Sep 21, 2009

Sea trees?

A few weeks ago we were doing some offshore research, filming some natural and artificial reefs with the ROV, and the Captain and I had an interesting conversation on the way back into port.

“I know a good spot for you guys to film some natural bottom with the ROV.”

“Oh yeah? What is it?”



“Yeah, trees.”

“Like some logs that were dumped by someone?”

“Nah, these are trees that are kinda growing out of the ground on the bottom.”


Last week, we decided to take a look....and he wasn't joking. I’ve never seen anything like it. Tree stumps, branches, and roots forming a dense, interwoven mat on the seafloor. What?!

It's believed that this area is newly uncovered, and this buried “forest” has apparently been unnoticed until recently. I flew the ROV up to the tree/root ledge and sure enough it looked like wood. There was a relatively large reef fish community running along the ledge for as far as I could see. I saw schools of snapper and tomtate swirling around the submersible as we inspected the structure and ran some transects. We also ran into some grouper, numerous chromis and damselfish species, and a blacktip shark being followed by 4 or 5 cobia. Obviously, it’s a natural reef providing habitat for reef fish species. And this isn't the only spot in the vicinity. There are other pockets of “sea forest” nearby, and some with higher densities of tree stumps. But where did it all come from? Is it some ancient forest that never fully decomposed from being buried for so long? Is it the world's weirdest and most obscure practical joke? I’m really curious. I think the next time we check this area out we’ll take some wood samples with the ROV grabber. Should be interesting, I’ll keep you updated.

Sep 12, 2009

Kiwis and Micky Dees

in all its glory
The Filet-o-Fish sandwich. Regrettably, I’ve never had one. I just can’t bring myself to order it. Maybe it’s because of the shape of the fish "filet". A square puck of deep fried mystery isn’t too appetizing to me. Same thing with the McRib, it’s shaped like it has ribs in it, but where…I digress.

I’ve had some friends of mine say it’s pretty good for a fast food fish sandwich. Well, if you’re curious about the ambiguous square fish, wonder no more. The majestic filet-o-fish fish is what the New Zealanders call: The hoki (or the blue grenadier).

Doesn’t look square to me.

At one time, McDonalds used around 15 million pounds of it annually. It’s not the most attractive fish in the sea, but it tastes great. White, flaky, and slightly sweet. (for another fugly sea treat, read the ugliest, tastiest fish in the ocean). The hoki lives in the deep murky waters off of New Zealand, where it is sought after by a large commercial fishing industry. The species had been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a well managed and sustainable fishery back in 2001.

In recent years, New Zealand had cut back the allowable catch of hoki from a quarter of a million tons back to 100,000 tons. This suggests that this fishery is hardly sustainable. The numerous factory trawlers scoop up the dense aggregations of this fish pretty easily, with the side effects of ecosystem damage and unsustainable bycatch.

The hoki is relatively long lived for a fish at about 25 years. About my age. If you hammer the population of a long lived species down enough, it takes that many years to bring it back. For example, the orange roughy, which is also found in this area was heavily harvested for many years. They can live to be older than your grandmother... over a hundred years, with one that was reported to be 149 years old. That fish was swimming around before the civil war. Long lived fish species tend to be resistant but not very resilient to heavy fishing.

Sounds like there is a need for a new management plan. Meanwhile, McDonalds hasn’t been loving it. They’ve made the switch from Hoki to some other white fish. My guess is Pollock. Although, New Zealand is one of the more innovative countries in the world when it comes to fishery management, it looks like the Hoki fishery may not be a poster child of sustainability anymore.
NY Times article, here.

Sep 8, 2009

Carnival of the Blue

The Saipan Blog is hosting Carnival of the Blue XXVIII. 28, I know, it makes my brain hurt too. This monthly blog carnival covers the best of ocean related blogging from the internets.

You should check it out. There are some great ocean blog posts from last month just waiting to be read by your sexy little ocean lover, you.