In The Name of Coral

What do a pig hunter and an oceanographer have in common?

By Kyle Thiermann

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 11.01.48 AM

On more than one occasion, I’ve referred to my friend Jamie as the smartest person I know. Dr. Jamison Gove, as I call him when I’m trying to sound like I have friends in high places, has the body of a swimmer and a doctorate in oceanography. He drives a Prius and enjoys listening to podcasts on his daily commute to work as an oceanographer for NOAA studying coral reefs. He is also my favorite person to grab a Modelo with at Luibueno’s Mexican Restaurant when I visit Oahu.

Justin Lee is a pig hunter from the Big Island. Justin drives a lifted pickup truck, the bed of which is usually inhabited by a bloody wild boar. When Justin talks about hunting he lights up like a little kid who just stood up on a wave for the first time. Aspects of the craft that most of us are oblivious to, like staying downwind from the animal so they can’t smell you, is second-nature to him.

Until last summer, Jamie and Justin did not know each other. They were on different islands but may as well have been on different planets. As a filmmaker, I’ve always been attracted to stories that unite seemingly disconnected groups around a common cause. In this case, the cause would be the restoration of coral reefs.

Back at Luibueno’s, between mouthfuls of beans and guacamole, Jamie explained to me that when it comes to coral, you can’t point your finger at only one culprit. The warming of the oceans is significant, but a coral ecosystem is a lot like the human body: you can be in a room with someone who has the flu, but if you have a strong immune system, you’ll likely be fine. But if you are eating junk food and skipping your workouts, there’s a higher chance that your immune system will be compromised and you’ll come down with a symptom.

Pigs are to reefs what junk food is to your body. Here’s how it works: coral needs clear water to grow. Wild pigs are rototillers with hooves and breed like rabbits. They dig up vegetation in sensitive watersheds, leaving behind loose soil. When it rains, sediment flows into the ocean and blankets the coral, and the reef can’t get enough sunlight through the murky water to survive.

Jamie explained that hunters working to keep pig populations under control are hugely important for coral reef health.

This conversation at Luibueno’s would be the inception of my latest mini-documentary for Seeker Stories—a story that would take me on a coral surveying voyage with Jamie, and on my first pig hunt with Justin. Justin is a spearfisherman as well as hunter and was well aware of the damage that pigs can have on coral. When Jamie and Justin met, they had lots to talk about.


Although pig hunters and coral scientists don’t have any formal collaborations under way in Hawaii, it was a hopeful experience to see an oceanographer and a hunter unite around a common cause. Although we might drive different cars and come from different backgrounds, we are all a part of the natural world and can each help in our own way.


Check out the full video at



Leave a Comment