Archive for the ‘Our Oceans’ Category

Jul 15, 2013

Trouble (& Solutions) in Paradise

While I was born and grew up in Jamaica, I took residence in the Cayman Islands in 1999 and have enjoyed living here ever since. The main island of Grand Cayman, where I live, has incredible scuba diving, outstanding fishing opportunities and is home to the world-renowned Stingray City. However, even paradise has its share of problems.

In 2012 we had a terrible year for wildlife: the lionfish invasion continued, the Turtle Farm and its inhabitants got a log of bad press, our beloved stingrays were being stolen from the sandbar, a rogue male dolphin ruined many dives for visitors, the grouper spawning sites came under increasing pressure and a proposal to expand marine parks had many objectors. When its difficult to manage the natural resources of a tiny island nation, it puts into perspective the challenges that we have trying to keep the planet healthy and sustainable. Here, as with the rest of the world, there are some easy solutions for some issues and complicated solutions for others. In Cayman, lionfish have become the target of dedicated hunting tournaments as weekly culling sweeps by divers and concerned individuals. We’re seeing these types of eradication methods being employed in Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Bahamas, and all over the Caribbean. The best part is that lionfish are very good to eat. I encourage restaurant owners to offer lionfish on the menu and advertise just how good they are to eat.

Guy Harvey after a Little Cayman Lionfish sweep

In Cayman, our marine park system has served us very well for the last 26 years. Compared to all other Caribbean countries we have some of the finest shallow snorkeling sites and wall dives anywhere. However, with double the population since then and more demand on marine resources, there is not going to be much left in the next 10 year at the current rate of fish extraction.Expansion of the park system and better enforcement will continue to conserve our best ecological asset. The issues of marine parks, better known worldwide as Marine Life Protection Areas (MLPAs), is as controversial in the Cayman Islands as it is in the United States.

SPAG - Cayman Islands

In Cayman, the distinction between commercial and recreational fishing is very fuzzy. There is no doubt that the need for NTZs is a must in our situation, and new studies will show the importance of SPAG sites not seasonally but all year round. One example in which the NTZs is a must is in the protection of the Nassau Grouper spawning (SPAG) site in Little Cayman. The Marine Conservation Board took appropriate action and extended the ban on fishing the SPAG sites for another eight years in December 2011. The protection of the brood stock, the “investment”, during spawning season is common sense here, as well as in the all corners of our oceans. Allowing any kind of harvest-be it recreational or commercial- at a spawning site is recipe for disaster and truly killing the golden goose.

Unfortunately, the proposed legislation to protect Nasssau Groupers throughout their range during the five-month spawning season still languishes in cyberspace. One of the biggest hurdles we all face is the education of lawmakers about the importance of the marine environment to this small island’s economy. As with any protection-here or in the rest of the world-its’s imperative for grassroots groups to keep the pressure on government so that our recreational resources will not be depleted by those seeking to make a profit. It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of this planet

Fish responsibly and dive safely wherever you live,

Guy Harvey,PhD

Jun 19, 2013

Atlantic Tuna Project – 5 Days in Panama

John LoGioco with a Panama Yellowfin

The Atlantic Tuna Project’s John LoGioco recently returned from a tuna tagging project out of Panama Sportfishing lodge. In a short time span of five days, John and his team of six Atlantic Tuna Project anglers were able to successfully tag over 75 Yellowfin tuna! The quality of fish ranged from smaller grade 20lb tuna all the way up to cow 200lb class tuna.

Described as the best fishing any of his team has ever experienced, they were able to surpass their goal total for tags placed by a tremendous amount. To put this accomplishment in perspective 12 anglers in 2011 tagged 56 Yellowfin tuna, and last year 12 anglers were able to tag 27 yellowfin tuna. Prior to this trip, the team already had 3 tags recovered from these previous Panama trips. The tuna originally tagged in Panama were found in Equador, Costa Rica, and Southern Panama. With the additional 75 deployed tags they are looking forward to more recaptures to come.

Taking measurements with tag in place

John and team experienced a bit of weather as it was the beginning of the rainy season. Everyday they experienced rain and at times torrential thunder storm cells passing over South American toward Panama. However, the cloud cover and stormy weather seemed to get the fish active and willing to bite as they experienced fast and furious fishing from the get go. The captains targeted porpose and bird schools that would bring with them maurading Yellowfin tuna. Once an active school was found busting on blue runners, they would run & gun with poppers and jigs that would get instantly hit by tuna. The fishing never slowed down the five days of their stay and they kept on getting bigger! The team would have doubles and triples of 75-100lb tuna going as they fought through rain squalls, thunderstorms, and spots of sunshine.

Scott Kozak Releases Tagged Fish

This being the third year that the Atlantic Tuna Project members have been to the Panama Sport Fishing Lodge, the captains and mates are thoroughly experienced with how to properly tag fish. Boats are tagging machines as anglers, mates, and captains work together as a team. Each fish was carefully fought, tagged, and released. The method found to work best is to bring the tuna close to the boat, tag the fish in the water, then lift into the tuna into the boat and cover it’s eyes with a wet towel that renders the fish motionless. While this is taking place, meticulous measurements and records of each fish are logged by a team member. At the end of the trip, the ATP accomplished many goals: beat personal bests, beat previous Panama tagging efforts, and exceed their original goal of 50 tags deployed.

Mar 26, 2013

Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA)

AFTCO is a proud supporter of the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association. The MBARA was formed in January of 1997 and has since deployed over 200 artificial reefs. The mission of the MBARA is the conservation and environmental improvement of natural and artificial marine reef systems in the Gulf of Mexico near Mexico Beach, Florida.

Reef Building

The MBARA works hard to construct artificial reef habitat to enhance sustainable fisheries in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The MBARA set a milestone of establishing 1000 patch reefs, or small artificial reef habitats in the waters off Mexico Beach, Florida. The MBARA works closely with the City of Mexico Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commision, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to achieve this goal.

Constructing Reef Habitat

Artificial Reef Deployment

Reef Education

Since its inception, the MBARA has worked hard to conduct and promote scientific research and evaluation of reef designs, biomass development, and fish productions. A focus for the MBARA has been the education of the public about the values of sustainable artificial reef fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, and the impact they have on the ecosystems and coastal communities where they are built. School children, members of the organization, and the general public need to know all about reefs and reef building in order to help promote conservation and environmental improvement of the marine reef systems.

MBARA Artificial Reef Underwater

Mar 20, 2013

Puerto Rico Estuary Clean Up

Below is a summary of the Mega Limpieza in Puerto Rico. Proudly sponsored by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, 500 volunteers managed to clean up over 28,000 pounds of litter and waste that has collected in the lagoons and estuaries of San Juan Bay Puerto Rico. These mangrove lined lagoons are home to some of the richest inland fisheries on the island. This clean up effort was the result of a blog written by our good friend Doug Olander, editor of Sport Fishing Magazine.

—Bill Shedd

 Mega Limpieza – San Juan Bay, Puerto Rico

The “Mega Limpieza” (translated Mega Clean Up) , took place March 16, 2013 in the lagoons and estuaries of San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico. San Juan Bay offers up world class fishing, especially those looking to chase trophy Tarpon. Also home to the lagoons and estuaries are beautiful herons and ospreys that constantly fly overhead to make a bird watcher’s paradise.

However, amidst the prime fishery and lush environment lies ugly scenes of littered trash tucked into the mangroves. Some of the trash was dumped by locals, but much of it is estimated to drift in from the rivers that flow into the estuary and lagoon from highlands to the South. Poor waste disposal and plain carelessness resulted in the creation of a mess that could deteriorate a unique and special estuary.

Volunteers display their catch, of a different sort.

Over 500 volunteers participated in the Mega Limpieza, picking up over 28,000 pounds of trash and debris from San Juan Bay this past Saturday. Volunteer campaigns were organized by Israel Umpierre’s Pesca, Playa, and Ambiente Group & Jose Aponte’s Kayakeros Association of Kayakers. Both  Umpierre and Aponte decided to take action after reading a column by Doug Olander in Sport Fishing Magazine.

Kayakers on the shore after their work was done -- see their work behind them.

The clean up efforts were sponsored in part by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to support the good cause. Once backed by the GHOF the Mega Limpieza took own a movement of more sponsors, volunteers and government officials signed up to help.

The Mega Limpieza drew big attention. Two members of Puerto Rico’s executive branch were on hand for the entire clean up. The clean up efforts were also televised by Univision, Telemundo, and Pescando en Los Cayos, the only spanish language fishing show in the U.S.

After kayakers in the mangroves filled up bags, these were picked up by motorboats operated by tarpon fishing captains.

 

Feb 22, 2013

Yellowfin Tuna Tagging in Panama

Atlantic Tuna Project

Three tags deployed by members of the Atlantic Tuna Project in yellowfin tuna have been re-captured in the Pacific ocean.  The yellowfin tuna were tagged with conventional tags from The Billfish Foundation on dedicated catch, tag and release trips from the Panama Sportfishing Lodge in Chiriqui Panama.  The first recapture was originally tagged on April 9th, 2011 and recaptured on September 3rd, 2011 by a purse seiner off the coast of Costa Rica.   The second recapture was originally tagged on March 1st 2012 near Hannibal Bank and was recaptured in Southern Panama offshore of Los Santos on September 4th, 2012 by a recreational charter boat.  The third re-capture was originally tagged near Hannibal Bank in Panama on March 1st, 2012 and re-captured on May 18th, 2012 some 700 miles South off the coast of Equador by a private angler.  All three yellowfin were school size in the 40 inch range.

John LoGioco, founder of the Atlantic Tuna Project says “This is very exciting.  This represents a ~4% return rate for our efforts.  Personally I thought it would take a lot more tags to be deployed before we would see a return in this part of the Pacific ocean.  The benefits here are two fold, first it’s wonderful to see anglers enjoying a great fishing adventure on a catch, tag and release format, second the data retrieved from these returns is incredibly valuable to further understanding the habits of yellowfin tuna in this region.

Sportfishing is an important activity for Panama as a country, and yellowfin tuna are a main attraction.  This is one of largest directed efforts for recreational anglers directed at tagging yellowfin tuna in this region and it’s wonderful to see tags being returned.  The catch, tag and release culture for both billfish and tuna is critical for the long-term sustainability of the fishery.  The Billfish Foundation works with the Panamanian government as well as on the water efforts like the Atlantic Tuna Project to further protect this valuable fishery.

The anglers, who originally tag the tuna, also get notification of the re-capture and a certificate of their achievement. An Atlantic Tuna Project member who had one of his yellowfin recaptured says; “It’s incredibly rewarding to see a tag that I deployed come back.  It’s a great feeling to catch and release these tuna and to also know that my efforts could help better understand these great fish is amazing.  It’s a highlight of my angling career.”

Founded in 2009, The Atlantic Tuna Project is a community dedicated to facilitating catch, tag and release of offshore species such as Atlantic and Pacific tunas, billfish and sharks.  The web site, www.savethebluefin.com serves as the center of the project where captains and anglers can join and contribute to the conversation about catch, tag and release.

Measuring & Tagging Yellowfin Tuna

For a complete list of our other featured blog posts and to see the full line of Guy Harvey Sportswear, please visit: www.guyharveysportswear.com

Jan 30, 2013

Dolphinfish Research Program

Below is a summary of the 2012 Dolphin Research Program. Both Guy Harvey and AFTCO are proud to be official sponsors of the program. It is privately run by Don Hammond of Cooperative Science Services, LLC., and is very important for a better understanding of the dolphin population in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.  If you would like more information on the program please contact Don Hammond at cssllc@bellsouth.net or go to their website at  www.dolphintagging.com 

—Bill Shedd

                                                                                                                                         February 2013

Dolphin Tagging in 2012

The 2012 study of dolphin movements and migrations was assisted by 102 different sports fishing vessels fishing the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Atlantic Coast northward to New Jersey, the Bahamas and Caribbean Sea. The crews of these vessels tagged a total of 1,147 dolphin. While 193 anglers were reported participating in the tagging, the number is significantly higher because most of the participating charter boats do not report the anglers.

A record number of 173 new anglers/boats were signed up to tag dolphin in 2012. Tagging reports showed that of the 102 participating boats, 51 tagged their first dolphin in 2012. Making up half of the fleet tagging dolphin in 2012, these boats accounted for 211 fish or 18 percent of the dolphin tagged and released in 2012.

Similar to fishing where ten percent of the anglers catch 90 percent of the fish, a small portion of the participating boats, 18 percent, tagged the majority of the fish. Eighteen boats reported tagging ten or more dolphin in 2012. The crews of these boats tagged 78 percent, 896 fish, of all fish tagged and released during the year.

Most of these top contributing boats have been tagging for several years. Only four of these top boats entered the program for the first time in 2012. Typically, these boat crews have built an increased interest in the program from recaptures of their fish. They have learned that with a little diligence and effort, they can find out where their fish go. Other motivating factors are a desire to contribute to science and the future well-being of the dolphin stock, a fish they love to catch.

Those small dolphin can be worth as much as $25.00 each if they are tagged and released. Read the article about the top dolphin taggers to learn more.

Tagging activity varied widely among the different zones. Six areas exceeded the average number of fish tagged there since the study began. These areas were south Florida, southern North Carolina below Hatteras, northern Mid-Atlantic Bight, Gulf of Mexico, tropical western North Atlantic, and Caribbean Sea. These areas had from 4 to 56 more fish tagged than their annual average, but their gains did not make up for the losses in other areas. Tagging in the Bahamas exhibited one of the worst declines, falling from its average 131 fish per year to only 13 fish tagged in 2012. Southern South Carolina also showed a similar decline with only 40 fish tagged compared to its annual average of 234 fish tagged. Tagging in the remaining five regions also fell below their annual average. Even though the number of fish tagged in 2012 was not as high as we would like to see, the number still exceeds the annual goal of 1,000 fish.

 

 

 

For a complete list of our other featured blog posts and to see the full line of Guy Harvey Sportswear, please visit: www.guyharveysportswear.com

 

Dec 27, 2012

Rock The Ocean’s “Tortuga Music Fest” to Benefit Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Ocean Conservancy

Nashville, TN — Multi-platinum artist and touring sensation Kenny Chesney is scheduled to be one of the headliners for Rock The Ocean’s inaugural TORTUGA MUSIC FESTIVAL, April 13-14, 2013, presented by Landshark Lager. The two-day music festival produced by HUKA Entertainment, will play host to twenty plus pop, rock and country artists who will perform on three stages, located directly on the beach. Artists to include: Grammy nominated The Avett Brothers, Gary Allan, Grammy nominated Eli Young Band, Gary Clark Jr, Michael Franti & Spearhead, G. Love and Special Sauce, Kip Moore and Sister Hazel. A second headliner and additional artists will be announced in the coming weeks. Tickets to go on-sale Saturday, Dec 15 at www.tortugamusicfestival.com .

The sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach will be turned into our oceanfront festival grounds, making Tortuga Fest, a music and ocean lover’s paradise. Fans will enjoy music performances with the sun and stars above, an ocean breeze in the air, and sand under their feet. Local culinary fair, sustainable seafood as well as traditional festival favorites will be served.

In partnership with Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Ocean Conservancy, a one-of-a-kind Conservation Village will be located on site to educate audience members and provide them with the information and tools they need to help conserve the world’s oceans.

Festival creators Rock The Ocean and HUKA Entertainment are thrilled to partner with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. RTO founder, Chris Stacey said, “in addition to being a world renowned artist, Dr. Guy Harvey is a world-class conservationist. Our team is great at creating amazing concert experiences, and Guy and his team know how to help save the worlds oceans.”

“This is not your average music festival,” stated producer AJ Niland. “This festival will showcase world class talent, with world class amenities on a world class beachfront setting. More importantly, it is a festival with a purpose.”

“We are honored to partner with Rock the Oceans and HUKA Entertainment,” said Dr. Guy Harvey. “Rock the Oceans will raise awareness of marine conservation, while providing us with a memorable music experience.”

Join us April 13-14! Celebrate and conserve the ocean.

 

For a complete list of our other featured blog posts and to see the full line of Guy Harvey Sportswear, please visit: www.guyharveysportswear.com

 

 

Dec 20, 2012

Cocos Island Expedition

It has been ten years since I went to Cocos Island, so when friends, Jim and Steve Valetta and friends from Phoenix, organized the expedition from last year, I was eager to go. When people ask me where is my favorite place to dive… I say, “Cocos Island”. I have been on six previous expeditions from the early 1990s to 2002. Most of these expeditions were on board the Madam/Hooker during which time we spent each day fishing for 7 hours and would squeeze in three dives per day. Very full days! The Harvey berets were going full blast!

Cocos is about 300 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica accessible by long range dive boats or sport fishing boats. The only residents are a number of rangers who try to protect the island and marine park from the constant barrage of illegal fishing vessels, mostly Costa Rican. Currently, the no fish zone is 12 miles out from the island.

In the 1990s, the no fish zone was 5 miles from the island; so much of the island shelf on the east and south side was still fishable. The main species was the striped marlin, which averaged 200#. There were also lots of blue marlin and sailfish, plus a few blacks, so every day you had a shot at a grand slam.

The last dedicated dive expedition was aboard the Aggressor Fleets’ “Okeanos Agressor” with owner Wayne Hasson together with Kent Ullberg and my daughter Jessica, then 12 years old. We had a full boat with friends and staff, and had a great time. Cocos is like a mini Galapagos with all the same species, except sea lions and penguins. Jim and Steve booked us on the Undersea Hunter flagship, the “Argo”, a very comfortable and spacious 130 foot vessel that also carried a submarine operated by Deepsee.

Guy Harvey working on Galapagos shark painting. Time on the water like this Cocos Island Expedition are a major source of inspiration for Guy's artwork

Jessica and Alex were on board, plus George Schellenger who was going to shoot the expedition. This was Alex’ first time to Cocos, same for George. Jessica was going to host the TV production we planned and for the first time in 11 years of shooting my TV fishing shows and natural history documentaries, I was passing the baton to my very capable daughter.

It takes 30 hours to get from Puntarenas to Cocos and during the crossing, we enjoyed the beauty of the open ocean passing turtles, dolphins, a pseudo orca and we watched as red footed and nasca boobies dived on the flying fish pushed up by the bow of the Argo. We got to know the captain, officers and crew well during this time. Master divers Manuel and Pius briefed their teams, we fortunately were allocated to Manuel, whose sense of humour was hilarious. We were also briefed about the operation of the Deepsee submarine by Smulik Blum and team Ely, Felipe.

We anchored at a mooring next to the islet of Manuelita. With four stabilizers out the Argo was a stable base from which we were going to do four dives per day on 32% nitrox. The first couple of days diving were poor due to rough weather and low visibility at Manuelita and in Chatham Bay. The major change from ten years ago was that there were tiger sharks—yes tigers. In all the dives we had done in the nineties, no one ever saw a tiger shark or met someone who had. There were several individuals that cruised the channel between Manuelita and the island. They were hunting marbled rays and turtles. In fact, I did not see a single turtle at Cocos except for the last dive. The tigers had taken their toll. The silvertip sharks at Silverado were also gone, perhaps they had been driven out by the tigers or they had been caught. The reef fish were in abundance, but only a few hammerheads were seen. When we ventured out to iconic dive sites such as Dirty Rock and to Halcyon, the action picked up.

George had the brilliant idea to leave Go-Pro cameras on the various dive sites after we left and recover them on the following dive. Apart from our first dive at Halcyon with the current strong and lots of hammerheads, we saw relatively few hammerheads at the seamount, most were swimming well above the bottom where we hung in anticipation of close encounters. This worked well and showed just how the hammerhead sharks left the cleaning stations as the divers came down and then reappeared once we left. Amazing!

A change at Halcyon for me was to see a massive school of mullet snapper hanging high in the water column above the seamount. We would conduct our safety stops in amongst these vast schools. Their numbers and swirling motion were mesmerizing. There were often rainbow runners and bigeye jacks mixed in. This school rivaled the size of the mullet snapper school that lives at Pinas Reef in Panama.

At Dirty Rock there was a huge school of bigeye jacks hovering above the deep reef, again it provided an exciting way to spend your safety stop. The blue jacks prowled the reef occasionally taking a shot at the creole fish that sent them all surging towards the rocks for cover. A school of rare cottonmouth jacks also showed up at Dirty Rock. Often we saw big aggregations of hammerheads at the edge of visibility, but as we swam closer, they melted into the blue haze.

Before we went diving on our third day, I spotted a young whale shark about 18 feet long doing circles around the Argo. Just amazing! We all went in and snorkeled and dived with the beautiful shark before it headed back to the deep. The whale shark made another appearance later that day around the Argo.

Night dives in Chatham Bay were always exciting. I had the new Mangrove lights on my Gates housing as did George, so it was like having car headlights down there. We lit up the reef. The white tip reef sharks were active as usual, but I couldn’t get over the monster black jacks that followed us for the entire dive, all dives. They were so quick, had such good eyesight and gobbled up small goatfish, squirrelfish and cabrillas. Even in the day time at 90 feet with cloud cover the Mangroves lit up the fish and colourful substrate. They were worth their weight in gold on this expedition.

One of our best dives was consistently at Punta Maria on the west side, on the way towards Dos Amigos. Here a cleaning station catered largely to Galapagos sharks. These were a larger version of a reef shark, beautifully coloured, bronze and grey, big dorsal fin and tail, a slow swimming large animal, capable of great speed which I saw in the Galapagos when I witnessed one chasing young sea lions. At this site, we also saw a huge female marbled ray being escorted by several dozen ardent males, all piled on top of each other, like a bunch of huge spotted pancakes tossed from a basket.

Again George left the Go-Pro cameras on the site and this was very revealing. Not only did a lot of Galapagos sharks show up but several black tip sharks as well. We repeated this procedure a few times revealing cleaning behavior and returns by the same sharks several times.

Jessica and George returning at night from their 400 meter dive in the Deepsee sub

The highlight for those who went was to dive in the Deepsee sub to 400 meters. Jessica went with George piloted by Felipe on one dive and had an exciting experience looking at the geology and creatures of the deep sea. Loaded with camera gear and towed out to the drop off the sub took several minutes to reach that depth. On the way down they saw mobula rays and deep sea sharks. At the bottom they saw groupers, spider crabs, and scorpion fish. So much life…so deep.

Alex and I went on a shallow dive to 100 meters piloted by Smulik on the outside of Manuelita to a site called Everest. Here beneath the hazy thermocline there were still swarms of creole fish hunted by almaco jacks and yellowfin tuna, while above them scalloped hammerheads passed in silhouette. The acrylic dome of the sub allows you to see 360 degrees and you don’t feel hemmed in by the dome. It feels like you are actually in the water at that great depth.

During the end of the trip at a dive on Halcyon a humpback whale came by. Very cool! I had seen humpbacks there on previous expeditions in July. They are southern hemisphere whales that oscillate from Antarctica to have their calves in the warmth of Cocos’ protection. Similarly, when fishing out of Tropic Star Lodge, Pinas Bay, Panama in June, July and August, we see many of these southern hemisphere humpback whales close to shore, often frolicking.

Some of our dives were focused on the reef life. Most of the substrate at Cocos is volcanic rock covered in sharp barnacles. In certain places like Chatham Bay, there was a fair amount of healthy coral. One of my favourite dives was at Isla Pajara just around the corner from Chatham. Here, in the channel between the rock and the island was a large expanse on Montastrea-like coral and amongst it were schools of creole fish, yellow tailed goat fish, blue and gold snappers, Moorish idols, cabrillas, soldier fish, Mexican hogfish, trumpetfish, wrasses, damselfish, parrotfish, guineafowl puffers and boxfish. Frogfish were numerous. Several peacock flounders were seen courting females in amusing displays. While your head was in the coral, a Galapagos shark, squadron of yellowfin tuna or manta ray would pass close by. What a great dive!

Coming back from Halcyon on our last day, we saw that the Costa Rican Coast Guard vessel (that had been at anchor in Chatham Bay for a couple of days) finally stuck its nose outside and apprehended a Costa Rican commercial fishing boat caught fishing inside the 12 mile no fish zone. We wondered what would become of the crew, vessel and the fish they surely had on board.

The crossing back to Puntarenas was smooth and I made use of the time and calm conditions to complete an acrylic painting of a Galapagos shark being cleaned at Punta Maria. After thanking the excellent crew and leaving the ship we went into Jaco for the day to do some zip lining, check out some storks and macaws, see massive saltwater crocs sunning on a river bank and take a lovely mountain trail back to San Jose to round off the perfect Costa Rican experience.

I’ll be back!

—Guy Harvey

 

For a complete list of our other featured blog posts and to see the full line of Guy Harvey Sportswear, please visit: www.guyharveysportswear.com

Nov 6, 2012

Meeting with Sir Richard Branson

Michael Ryan, Guy Harvey, Madeleine Ryan, Jessica Harvey and Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin conglomerate of companies was here in Grand Cayman for the weekend. He gave the keynote interview at the Alternative Investment Conference held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel at the invitation of Michael Ryan, the event host and organizer. Other notable interviews were conducted with former US President George W. Bush and with former world number one golfer Greg Norman.

Several weeks ago, I had applied to meet with Sir Richard for a few minutes to discuss the potential for collaboration with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation in research and conservation projects that would be beneficial and make a difference in furthering our knowledge and therefore enhance the management process and conservation of large pelagic animals.

Sir Richard welcomed the four of us, Michael Ryan and his daughter Madeleine plus myself and my daughter Jessica. I gave Sir Richard a quick overview of the GHOF, how we raise funds and what sort of research and educational projects the GHOF currently conducts. I gave him specifics about tiger shark, mako shark, bluefin tuna and billfish research.

I elaborated on the role the research by the GHOF had played in showing the importance of the Bahamas archipelago to many species of sharks. In a collaborative effort with the Bahamas National Trust and the Pew Environmental Group, we convinced the government of the Bahamas to protect all sharks from commercial exploitation within their 200 mile EEZ.

Here in the Cayman Islands, the GHOF has broader interests in work on Nassau grouper conservation, lionfish eradication and recruitment plus climate change studies at CCMI in Little Cayman. We are also actively engaged in shark research and blue marlin migration studies.

Documentary film making has been a priority, so during the last year the Guy Harvey Expeditions team of producer George Schellenger, Guy Harvey and Jessica Harvey, have been on location nine times to conduct shoots in Panama, Nova Scotia, Little Cayman, Bahamas twice, Cocos Island, Costa Rica, Isla Mujeres, Mexico on three occasions teaming up with Captain Anthony Mendillo and crew to complete shoots on sailfish, mako sharks and whale sharks. Sir Richard was particularly interested in the sailfish and whale shark work as he has visited Isla Mujeres on several occasions guided by Captain Anthony. We discussed the limited research done on sailfish and whale sharks and the opportunity to collaborate with the Georgia Aquarium research team in future research and conservation efforts.

I went to some length explaining the value of catch and release sport fishing to Caribbean island and Central American economies. I emphasized the need for a regional approach as many of the large pelagic species cover great distances crossing several jurisdictions. This requires a regional approach in management and conservation as one country’s regulations may not be the same as its neighbours.

I explained the need for research work on all the species mentioned, as without the scientific data one cannot make management decisions and thus achieve sustainability and conservation. Fishing is the method by which we access many of these creatures for study, underwater photography, tagging and genetic work. Sir Richard was not keen on fishing but acknowledged it is a useful tool in this arena.

Sir Richard welcomed the opportunity to participate in collaborative studies and the consequent dissemination of information necessary for sustainability.

We moved on to some more local issues, the hot topics being the condition of the Cayman Turtle Farm and the issue regarding stingray conservation through law. Sir Richard was concerned that turtles could still be fished by local licensed fishermen, very archaic, given this was the 21st century and that they were protected world-wide. I pointed out that none of the current license holders have continued with this activity. The turtle farm itself needed to be divested I said, and turned into a better marine attraction whose focus was more on turtle replenishment, research and husbandry than on the consumption of the turtle meat. There are hundreds of thousands of turtle lovers out there in North America who would be only too happy to give $5 or $10 towards a satellite tagging programme and let the turtles go and provide information about migrations and long distance journeys.

The stingrays…poor stingrays… have been sabotaged and removed by unknown persons for the last two years at least. The proof was in finding four tagged stingrays in the Dolphin Discovery tourist attraction. The owners will not release the remaining six rays. No one has explained how the rays got to this location. Our ray population has been reduced by almost 50% in the last two years. Sir Richard said it should be very simple to change the law and have stingrays enjoy full protection from poaching given their ecological importance and their value to the island. We all agreed with that. After all, the people of the Cayman Islands and millions of visitors have an enjoyed and benefited from this unique experience for the last 30 years.

The value of the last ten years worth of research by the GHOF and the Dept of Environment has provided the base line information about this population. It is because of the scientific record of population numbers that we have been able to track the decline and the subsequent revelation of four of these rays ending up at Dolphin Discovery in West Bay.

The proposed expansion of marine parks by the Dept of Environment was a good move and Sir Richard commented that fishing has been known to improve in areas adjacent to marine parks. He said there are models out now that show countries need to protect 40 – 50 % of their shallow reef areas to ensure long term survivability. I commented that the Cayman Islands were a world leader in the formation of marine parks and in the protection of the spawning sites of the iconic Nassau grouper. I presented Sir Richard with a DVD copy of Mystery of the Grouper Moon and a copy of This is Your Ocean; Sharks.

Sir Richard was very gracious and listened to many of our comments and suggestions, making notes and the meeting was much appreciated by all involved.

We at the GHOF look forward to collaborating with Sir Richard and his foundation on several projects.

We also look forward to the day when the airport in George Town, Grand Cayman is expanded and to the arrival of Virgin Atlantic jets to our beautiful island.

It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.

—Guy Harvey PhD.

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Oct 31, 2012

Tiger Beach October Shoot

It has been exactly two years since my last expedition to Tiger Beach. The goal then was to make the (award winning) documentary “This is your ocean; Sharks” with Jim Abernethy and Wyland. The timing was important as the documentary became a useful educational tool for the people of the Bahamas and specifically the Bahamas National Trust in helping have sharks in the Bahamas protected from commercial exploitation.

The main reason why the Bahamas has so many sharks compared to anywhere else in the western Atlantic is because long line fishing was banned from the Bahamas 200 mile EEZ twenty years ago.

Shark interactive programmes or shark ecotourism in the Bahamas currently generate eighty million dollars per year in revenue. This is a sustainable use of the resource that does not kill a single shark.

The dive team on this expedition was made up of Kent Ullberg NA, America’s most famous wildlife sculptor, my close friend and mentor. Jessica, my daughter, Chris Peterson owner of Hell’s Bay Boat Works and GHOF board member, 15 year old Madeleine Ryan and Andi Marcher, restauranteur from Grand Cayman. Shooting this follow up documentary was George Schellenger.

Jim Abernethy’s crew was captain Matt Heath, with Michele Heller and Chad Shagren. Michele had worked with us before on a bluefin tuna shoot in Nova Scotia last year where she was the assistant to Dr. Molly Lutcavage in tagging giant bluefin tuna.

Jessica Harvey about to release young green turtles as part of an FAU study

The first three days were very windy, with rough conditions and poor visibility generally over the area. The first morning we released several dozen juvenile green and ridley turtle for a study being conducted by Florida Atlantic University (FAU). We were limited to a couple of dives on an incoming tide with lots of reef sharks, lemon sharks and a few nurse sharks coming to the bait crates. It seemed the tiger sharks were not comfortable in the adverse conditions. By the afternoon of the third day, the wind switched to the east and the remaining four days were under ideal conditions, so we could go to work.

Kent has had limited exposure to large sharks, only completing one monumental piece, the mako shark at the Nova South Eastern University’s Taft Building. This expedition was important for him to get close to tiger sharks in their natural environment to better understand form and function, ecology and life history.

After a couple days of 25 knot winds which stirred up the water and limited our diving we got into the rhythm of multiple dives per day. We spent two days at a 60 foot deep site called “Hammertime”. Bait crates were deployed at the surface and on the sand near the reef. The results were good attracting several dozen Caribbean reef sharks, a dozen big lemon sharks and then the tiger sharks started coming in, one, then two, four and five. The well trained crew kept the tigers off the bait crates and we were afforded many great photographic opportunities. Jim or Matt would set up shots so Jessica could shoot the sharks with beautifully coloured sponges and corals in the fore ground and different species of sharks in the middle distance and the background.

One of the tiger sharks had a SPOT tag on its dorsal fin. Unfortunately, the tag was fouled by algae and it had rotated 90 degrees to the aft so the antenna was pointing at the tail. Jim was able to clean off the tag. He took a bunch of photos of the tag placement and we later identified this shark as Christina which we tagged at tiger beach on our December 2010 expedition. The close ups show that the fin had been damaged (in mating when the male holds on to the dorsal fin) and the healing process had caused the tag to rotate so it was no longer performing according to Dr. Mahmood Shivji of the GHRI.

The last two days were flat calm and we stayed at a site Jim calls “Crystal Beach”. This is the closest part of tiger beach to the drop off, so the water is clearest here particularly on an incoming tide. We left the crates soaking overnight and got going early, before breakfast with the first of five dive dives for the day. A couple of tigers were already on site. One had three long line hooks and leaders in its jaw. Jim hatched a plan to catch this shark and remove the hooks. Unfortunately the shark was too shy to come in as close as this project required.

The chum line attracted a large number of baitfish including yellowtail snappers, blue runners, horseye jacks, groupers, and ballyhoo. These species added lots of colour to the shots we were taking. Jim was coaching Jessica in her photography while Kent and Maddy were absorbing all the shapes, anatomy and postures of successive tiger sharks as they came and went. Their subtle skin colours and vivid stripes separate this species from all other large sharks. Andi and Chris got used to having tiger sharks all over them and took hours of great footage in pristine conditions. George kept all the cameras going and we loaded up on new footage.

Leave it to Guy Harvey to guide the crew to catch and release a blue marlin on the return trip from a shark filming expedition

For me it was particularly gratifying sitting on the bottom in 20 feet of water for hours and hours with unlimited visibility surrounded by four species of sharks now protected in law by the Bahamian government.

Matt Heath, our captain said it was wheels up at 4.30pm on the last day. We enjoyed the last dive, got squared away and you know me…. if the boat is going forward I am going to put out a couple of lines.

Andi and I put out a spread of four marlin lures, two short, one medium and one long. We were crossing the Gulf Stream with 82 degrees water temperature so there was chance of seeing a marlin or a wahoo.

Not 20 minutes later, a fine blue marlin crashed the stinger lure but did not hook up. It made two more attempts and I dropped the lure back as it ate. Hook up! From the bill thickness and height of the dorsal, I could see this was marlin around 250#. I passed the rod down to the main deck and under Andi’s critical eye Chad took the job of working on the fish. The marlin did not jump and the line kept peeling out and down until there was very little left on the reel. Oops! Finally the marlin stopped and there was 500 yards of line out and down. Chad had the daunting task of working the marlin back up from great depth, but he is young and strong and in the next 45 minutes did a great job.

Andi wired the marlin and we all took photos of it at the boat side, its vivid neon fins glowed in the dark evening conditions, before it was released. A good expedition just became a great expedition.

Thanks Jim and crew. Another great adventure! The close encounters were very inspirational for Kent and myself to say nothing of the thousands of images captured by all the photographers.

—Guy Harvey PhD.

 

For a complete list of our other featured blog posts and to see the full line of Guy Harvey Sportswear, please visit: www.guyharveysportswear.com