May 16, 2009

She's going down!

I don't know if you guys have heard of this, but the city of Key West is about to intentionally sink the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg as an artificial reef at the end of May. The ship had been traded between the navy and army back in the 40's and 50's as a transport ship, later it was given its final duties as a missile range instrumentation ship in the 60's. The ship was then retired in 1983, so it's been a rust pile ever since. Heres a picture of it when it looked a little newer.

Yeah, never thought I'd be on a boat. It's a big blue watery road (yeah)
-T Pain

Apparently a group of big wigs in the city of Key West bought the vessel off the auction block up in Virginia. And a few weeks ago, they sailed the ship down the coast to its final home in Key West.

Why do people want more reef material when they are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful, productive, natural coral reefs? My guess is that they noticed the economy boost in Pensacola, FL after the mothballed aircraft carrier, USS Oriskany was sunk as an artificial reef 2 years ago. They also mentioned that the ship would pull the recreational divers away from the natural coral reefs, reducing further incidental damage to the reefs. But something tells me its more about the dolla dolla bills from diving tourism.

Here's a video of the sinking of the Oriskany:

I love how they make it so unbashedly patriotic. U-S-A! U-S-A!

When they prepared the Oriskany before it was sunk, they stripped out the ship and removed most of the toxic substances, including the bulkhead insulation that contained PCBs. The thousands of miles of wiring in the ship also contained hundreds of pounds of PCBs, but it was too costly to remove.

Hi guys! I give you dermal and ocular lesions, irregular menstrual cycles, fatigue, headache, cough, unusual skin sores, and a lowered immune response.

Sure there are good things that come from creating artificial reefs from retired military ships: increasing diving revenue, providing habitat for fish species (whether it's productive habitat or not, thats another story), and creating jobs. But there are as many problems as there are benefits: leaching toxins or other contaminents of concern, shifting or destructive debris from hurricanes, displacement of marine species, and disruption of migratory patterns.

The navy is looking to reduce its inactive fleet, and it costs less to sink the ships rather than scrap them. I think we're going to see more and more military ships finding their way to the bottom of the ocean, and I'm convinced that the Navy has found its new junkyard.

cool article with some pics of spectacular shipwrecks:

May 11, 2009

What I do.

I'm really not sure what direction I'm going with this blog, but I thought I'd hit on some interesting fish topics, things/hobbies going on in my life, science nerd ramblings, and some other junk.

For starters, I live in Pensacola, FL with my lovely wife and two dogs.

Currently, I'm working as a fisheries research technician at the University of West Florida fisheries lab. I just finished my masters thesis, and I couldn't find a my advisor offered me a tech job for the next year. And the best thing is that not only do I get paid a little more, I keep getting to do what I do.

For the past couple of years as a grad student, I've studied artificial reefs off the coast of Florida. We video the fish communities on the reefs with an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle). It's basically an underwater camera with thrusters on it. Here's the one we use:

It's a VideoRay Pro III model, and its about the size of the printer sitting on your desk. The little sub has a color camera up front, a black and white camera in the back, two horizontal thrusters, one vertical thruster, and a missile launcher. Here is some footage taken of some artificial reef modules that were deployed off of Pensacola, FL:

Sorry about the piloting skills, I was throwing back some budweisers. Tons of fish, right? Its my job to identify and count them all.

Another part of the artificial reef study was to map out the movements of reef fish. So we conducted a fish tagging study. I used internal anchor tags that we implant in the side of the fish that look like this:

Here's a tagged red grouper caught on a reef very similar to the video above.

So, the fish get tagged, swim away, and then get caught by fishermen who call the phone number on the tag to claim a small reward. As long as they give me the location of where the fish was caught and the coordinates of the secret rebel base, I send them a check for 10 bucks.

There's a tidbit of my job, I do some other super nerdy stuff in the lab...but that's not very interesting to post here, plus I do some amateur wrestling on the weekends.


May 8, 2009

Don't flush your pet down the toilet, kids.

ok, so you're moving away and you're not quite sure what to do with the aquarium fish.
"What do we do with Spartacus?"
"I don't know, flush him."
"Nah man, I'll let him go in the bay out back."

Kirk Douglas will CUT you.

So it turns out that Spartacus broke free of his four walled, algae riddled prison and into a bay...which leads to the ocean. And Spartacus doesn't happen to be from Miami, his natural home was in the Pacific. So if you have enough animals to break free into the open and get freaky with each other, then you have an exotic species outbreak. That's whats going down in South Florida, the Carribean and up the east coast with all sorts of species, from Burmese pythons to lionfish (Which is what Spartacus happens to be).

I get a million friggin emails a day about this guy. "Lionfish spotted in the Dominican Republic", "Diver observes lionfish on a reef in the Bahamas", "Lionfish found in my pants". People are discovering them everywhere. So it also turns out that lionfish are really good at eating stuff, and there's not too many predators out there that can eat them. So basically, they're taking advantage of the situation and multiplying...exponentially. They're wrecking whole reef ecosystems. Lionfish outcompete grouper and snapper by eating all of their prey. The favorite snack of the lionfish? Grouper and snapper young. So, everyone is panicking on how to get rid of them. The only bright idea was to go out and physically catch the lionfish. Teams of divers have been sent out to "collect" lionfish on reefs, stuffing them into bags as they swim along. Sounds like a drop in the bucket to me.

Not only do lionfish look like they had an unfortunate accident with a paper shredder, they're venomous. In fact, the most venomous fish on the ocean floor. word.

I'm in ur reef, killin ur dudes

Wikipedia entry on lionfish stings:

If a human is envenomed, that person will experience extreme pain, and possibly headaches, vomiting, and breathing difficulties
I'm pretty sure that if you get stung by a lionfish and don't die, you're going to want to.

The lionfish is one of thousands of different animals in the pet trade that end up back out in the wild where they aren't endemic to. They find a niche, they outcompete, and they spread like wildfire.

But the ultimate question about the lionfish is...Do they taste good?