In fact we believe that what is dying is the ocean as we know it, and another kind of environment is going to take place.
My husband Alcides Falanghe started to dive in 1976. I, Tatiana Zanardi, took my Open Water course in 1995. He is a professional underwater photographer and NAUI instructor, and I am a videographer and NAUI rescue diver. Alcides has been contributing for almost 40 years to the growth of the Brazilian diving market. He has extensive experience in dive training, tourism, photography and media. An industry pioneer, he was the first dive travel wholesaler in Brazil, as well as the first Brazilian photographer to be awarded the CMAS Underwater Photography World Championship and to be nominee to Hall of Fame Dema Award. He also was the publisher of Brazilian Scuba Magazine from 1995 to 2003 and of Mergulho Magazine from 2004 to 2014.
I worked for 20 years for the largest publishing house in Brazil and developed my career in the areas of technology, marketing and education. I have produced and launched several videos for the Mergulho Magazine website, Bonaire Tourism Board, Turks and Caicos Tourist Board, and Project Ocean Alive including 3D underwater videos.
Since we have submerged for the first time we have been watching to a fast and incredible change in the marine life. The decrease of number of fish, marine mammals and other species is visible everywhere. The coral reefs are dying and the consequences can be a disaster. In fact we believe that what is dying is the ocean as we know it, and another kind of environment is going to take place. In the Caribbean we can see now seaweeds taking place of corals and lion fish exterminating other fish, for example.
The major concern to keep the ocean alive with the perfect combination of conditions is that within this environment the human specie can survive. If in the future a new combination of conditions results in more or less oxygen in the air, for example, the human specie will not be able to survive. The fish stocks are being reduced year by year at the same time that the global population is exploding. Many places where we used to dive 20 years ago surrounded by big groupers, school of barracudas, caves crowded by lobsters, huge sponges everywhere, now are becoming a desert of life. We see just a few small fish, broken or dead corals, occasionally a lobster or a turtle. We need a balance in the marine environment, and that is changing.
On the other hand, when we talk to non-divers or to people used to get seafood in the supermarket shelves, we realize that most of them don’t have a clue of what is going on. For them the ocean is still beautiful, at least above the water. As they don’t see what is going on underwater, they just imagine an infinite supply of fish and food. Even beginner divers are amazed with the beauty of the ocean, as they don’t have a reference from the past and don’t know how it used to be 20 years ago.
In 2009 we decided to do something different and change our lives completely. We would buy a catamaran in the Caribbean and start a circumnavigating expedition to dive and document the marine life and the changes that are happening. We made a plan, worked hard and achieved it. We didn’t have oceanic sailing skills at that time, so we took navigating courses and became amateur captains in Brazil. In the beginning of 2011 we sold our apartment in Sao Paulo and in March we moved to a catamaran in BVI. A long time ago Alcides interviewed Peter Hughes and he said: “divers are the ocean eyes”. That’s why we named our boat “Ocean Eyes”. Since then we have sailed the eastern Caribbean, the Dutch Antilles, the off coast islands of Venezuela, all the way up to the Bahamas and Florida, navigating more than 5,000 nautical miles during these years.
We have decided that as divers, photographers and videographers, with expertise in journalism as well we should work to make people aware about the importance to keep the ocean alive. Not just showing the bad things that are happening, but also what we could do to prevent them and to restore the marine life. We believe we have to be positive about the future and focus in action and solutions. We also believe that it’s important to show different points of view, different solutions for the same problem, so each person can make their own conclusions.
Having this in mind, we created the project “Ocean Alive” based in 3 fundamental stages: discover, document and divulge.
- Experience: Guests can have an opportunity to experience the life on board enjoying nature, diving and sailing in Caribbean waters. We compare our boat to planet Earth, with limited resources that must be used consciously, like water, electricity and disposal of garbage. We dive with them and emphasize the changes the ocean is suffering, bringing awareness about simple problems like plastic bags eaten by turtles, over-fishing and invasive species like the “lion fish” – that is part of the menu on-board instead of groupers and barracudas, which population in being reduced in certain islands. Almost 100 divers already have had the Ocean Eyes Experience.
- Educate: We started to dive with children recently to show them the marine life and to bring awareness about the problems. They are the key for the future. We are also working on a project based on videos about the marine life, its threats and the possible solutions to be used at schools as material for discussions and learning.
- Engage: We have more than 6,100 followers in our fanpage and 50,000 visitors in our blog. We have a section in our blog (www.oceanovivo.net.br) for the sustainable actions and we are going to create a video channel in English, as actually our social media is just in Portuguese.
We must keep the ocean alive. Human survival depends on it.
Data showed that the more accessible a dive/snorkel site is to the mainstream tourist, the fewer lionfish we found.
This entry was originally published in the NAUI Sources magazine – First Quarter, 2015 and on the SeaTrek BVI Island Times blog – February 2015.
This past summer, from June to July, I got up close and personal with the Bahamas to gain a better understanding of lionfish and what local dive operators and Bahamians are doing to curb the population growth. This unique voyage was made possible when SeaTrekBVI, a youth sailing, scuba, and marine biology program based in the British Virgin Islands, partnered with Lost Island Voyages, a dive charter boat based in the Bahamas.
The result was a three-week youth sailing and scuba diving program that wandered the Barry Islands, Bimini, Andros, New Providence, and even the Exumas. The whole trip was amazing, from halyard swinging and shark diving to island trekking excursions, but the real purpose of my trip was not simply to have fun but also to conduct research on lionfish.
Growing up in South Florida, I already knew a great deal about the “Lionfish Invasion” and the destruction they cause in the ecosystem. Lionfish were first seen in the Atlantic Ocean around 1980 and since then, their population has grown exponentially due to lack of predators and an abundance of food. Lionfish are able to breed rapidly as well. A single mature female lionfish can release up to 15,000 eggs, which can hatch in two days.
These factors have allowed lionfish to prosper in the Atlantic, creating a major problem for the native species. These Atlantic lionfish have been labeled as an invasive species, and now studies like mine are being conducted to learn more about them and help highlight ways locals are working to solve the problem.
My experiment tested the distribution of lionfish around the Bahamas, and questioned which environmental conditions were most likely to facilitate lionfish growth and impact. I hypothesized that if lionfish are truly a problem that local dive operators are trying to control, then they would be in greater abundance on sites with low tourist traffic.
The first step in testing my hypothesis was to get everyone onboard our boat, the S/Y Avalon, involved in the experiment. I asked the students and crew aboard Avalon to report every lionfish sighting to me. I kept a record of the reports from both divers and snorkelers, along with the location, the habitat where they were found, and whether or not we were able to capture the fish. We did this for most of our thirty-nine dives and numerous snorkels. Through our observations my hypothesis was supported.
Our data showed that the more accessible a dive/snorkel site is to the mainstream tourist, the fewer lionfish we found. Popular sites near New Providence averaged as few as two to three lionfish. All of the local divers/snorkel operators know to kill or report lionfish, so at these sites they are less likely to survive. On the other hand, lesser known or lesser visited sites were teeming with lionfish, especially those sites in deeper.
Our data showed larger populations of lionfish on the east coast of Andros, a large island with little dive tourism compared to the Exumas and New Providence. One site in particular, a wreck named “The Lady Moore” lay on the bottom of the ocean with a maximum depth of seventy feet. During our dive we found twenty-nine lionfish, only counting those visible through openings on the wreck. Not only were there more lionfish than we had seen on other wrecks, but the fish were much larger and more mature. Captain Ray and our dive instructor Chris confirmed that fewer dive operators visit “The Lady Moore” or any other sites in the general area.
Along with recording lionfish sightings, we also worked to help lower their population. As often as possible, many of us SeaTrek students would go spearfishing, specifically looking for lionfish. Within the first four days at sea, anyone interested was taught how to spearfish, and at least one lionfish during each snorkel session was taken out of the population.
This was not just purposeless killing of the fish! After bringing them back to the boat, I was taught how to fillet them while avoiding their venomous spines. After filleting them, we learned how to cook them, and we ate delicious lionfish dinners that we all agreed were better than any other fish in the sea!
If the lionfish was not used for dinner, I was encouraged to save it for dissection to learn more about the organism’s inner workings. One of my dissections was performed before the rest of the boat, where I was able to teach my peers about the eating habits and reproduction capabilities of these invasive little creatures.
Lionfish continue to be a problem in the Bahamas, as my dives showed me, but on this trip I also learned about some of the people and their efforts to curb the population growth. I was given hope when talking to a dive instructor who has been diving for years in the area we traveled. He explained that on many sites they are seeing a decrease in the numbers of lionfish, especially as their threat becomes better known.
In the end, I feel that lionfish are still a serious threat to the reef health for the entire Caribbean. As more people learn about what they can do to help, we will be able to move toward a solution. Let’s keep the conversation alive.
Have you encountered lionfish during your dives? Submit a NAUI Green Diver Initiative article about your experience with this and other invasive species. Contact Sam Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about this youth sailing, scuba and marine biology program, visit SeaTrek BVI and the Island Times Blog.
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