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Marine Life & Conservation

Dumping our waste at Sea

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No matter where you are in the world, if you are into diving then it is always a great pleasure to get wet and look for wildlife or perhaps a new wreck. But sometimes the whole experience can be ruined by other people’s garbage. You can see it floating on the surface or just hanging in mid water trying to decide whether to up or go down. And there on the sea bed is more rubbish. Tyres, car batteries, prams, plastic in all shapes and sizes… the list goes on. Occasionally you put what you can in your pocket and bring it up for disposal into a convenient bin. Most times it just gets left there to become a permanent fixture of the environment or worse, becomes entwined into the food chain. Often we see animals that are caught up in garbage or have rusty fishing hooks caught in their bodies.

Do you ever wish someone would clear it all up? Well, there is a man who went a step further than just wishing. His name is Captain Donald Voss, he’s based on the east coast of Florida and runs the Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc., operating through funding from organizations such as NOAA, South Florida Water Management District, West Marine, Sebastian Inlet District and FPAT.

Jeff: I wrote to Don and asked him exactly what it was he did. 

Don:  We use volunteers to address the massive issue of marine debris, dumping, littering and just plain conservation of our natural resources for the use and entertainment of future generations. For water-based operations, we have a database of 400+ volunteers with boats, time and/or diving equipment who give of themselves to remove this mess.  For land-based operations, we have a growing core group of about 150 kayakers and SUP’ers who come out and swarm the islands and our boats assist them with the removal and transporting of the debris.  Our volunteers do this because I have asked them to help and we throw a pretty cool party afterward to thank them. Many of our crew are formerly Navy SEALS and just old divers who find a sense of accomplishment from giving back. Younger people like the enthusiasm I offer.  Most come because our group is allowed to dive places no diver has been since the ’70’s.  I point out you get to second base with nature when you dive our cleanup events.  I view myself as sort of a Pied Piper.

Jeff: Why do you do this?

Don:  In 1969, I was blown up in Vietnam and told I would lose my legs.  A few days later, the doctors decided my legs were of no harm to my survival and set the broken bones.  After a year of traction and rest, I was released and sent home to decide if I was going to be a crutches guy or a wheelchair guy. About the same time, a horse broke his leg in the Kentucky Derby.  Rather than shoot him, they tried a new technique of placing the horse in a sling into a pool and allow him to swim and mend his leg, gravity-free and then release him out to stud.  Upon hearing this, I decided this was exactly what I wanted…. to be placed out as a stud :).  I moved to the Florida Keys and began swimming, then snorkelling and finally diving.  I regained my strength and now I walk and dive and do all things with little restrictions from my 100% disability.  I firmly believe I owe my life to the water and I therefore use this platform pay-back.  I left the keys and returned to Ohio where I raised my kids and ran a huge not-for-profit recycling centre and also travelled the world diving. It did not matter where I was, I was always picking up debris and bringing it back to the boat for proper disposal.  I now have over 14,000 dives.  Eventually, when I retired and moved to Ft Pierce, I was asked to use my underwater photographic skills to determine if there was debris in the Sebastian Inlet.  I went in and looked around and formed this company.  The rest is history.

Jeff: How long have you been doing this?

Don:  I have been a conservationist and environmentalist my whole life. We formed our debris removal project in June of 2001 and used several base groups as sponsors for the first 3 years, but the in-fighting and greed caused them to split up. We, the divers that actually did the work, split free and formed what is now MCII.  So, we say 12 years.

Jeff:  Obviously you have noticed a change in the local environment where you have been cleaning up, but have you noticed any change in local attitudes to the disposal of waste?

Don:  It took until 2008 for the locals to really sit up and take notice. Up until then, we just operated in the Sebastian Inlet where we had received permission to dive. For those early years, people threw bottles at us while we dove and cursed us thinking we were stealing lobsters.  We were able to muster local news crews, marine patrols and fire rescue units to assist and used our efforts as a mock training and rescue session and these events melded well together.  We were crushed by three hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 and besides the overwhelming set back this caused, this really opened things up.  FEMA and governmental agencies were all over the area and minds opened.  There were (are) over 200 missing boats, several missing marinas and loads of missing houses and garages.  I was lucky enough to gain favour with many mayors, especially Bob Benton of Ft Pierce and some high ranking officials of FEMA and this allowed much needed exposure.  In 2009, assisted by a super smart Board member we applied for a NOAA Marine Debris and Habitat Restoration grant and received the only diver-driven grant of the 8 selected that year. With that first $200,000, MCII, has expanded and operates 200 days a year (+/- weather permitting) covering all the waters, inlets, islands and shoreline in a 90+ mile area covering four counties. We have parlayed our first grant and received numerous others, boosting our equipment, supplies, and public outreach to this larger area.  For our efforts, Loggerhead Marine Life Centre’s Blue Friends, selected me as Ambassador of the Year for our work saving turtles….they are the premiere turtle rescue hospital in America.  In 2012, I was also selected as Oceana’s International Ocean Hero.  Our town, Ft Pierce, won the Toyota/Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation in 2012.  Our waters here have cleaned up so well, that the County has reopened their once massive oyster industry and we are having our 2nd Annual Oyster fest in April.  I have spoken to over 11,000 children over the last three years and initiated the start-up of 7 other groups such as MCII around the state.  I state in my presentations that, “in 2001, I was viewed as a Carpetbagger from Ohio coming here to tell ya’ll how to deal with garbage.  Now I am more like a Chea pet and am growing on you.” We are not without our detractors, but we continue to remove huge amounts of debris with each event and are now well past the 350,000 pound mark. MCII has over 28 Proclamations and dozens of letters of support from POTUS, former Presidents, Governors, congress people, Mayors, Commissioners and civil leaders.  Our efforts are not only being felt, they are being seen.  Removal of debris reduces the back-log of silt and allows it to flow naturally.  When it becomes trapped in debris, it breaks free during storms or high winds and clouds the waters, falls upon sea grasses and chokes them out.  Our water is noticeably clear and testing far better than waters not addressing debris issues. We now are received as celebrities and school kids flock to see us and become Water Warriors.

Jeff:  What kind of people come on the Debris removal sessions? What age groups are they?

Don:  All people come to our events.  I have a blind diver, I have several disabled divers, I have kids from 16 to adults over 70.  Our events aren’t just for divers. We use captains, boats, deck hands, schleppers, shore “bubble watchers”, communications teams, kayakers, SUP’ers, jet skiers, we transport people to islands to walk and collect. We have sorters, weighers, party set-up help, people to give presentations, gather supplies, and send out press releases and dozens of other cool jobs.  We have every kind of person there is and we are always looking to engage more…mainly kids.  Kids will grab this concept and work hard to make it right.

Jeff:  What happens to all the waste?

Don:  This is the biggest part of what we do.  We separate the debris into groupings:  bottles and cans; plastics; fishing line and nets; fishing hardware; anchors, chain and rope; construction debris; tires and batteries; and misc.  We weigh it. We separate out organics and living critters… we release them. We remove the cool encrusted fishing poles and reels and set them aside along with some debris we use for displays and presentations. We then open our trash for the public to pick through.  Local fishing die-hards go for lead and lures, dive shops pick the lead out, others line up for anchors, chain and rope, lots of people grab bottles and cans and campers take the wood and burnables.  What we have left we dispose of properly.  We have great success reducing the debris down over 60%.  When local plastics recyclers are geared up, we do far better at reduction.

Jeff:  Are there any laws in place to stop future waste disposal? Are they enforced if there are?

Don: There are laws and they do not enforce them.  Cruise ships and cargo ships are the worst.  We need to catch them and then sue them to get any results.

There are many large businesses who could be Pro-active and support the litter removal caused by their products, but not so much. You would think environmental and other similar agencies would be falling over themselves heralding our efforts and results, but, not so much.  We have received some funding from SFWMD, but hardly any other support or recognition. However, local municipalities have become very strong supporters and advocates.  They have issued restrictions on plastic throw away service ware at outdoor events and put in-place biodegradable product usage to replace them.  We have pressed to have solid lids on all trash can to stop the darned birds from littering.  We have engaged the local marine patrols to “place a moratorium” of fines for littering on Spoil Islands and make announcements of same while we set-up our cleanup operations and engage the public out there.  As they weren’t fining them anyway, this is easy and the net gain should be we can slow down or stop some of this obvious littering. We are engaging law enforcement to enforce the laws that exist. We are hopeful.  Using the “baby steps” approach, and not finger-pointing at boaters, fisher people, campers and water enthusiasts, we have gained some gradual support.  Our divers, our logo flags and T-shirts have a trending value and Captain Don is always out there getting recognition and representing the efforts.  This has helped buoy the efforts.

Jeff:  Do you know if other groups have seen what you do and have taken up the initiative?

Don:  Yes, many groups have popped up as a result and we consult with coastal communities all the time.  Sea Angles, Ocean Hour, Loggerhead Blue Friends, Ocean Rehab, REEF, Masked Marlins, Surfriders, and numerous dive shops and local groups are much more active now they are supported and accepted.  Many volunteer groups have stepped up and conduct beach cleanups on a weekly or monthly basis. We have many groups we supply with mesh collection bags that are donated to us. We are thrilled at the movement and acceptance of what should be just plain commonsense. The message is clear, our photos and displays are harsh, bold, frightening and stark.  We are killing what was left to us to protect. Fish and birds eat debris and it kills them and eventually, it will poison us when we eat those critters.  Our motto:  “Out of site doesn’t make it right” says it all.

Further details about Capt Don and the MCII can be found at http://www.marinecleanupinitiativeinc.org/

(Next month we are looking at the Plastic Oceans project http://www.plasticoceans.net/the-documentary/)

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

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Diving with Frogfish in Costa Rica: A Hidden Gem Underwater

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In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica, there’s a peculiar creature that often goes unnoticed but holds a special place in the hearts of divers: the frogfish. This enigmatic and somewhat odd-looking species is a master of camouflage and a marvel of marine life. Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is not just a dive; it’s an adventurous treasure hunt that rewards the patient and observant with unforgettable encounters. Let’s dive into the world of frogfish and discover what makes these creatures so fascinating and where you can find them in Costa Rica.

The Mystique of Frogfish

Frogfish belong to the family Antennariidae, a group of marine fish known for their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, red, green, black, and white, and they often have unique spots and textures that mimic the coral and sponges around them. This camouflage isn’t just for show; it’s a critical survival tactic that helps them ambush prey and avoid predators.

One of the most remarkable features of the frogfish is its modified dorsal fin, which has evolved into a luring appendage called an esca. The frogfish uses this esca to mimic prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, enticing unsuspecting victims close enough to be engulfed by its surprisingly large mouth in a fraction of a second. This method of hunting is a fascinating spectacle that few divers forget once witnessed.

Where to Find Frogfish in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is dotted with dive sites that offer the chance to encounter these intriguing creatures. Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos), Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas), and the area around the Gulf of Papagayo are renowned for their rich marine life, including frogfish. These sites vary in depth and conditions, catering to both novice and experienced divers.

The key to spotting frogfish is to dive with a knowledgeable guide who can point out these master camouflagers hiding in plain sight. They’re often found perched on rocky outcroppings, nestled within coral, or even hiding among debris, perfectly mimicking their surroundings.

frogfish

Diving Tips for Spotting Frogfish

Go Slow: The secret to spotting frogfish is to move slowly and scan carefully. Their camouflage is so effective that they can be right in front of you without being noticed.

Look for Details: Pay attention to the small details. A slightly different texture or an out-of-place color can be the clue you need.

Dive with Local Experts: Local dive guides have an eagle eye for spotting wildlife, including frogfish. Their expertise can significantly increase your chances of an encounter.

Practice Buoyancy Control: Good buoyancy control is essential not just for safety and coral preservation but also for getting a closer look without disturbing these delicate creatures.

Be Patient: Patience is key. Frogfish aren’t known for their speed, and sometimes staying in one spot and observing can yield the best sightings.

Conservation and Respect

While the excitement of spotting a frogfish can be thrilling, it’s crucial to approach all marine life with respect and care. Maintain a safe distance, resist the urge to touch or provoke, and take only photos, leaving behind nothing but bubbles. Remember, the health of the reef and its inhabitants ensures future divers can enjoy these incredible encounters as much as you do.

Join the Adventure

Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is just one of the many underwater adventures that await in this biodiverse paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or taking your first plunge, the waters here offer an unparalleled experience filled with wonders at every turn. Beyond the thrill of the hunt for frogfish, you’ll be treated to a world teeming with incredible marine life, majestic rays, playful dolphins, and so much more.

So, gear up, dive in, and let the mysteries of Costa Rica’s underwater realm unfold before your eyes. With every dive, you’re not just exploring the ocean; you’re embarking on an adventure that highlights the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our marine ecosystems. And who knows? Your next dive might just be the one where you come face-to-face with the elusive and captivating frogfish. Join us at Rocket Frog Divers for the dive of a lifetime, where the marvels of the ocean are waiting to be discovered.

About the Author: Jonathan Rowe

Are you looking to make a splash online? As a seasoned diver and digital marketer, I specialize in crafting bespoke websites and innovative marketing strategies for dive shops worldwide. With my expertise, your business will not only be seen but also remembered.

From deep-sea to digital depths, I navigate the complex waters of web development and online marketing, ensuring your dive shop stands out in the vast ocean of the internet. Contact Scuba Dive Marketing for more information.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida

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Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club, Explore.org, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.

The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.

The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”

The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on Explore.org and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at ManaTV.org.

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Photo: www.avalon.red

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