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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Lionfish Are Evil. Let’s Eat Them.

lionfish are evil let's eat them

There’s no argument lionfish are beautiful. Their warmly colored stripes and lace-like edges make them a prized addition to home aquariums.

While lionfish are lovely to look at, they can also be quite destructive and dangerous. In fact, red lionfish are now recognized as one of the most important conservation issues in the world. In the Caribbean and Atlantic waters, they lack any natural predators (even sharks tend to ignore them) and have voracious appetites for most things aquatic. In fact, lionfish will consume a wide variety of reef residents in vast quantities. Lionfish stomachs can expand to up to 30 times their normal size after a meal, according to Smithsonian Magazine, leaving the fish plenty of room for seconds. Researchers have discovered that a single lionfish residing on a coral reef can reduce recruitment of native reef fishes by 79%. As lionfish populations grow, they put additional stress on coral reefs that already struggle from the effects of climate change, pollution, disease, overfishing, sedimentation, and other environmental impacts. This has resulted in the listing of seven coral species as “under threat” in lionfish-infested areas.

Lionfish not only have huge appetites, they also breed with similar gusto. They reproduce year-round, meaning a mature female can release about 2 million eggs per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It's estimated that lionfish have been able to populate a million square miles of ocean in 10 years.

All species of lionfish sport spines along their back, pelvis and underside. The spines of this species deliver a venomous sting that can last for days and cause extreme pain, sweating, respiratory distress, and even paralysis!

lionfish hunting

What is being done?
Unfortunately, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) researchers have concluded that invasive lionfish populations will continue to grow and cannot be eliminated using conventional methods. Marine invaders are nearly impossible to eradicate once established. However, it’s not all bad news. Multiple strategies are in place to keep the lionfish population in check.

Physical removal of lionfish is a huge undertaking. Traditional hook-and-line fishing methods are being used to catch lionfish, and special permits can be obtained for using more sophisticated fishing traps. Unfortunately, this method of physical removal requires a great deal of time investment. The diving community has joined forces to contribute to the removal of the invasive species. Sea TREK operator DePalm Tours, Aruba, is part of a regional effort to combat the negative impacts of the invasive lionfish. As an active member of both the Scubble Bubbles initiative and Project Aware, Sea TREK staff joins other divers to do monthly cleanups and remove the species from impacted areas.

overpopulation lionfish

Educating the public regarding lionfish is also a vital element. Throughout the United States and the Caribbean, efforts are being made to ensure humans understand the damage that releasing aquarium fish into waterways can cause to the environment. Additionally, humans are encouraged to report lionfish sightings. A program sponsored by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation asks the public to report any observations of lionfish, to aid in population control.

Finally, you can help combat the evils of the menacing lionfish. You can eat them! Lionfish are similar to grouper or mahi-mahi in texture, and, depending on preparation, can also be compared to snapper. Dishes and recipes abound in the Caribbean, and the fish is starting to appear in markets such as Whole Foods in the United States.

You can also check out the Sea TREK pinterest board, "Lionfish-Facts, Recipes and More", for delicious dishes featuring lionfish.

lionfish recipe

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Traveling On with Carl Hanson

Sub Sea Systems Director of Water Operations and Safety, Carl Hanson, once again hits the road infrequently traveled. But this time, Carl’s trip included more than visiting existing Sea TREK locations. For this adventure, Carl was on a mission to seek out potential new Sea TREK locations in popular Caribbean destinations.

Carl’s first visit was to the Dominican Republic. Time was spent looking over the beautiful island, meeting with sales teams, and educating them about the Sea TREK helmet diving program and the benefits of becoming a Licensee. Some of the contacts Carl met took him to see potential sites for Sea TREK, to ensure suitability for the program. Carl discussed logistics and what would work, where. This was Carl’s very first trip that did not involve training or updating equipment and instead focused on growing the business.

Managing to squeeze in some free time, Carl joined a local tour operator and hiked Mount Isabel De Torres, the highest peak in northern DR. A guide took them on a journey that started in the Barrio and brought them through the rainforest before hitting the 3.7 mi (6 km) trail that climbed 2625 ft (800 m) in elevation. Two hours and forty minutes later, they reached the top, to take in the phenomenal views.

Saying good-bye to DR, Carl headed back to Miami for a full day “layover”, where he visited Sea TREK operator, Miami Seaquarium, to catch up with friends and former co-workers. While visiting, Carl caught a familiar image on a banner at the park!

Next up was St. Kitts, a two-hour flight from Miami. This time, Carl wore a different hat. This trip was all about Sub Sea Systems’ solar-electric FunCat catamaran! Carl visited a popular beach-bar in Frigate Bay, where the bar owner is hoping to add FunCats to draw cruise ship passengers, vacationers, and locals to his business. Surrounded by a beautiful beach, this location is the ideal spot for FunCat rentals! After an ATV tour which traversed up the side of a volcano, Carl reviewed some potential Sea TREK locations by hitting the water and making friends with resident sea turtles, tangs, puffers and stingrays.

Carl headed back to Miami for an overnight, then on to his next stop, Curacao, to visit a current Sea TREK operator. The location is under new management and has an updated location. Carl met with the new management and learned about the area, which is located at a renovated colonial naval base. The historic area includes a 30-foot drop, where people can jump off the ledge right into the water! The cliff’s wall provides a perfect environment for sea life to live and thrive. After inspecting equipment, doing some updates, and discussing marketing opportunities, off the cliff Carl went!

Carl’s last day of travel was Superbowl Sunday. Prior to departing, he had time to check out some local shops and buy his Mom an “overpriced” magnet, before taking in the beginning of the big game.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

The Author (Finally!) Takes a TREK

Each week, I sit at my desk at Sub Sea Systems’ headquarters and write about all things Sub Sea, Sea TREK, or travel-related – from crazy, cool sea life, to our staff’s adventures, to how to save money on your own vacation!

Last week, I had the opportunity to take my first TREK! I visited the incredible and somewhat overwhelming Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas. My husband Michael and I could not pass up an amazing deal (thank you, Total Rewards) to stay at Atlantis and visit Aquaventure, the resort’s water park.

Aquaventure boasts 141 acres of water activities, including 11 glamorous pools, 2 “lazy” rivers, and 8 different water slides, one of which rushes participants right through the center of a shark tank! We walked (a lot) around the park, taking it all in.

And, speaking of that shark tank, it happens to be the locale of Shark Adventures, a Sea TREK experience that takes place inside that very same shark tank. Shark Adventures is located inside the park at the Mayan Temple replica. We spotted Shark Adventures the moment we entered the park. At the themed check-in area, we met with the boisterous and super fun staff of Shark Adventures. Even though we were headed into a tank with the intimidating creatures, we felt comfortable right away.

After filling in some short paperwork, we were then fitted with wetsuits. As we put on the suits, we could see the ominous-looking sharks swimming around the massive aquarium. We watched as people whooshed through a big tube, gliding through a water slide right in the middle of the aquarium, past the nurse and sand sharks.

The staff conducted a briefing and we were taught several hand signals so that we could communicate with our guides underwater. Then, we followed our guides up a staircase to the water entry. The gleaming-white Sea TREK helmets were waiting for us! Our guides assisted us as we entered the tank via a ladder. They placed the Self-Contained Backpack with an air cylinder on our shoulders, and I was surprised at how lightweight everything felt.

Every step of the way, our guides asked us how we were feeling, if we were comfortable, or if we had questions. I knew we were in incredibly capable hands, and didn’t even hesitate as we entered the tank.  When our shoulders hit the water, the helmets were placed over our heads. I could hear the air flowing into my helmet; it was a comforting sound as I continued the descent, knowing the entire time that I could breathe easily. We stopped on the ladder a few times to clear our ears by reaching up into the helmets. Not once did any water enter the helmet. It was more comfortable than I anticipated!

When we got to the bottom of the ladder, we hit soft sand, which was easy to walk on, even while wearing the helmets. I then noticed the weightlessness I felt while in the water. Our guides accompanied us as we started our walk through the huge tank. With a crystal-clear view, I could see the first shark, which glided over my head as if nothing new was going on - just another human walking around. I was absolutely astounded and mesmerized by this beautiful being, and then suddenly another zipped by, right in front of me.  It was not anywhere near as interested in me as I was in it. I was secretly hoping one would get a little closer, and was not disappointed as a third shark swam by at about shoulder level.

The guides meandered with us through the exhibit, showing us a few other critters that call the tank home. They brought us a giant starfish to “pet” and pointed out some of the smaller fish residents. We walked around the impressive staging that resembled Mayan ruins, which are utilized as artificial reefs, providing additional homes for the aquarium’s residents. All the while, sharks swam above us and in front of us, never once threatening or scary.

We encountered several more sharks and fishy residents before we approached the ladder to return to the surface. Our TREK was over, but the memories of our “human fish” experience will never fade.

We want to thank Nathan Jones and his phenomenal staff for making our adventure worry-free and incredibly fun! If you want to take a TREK with sharks, check out:  

Did you know? Every Atlantis Adventure supports the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, creating and promoting solutions for a wide range of marine conservation challenges from coral reef degradation to marine species in decline.

Terrie Carrozzella is the Web Designer & Social Media Manager for Sub Sea Systems, Inc.
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