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Scuba divers ‘avert ecological disaster’ by removing invasive species from Florida waters

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Two Florida scuba divers who were on a dive beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge during the Thanksgiving holiday spotted a bright yellow fish approximately four inches long that they had never seen before.

Although some divers might have just admired it, taken a photo and kept on swimming, Deb Devers and Lureen Ferretti reported it to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) — a Key Largo-based non-profit organization that serves as a regional clearinghouse for control of exotic marine fish species.

“They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew it was something that doesn’t belong here,” said Las Akins, director of special projects for REEF.

Akins said their instincts were correct: the fish was a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and the first of its kind documented in Florida waters. Devers kept track of the fish, and last month, she and Akins captured it alive using hand nets. It was sent to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada to be displayed as an educational tool on the hazards of invasive species.

Akins said the removal might have averted an ecological disaster similar to the spread of lionfish — another Indo-Pacific invader now well-established in the Western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Lionfish — first sighted off Dania Beach in 1985 and believed to be an abandoned aquarium pet — have been blamed for wiping some local reef systems clean of native tropical fish.

“We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” said Akins. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”

According to REEF, taking out the surgeonfish was the third successful preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters.

In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. Akins said none of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” Akins said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”

Releasing non-native fish into Florida waters not only is harmful, but also illegal. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages pet owners who need to find new homes for their fish or other exotic animals to call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 1-888-IveGot1.

Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting at reef.org.

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Mares & SSI launch new promotion

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SSI expands financial support to SSI Members worldwide. 

2020 has been an unusual and challenging year for the entire world, especially the diving and travel industry!  To weather the crisis, SSI immediately jumped into action to help Training Centers and Professionals around the world.  

In response to COVID-19, SSI launched the No Water, No Problem Campaign, put Final Exams online, and held hundreds of Webinars to train Professionals on how to use distance learning to teach the dry Specialties online. The FREE SCIENCE OF DIVING promotion resulted in SSI Training Centers worldwide register over 50,000 FREE DIGITAL KITS, funding more than $3.5 MILLION IN RETAIL VALUE. Additionally, SSI introduced an aggressive DOUBLE PRO REWARDS incentive to help SSI Professionals compensate 2020 Renewal Fees and reduce those for 2021. Currently, the WE WANT YOU Crossover promotion aims to fill the industry need for instructors and strengthen the entire SSI Professional community.

Now, in conjunction with Mares, SSI is launching the GO DIVING – PROTECT YOURSELF. OWN EQUIPMENT Promotion, which includes a FREE SSI EQUIPMENT TECHNIQUES DIGITAL KIT. This new campaign strives to motivate divers worldwide to go diving and buy equipment. Look for more information on this next retail support campaign within the next few days.

“These are just a few examples of how we have supported and are continuing to support our Training Centers, Professionals, and divers worldwide. To provide even more economic security and help in business recovery, WE WILL NOT INCREASE PRICES FOR 2021. While travel was restricted and some key resort areas completely locked down, SSI mainly focused on supporting domestic markets with retail-driven incentives. Now, in this next re-opening phase, we need to shift gear and assist resort markets that have no local diving community and are 100% dependent on the traveling diver. Therefore, SSI will grant certain special conditions and delayed payment options to specific resort markets which have been locked down for longer than six months or suffered from closed borders,” stated Guido Waetzig, SSI CEO.

Guido Waetzig, SSI CEO, explains further, “To financially support these needed investments which directly benefit SSI Members and to protect the health of our valuable members and staff, we will forego all 2021 Trade Shows over the next 12 months. Despite international uncertainty, every time we experience one of these events, the entire SSI Network emerges stronger and more resilient. Be assured, SSI is your trustful partner within the Diving Industry!”

For more information about SSI visit their website by clicking here.

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Photo Gallery: Shark Diving in The Bahamas

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In our Gallery feature, we let the photos tell the story… Each Gallery showcases a selection of outstanding images on a chosen theme, taken by our Underwater Photography Editor Nick and Deputy Editor Caroline of Frogfish Photography. This time they look at Shark Diving in The Bahamas.


The Bahamas offers some of the very finest shark diving experiences in the world. The islands have protected sharks in their waters creating one of the first Shark Sanctuaries in the world. Several species of shark can be seen and photographed, with each island offering a different type of shark diving, making this destination the perfect place for a multi-island, multi-shark trip of a lifetime.

Great Hammerhead Shark diving in Bimini

Bull Sharks in Bimini

Tiger Shark off Grand Bahama

Oceanic Whitetip Shark off Cat Island

Nurse Shark off Abaco

Caribbean Reef Sharks off New Providence

Lemon Sharks off Grand Bahama

For more images from The Bahamas and around the world, visit the Frogfish Photography website by clicking here.

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