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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.

Dive Training Blogs

Diving Tips… a new blog series from Duttons Divers

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Not a UK diver or wanting to learn more about the UK waters? We have you covered! Each month we will be writing tips for experiencing the beautiful waters off our coast and in-land. The year of COVID drove us to a few seasons in the UK – and hopefully this persuaded more of you to jump in the waters and see what the UK has to offer. For those of you that are yet to be struck by the UK dive bug, hopefully this will give you some incentive to do so. We are a little biased… admittedly!

So, what do we know about diving to give you the tips in the first place? Well… Duttons Divers have been around for the past 8 years, with 2 of these as a freelance instructor, the further 5 at Vivian Quarry and the previous year saw our expansion of our business, adding another centre into the mix at Hafan Marina Dive Centre too! We teach 365 days of the year… both of our dive schools are in the UK… we jump into quarries as well as the sea, and run all levels of courses from beginner to instructor. We have 15 divers within our staff team, and are headed up by Course Director, Clare Dutton…. There’s a fair bit of knowledge (hopefully) between us all!

Our tips and tricks will cover topics such as cold water diving, boat diving, navigating in low visibility, choosing the right equipment for the UK, taking your IDC in the UK… and a whole other load of varied topics. We are also open to anything that you would like covering too with a question and answer selected for each write up, so please send them into our email account or FB messenger and we will select one for each month to answer!

We will kick the topics off for you though.. our first will be… cold water diving! Check it out next month!


Find out more at www.duttonsdivers.com

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Gear Reviews

Gear Review: SurfEars 3.0

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Back in 2019 I was at a really low ebb. I had just been told that I could not dive anymore due to recurrent ear infections causing perforations that eventually would lead to permanent damage. I got home from the hospital, slumped on the sofa, and the phone rang. It was Steve Warren from INON UK and I told him my woes. Don’t give up yet, he told me, I think I have just the people to help – SurfEars.

I tried to argue that wearing ear plugs whilst diving was not safe. What about equalization? But he stopped me in my tracks and said that these would work, he had tried them already on several dives. Could this be the answer that would save my diving career and allow me to continue my passion? Well the short answer is yes!

I wrote a review back then which you can read here: https://www.scubaverse.com/gear-review-surfears/

However, I am not sure that I stressed enough at the time that these earplugs saved me. They allowed me to dive, swim and snorkel in the ocean, and I have not had an ear infection since.

Recently the team at SurfEars sent me the latest design – SurfEars 3.0 – to try out. The earplugs come in a really handy pod that I clip to my BCD so that I do not forget them. They come with a range of plug sizes so you can customise them for a perfect fit. The ‘wing’ tucks into your ear, holding the earplug securely, so you feel they will be secure even when rolling or striding off the boat into the water. You can even use them even when putting on a hood in cold water.

The SurfEars allow you to still be able to hear clearly, as they allow air and sound to travel through, and just prevent water ingress, so safety in hearing instructions from the boat or your buddy is not compromised.

I find that wearing them has not only completely stopped any ear infections, but also makes equalization easier too. They are so comfortable that I never really notice that they are in.

If you suffer from ear infections from diving, then do give these a try. They are the first thing on my packing list now!

For more information visit https://surfears.com/

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