly liked to dart through them, pretending they were traps left by the human creatures. She darted in and out having the time of her life. What fun she could have with the simplest things. While she playfully darted from ray to ray, she bumped into Greeny, the resident green turtle. “How’s it going?” he asked.
“Oh my goodness, I completely lost track of time.”
“Oh no worry, you have alllll the time in the world. Don’t be in such a rush.”
“I must hurry. My friends are always teasing me about being late. Today I promised myself to be on time to the feeding reef and now I’m going to be late.”
“Don’t let them make you feel bad. You know how to enjoy your world. Don’t ever lose that! Just watch out for those creatures floating above us. They like to touch us. My pal, Georgie, just died from some sickness from one of those awful beings who thought it would be fun to grab at him and ride him like a seahorse. They don’t realize how dangerous their germs are to us. So keep your eyes open and be careful.”
“I better get going, there’s plenty of algae for you, but I need my coral and if I don’t get going, those awful Humahumas will get my share of the reef.”
“Well have a nice day. Nice talking to you.”
Every morning Polly would arrive at the gathering place at dawn to feed on the three species of yummy coral that were growing on the ocean’s floor. She preferred the pink cauliflower coral, while her friends were not quite as picky. She and her friends would scurry from plant to plant dining on delectable treats. She wasn’t looking forward to arriving late again and having to listen to her friends teasing, but what was one more day of ribbing?
She prepared herself for the jokes and pokes, yet things seemed different when she finally arrived. No one was there. The bay felt the same as other mornings. The sun beating down on the water and she knew it was the same position it always was for their morning feasting. She thought to herself, “Maybe I’m early. I’ll dine for a while and they will certainly show up. As she swam from one coral to another, she dodged flippers of strange humongous creatures her friends had called humans. This unusual species seemed to stare at her in the strangest ways. Polly had been warned not to trust them, because many of her friends in other schools had already been taken out of the bay. She kept her guard up and fed for a while.
The humans held funny looking boxes that would emit repeated flashes of light. Polly had grown accustomed to these flashes, but still didn’t like them. She was just about to go for a yummy looking piece of coral; the pink kind, when one of those creatures stepped on it and broke it off. It wasn’t any good to her then. She spent a good deal of time trying to avoid being touched by these big creatures and still there was no sign of her pals.
Polly decided to go to Puhi, her wise eel friend, who lived under the rock at the end of the reef. He would know where her friends had gone. Maybe he had seen them and could tell her where to find them. Puhi kept himself well hidden. He had learned long ago that those giant creatures could not be trusted. He was never safe when they were around.
Polly arrived at the famous rock where Puhi kept himself safe. He had seen fish come and go from the bay. Some would leave because the humans would stand on the reef and kill the coral or algae. This left little for them to eat. Others died because of the pollution in the bay. With so many humans living next to the cove, the water pouring off of the land was making many of the inhabitants ill. The lotion the swimmers put on their bodies made the water murky.
The inhabitants of the bay knew to get Puhi to come out of his hiding place they just needed to gnaw at the reef in a familiar pattern. This let him know that it was safe to come out from his protected lobe of coral. “It’s so nice to see you, Polly. What brings you to my little hide-away? And where are your pals?”
“I was hoping you could answer that for me. We eat here day in and day out. But no one is around. Is there something going on that I don’t know about? I’m sure my friends would have mentioned something yesterday.”
“I haven’t seen anyone this morning. But just before dawn, before the sun showed itself over Hualalai, I saw a boat come into the bay. I’ve heard that they capture our fish and take them with them. They lay in wait on top of the water and when young unsuspecting fish arrive to feed for breakfast, they swoop them up in huge nets and take them away forever.”
Polly was very upset at this news. She wouldn’t know what to do if her friends were not around to play with and eat together. She wondered if her being late had saved her from capture? Not being satisfied with Puhi’s answer, and being the optimist she was, she decided she should consult Penelope Pencil Urchin. She thanked Puhi and said good-bye. He quickly retreated into his hiding place just in time before a dart shot past them.
Polly always knew how to find Penelope, but recently the pencil urchins that created a path to her were gone. As she swam to Penelope’s, she suddenly was caught in a fog of gooey stuff. She could barely see and for a moment lost her way. She gained her bearing and soon found herself at Penelope’s little abode. “Hey Polly,” Penelope gurgled as she saw Polly approaching. “I see you made it through that sludge that keeps getting dumped in our bay. I tell you, some days it gets so thick in here I can’t even see the tips of my beautiful quills. Then that stuff that’s floating around gets on my quills and I have to do a lot of waving to shake it loose.
“I noticed there aren’t any pencil urchins leading the way to you. What has happened to them?”
“Do you see those humans wearing things around their necks. They used to be the urchins that lead your way. On another subject, you won’t believe what I saw today.”
“Does it have anything to do with my pals?”
“Yes, how did you know? I was coming to visit because I was hoping you would be able to tell me where my friends had gone. You seem to see everything around here. What did you see?”
“Well, this morning, just as the sun peaked over Hualalai, these two creatures threw their nets over the reef and all your friends were caught. They were dragged away. I saw Angela nipping at the net and Peter Parrot kept bumping against it trying to get free. Henry was so eager to escape that he nearly knocked himself silly ramming the bottom of the creature’s boat. Sam Sturgeon tugged at the net from the outside attempting to free those captured, but try as he might, he couldn’t keep up with the speedy boat as it dragged your friends into the distance. Hopefully, they won’t give up and will be able to work their way free.”
“I hope you are right. Do you know which direction they were taken?”
“I hope you don’t plan on following them! It could be dangerous for you. They would try to capture you, too. After all you are a colorful little parrot fish and you are just the kind of fish they go after. You would make a fine catch for them. I have heard they get a funny thing called money for our friends and those creatures value money more than our beautiful home. So be careful, I’d hate to lose you, too!”
“I’ll be careful. Maybe there is something I can do to help them. At least I have to try!”
Polly swam in the direction Penelope pointed. She knew it would be dangerous to leave the bay, but she had no choice. She had to find her friends. “If I swim fast enough, I might be able to find them.”
The other day, she had seen another little cove not too far away when she was chasing after one of Greenie’s cousins. It was loaded with boats just like the ones that Puhi and Penelope had described. Polly wondered what they were doing in the cove and why so many of the other fish had not been coming to the feeding reef lately. If these boats were taking fish out of the bays, it would make sense as to why.
As she approached the cove, she darted from one coral to another. She was determined to find her friends. How dare those creatures snare them in their nets?
As soon as she rounded the corner of the largest reef, she eyed a net floating on the surface of the water. The net was slowly sinking down on the reef, getting caught on the coral growing there. Had she not been careful, she could have been caught in that net and would not have been able to help her friends.
Polly darted from one lava rock to another being careful not to be seen. She could hear a cardinal singing in the background almost seeming to warn Polly of impending danger. Thoughts of what would have been her fate had she been early to the feeding bay swirled about in her head. Just as she was about to dart to the next reef, she spied a floating net stuffed full of fish bobbing beneath the boat. “I must get closer to see who is in the net,” Polly thought to herself.
She looked around to find a spot where she could get a closer look. She caught a glimpse of strange shiny things floating in the water. There were strings hanging down creating a maze. “No matter how hungry you may become, never eat one of those sea creatures. They bring certain death,” she could hear her mother’s warning as clearly as if her mother was right next to her. Keeping these words in mind, Polly scurried to a coral reef near the net. She darted in between those shiny things called hooks, just as she had darted in between the rays of light in her bay. Polly hid in the multicolored reef that camouflaged her. She had a perfect view of the net holding what appeared to be several schools of fish. She didn’t recognize anyone. There were too many fish to determine if any of them were her friends. Marni had very distinctive turquoise markings that made her the most beautiful parrotfish of the school. For a moment, Polly thought she caught a glimpse of Marni’s tail. But sadly it was not hers. Polly wasn’t at this spot long when she heard a very loud roaring sound. Then the net seemed to be pulled away. How helpless she felt as she stayed positioned behind a lobe of coral so as not to be seen. The water in this bay was so clear that every fish was at risk because there weren’t many a places to hide.
As the boat dragged away several schools of unsuspecting fish, Polly saw another net full of fish in the not too far off distance. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she spied the silver streak of Warnin’ Warren. He was also known as Streak for his unusual markings. “Could this be him?” she hoped. It would be risky to get close enough to see, because there was a great vastness between this reef and the one close to the captured fish. She had to act quickly. There was no time to waste. The boat could take off at any time and these fish would be dragged off like the others. Even if these were not her friends, she decided that she needed to do something to free these captive schools. She made a dash for the pink coral reef. She realized she needed to move faster than she had ever moved before. Polly wished she had the speed of Flash, Gordan’s nickname, because he could flit from one reef to another quicker than any other fish. “I have no choice- It’s now or never!” She surprised herself with the speed she gained.
Polly darted through dozens of hooks. “I’m going to make it,” she sighed just as a sharp pain hit her side. She flopped around trying to break loose of the hook imbedded in her side. “I’ll never get to them now. I have to break free!” A few more tugs and she was free. She didn’t have time to think about the pain in her side. She knew too well that the blood oozing from her side would alert those above if they saw it and another fear was the sneaky sharks that could smell blood a mile away. She moved through the water faster than she had ever moved in her life. Polly reached the reef and had a perfect view of the full net. The blood continued to color the surrounding water. If she stayed in one spot, the blood would give away her location. Just as she was giving up hope, she saw a lobe of coral that created an umbrella above her. The blood would be collected in its caverns and no one above would know anything.
In this spot, she had a better view of the captured fish. She had no time left. She decided to cut off a piece of coral and use it to cut the net. Polly gnawed furiously until she successfully worked a piece loose. The tool anchored firmly in her jaw, she darted for the net. Polly caught the attention of the captured fish as she sawed at the net. A few fish realized what she was doing and grabbed pieces of the net to make her job easier. Before she knew it, the captured fish were trying to squeeze through to freedom. Polly blocked the net. If all the fish escaped at once, the humans could tell and would put out another net. They had to make the net give the appearance of being full. Polly warned them, If you leave while the rest are in the net, they will be at risk of permanent capture.” Those that were freed from the net hovered below so as not to alarm the poachers. To help fool the poachers, a few of the released fish gathered chunks of coral to weigh down the net. The schools of fish grabbed the net and tugged at it helping to enlarge the hole. Polly was so busy working to free her fellow species that she didn’t see five familiar faces approaching her. In her fury, she totally forgot about her friends, so when she caught a glimpse of Warren’s shiny streak, she nearly fainted. All the fish were freed. Once the last fish cleared the net, the fish darted in every direction looking for cover.
No sooner had the last fish found protection in the reef that the rumbling noise made by the first boat was heard again. The waters around the reef vibrated and all the fish could see the coral laden net being dragged out of the bay.
As the boat cleared the bay, schools of fish surrounded Polly. She was their heroine. Her bravery was celebrated by each member of each school. Polly and her friends hurried back to their protected reef a little more aware of the dangers presented by their environment.
Being late was still a problem for Polly. But after today, her friends never teased her again for her tardiness.
You can do your part to help preserve Polly’s habitat:
- Avoid walking on the reef where coral and algae grow. They provide food for sea life. Stay on top of the water. If you don’t feel safe, bring along a flotation device.
- Wash off excess lotions before going into the bays. Suntan oils pollute the water and break down the vegetation.
- Do not buy exotic fish for your fish tank that are obtained by poachers.
- Use a carwash instead of washing your own car. The runoff from detergents are dangerous for underwater life.
- Only fish for food you are going to eat. Fishing for sport diminishes the numbers needlessly.
- Place trash in trash cans.
- Dispose of cigarette butts in trash receptacles.
- Do not grab or touch fish or turtles. They are not immune to our diseases. Respect their need to be left alone.
- Use restrooms. Human waste degrades the reef.
- Don’t purchase souvenirs that are made from anything in the bays. Each living organism in the bay helps another. The shells break down and become material for fish to use to make new shells. If shells are removed, it upsets the balance and affects another sea creature.
- Don’t buy tropical fish taken from their natural habitat.
- Even what looks like sand in a bay could really be new coral forming to create new reefs. Standing on it will kill the new growth.
Working together we can continue to enjoy watching the underwater world and assure that generations of snorkelers and divers can marvel at the miracle of the many species of fish that inhabit the waters of Hawaii.