Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scuba Diving in Fort Pierce Inlet + LIONFISH!

"Ghost Fishing" is what they call it when lost or discarded fishing gear continues capturing and killing marine life. It's a big problem where I went to grad school on Chesapeake Bay, where thousands of stray crab traps litter the mud bottom.

Here in Fort Pierce, Florida, the local scuba shop organizes special dives where volunteers help clean up the derelict recreational fishing gear and other trash in Ft. Pierce inlet near the popular fishing jetty. They have to do the dives right at slack tide because the current honks through the inlet at high speed all other times. They also have to get city police to temporarily shut down fishing on the inlet side of the jetty, which is a major achievement, since there are usually dozens of lines in the water along the jetty at all hours of the day and night.

I have mixed feelings about recreational fishing. I like it because it gets people out from in front of their televisions and interacting with nature, which I reckon is a prerequisite for knowing and caring about nature. Fishing as a kid certainly played a big role in developing my interest in marine biology. But fishing also puts a strain on the environment by killing a lot of fish (even the ones that are released often die later), burning a lot of boat fuel, and introducing a lot of non-biodegradable plastic trash into the water, which can kill other animals.

Anyway, today my buddy Scott and I joined one of the clean-up dives. It was not a totally selfless act, because we really wanted to see what was down in the deep mysterious inlet where no one normally dives. What was down there was a shit-ton of fishing line and other trash. Way too much to even make a dent in with our pick-up. You would pull on one line, and realize it was connected to 100 others in a web of monofilament nastiness spreading across the seafloor. I filmed a little bit of the clean-up with my GoPro camera, but then I got tired of the awkward buoyancy of wearing a padded helmet underwater, and I figured the GoPro was fogged up anyway (it was), so I put it back on the boat.

Fort Pierce Inlet Scuba Cleanup from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Of course, as soon as I put the camera back, Scott led me on a cool underwater exploring trip to the deeper part of the inlet where a really cool rock ledge drops off to 40+ feet depth. The rock is totally covered with filter-feeding invertebrates like sponges, sea-squirts, feather-duster-worms, and Oculina corals. I think the strong tides and the plankton-rich lagoon water fuel the abundant growth of sessile invertebrates. There were also lots of big sheepshead fish, plus wrasses, blennies, spiny lobsters, and snook. We even saw (gasp) LIONFISH, the beautiful, deadly, non-native species that was recently introduced to the Atlantic from the Indo-Pacific and is now screwing up the Atlantic ecosystems by eating all the smaller fishes and being inedible to all the bigger fishes.

My friend Jean is an aspiring TV news reporter who put together this cool video on the lionfish invasion...

Lionfish Invasion from Jean Montgomery on Vimeo.


am said...

Great video I liked it(obviously). Did you dispatch the lionfish you saw? We went back to Andros (South Andros, this time) and managed to rid the area of a couple of dozen of the beautiful creatures. I to have seen the fisher's evidence at any fishing spot I have dived - great areas for retrieving abandoned anchors. I always had a minor fear of becoming entangled in the myriad of lines, lures, etc. Good luck on your future clean up efforts.

James Douglass said...

Hey Al,

Yeah, some of the other clean-up divers scored some relatively new anchors and lures.

I wished I had some rotenone or a tiny speargun for the lionfish, but unfortunately I had no way to dispatch them.


Mr Samir said...
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