Dive Time with Tim Grollimund

Ecosystem protection in 150 words

May 9, 2013 

Goliath grouper and diver

A diver puts the size of a Goliath grouper in perspective. (photo by Tim Grollimund)

The other day I got a note from my science mentor Suzy Roebling about a goliath grouper that was swimming around Molasses Reef in distress. It had been speared. The animal was spotted by one of the glass bottom boats while cruising over the south end of the reef.

I heard a few days later the spear was gone. We went there last week, but I did not see our wounded friend. Will this animal survive?

This is an area I dive frequently, so I know it well, and I’ll bet I have photos of that particular goliath grouper. They are like St. Bernard puppies, in a fishy way. You can get very close, within arms length, easily. They are acclimated to people. In fact the only place I have seen a friendlier goliath grouper is on Aquarius Reef Base. What kind of person would spear a goliath grouper? I don’t know if this act took place in the Sanctuary Preservation Area or not, but the species is protected in Florida, the southeast U.S. and U.S. Caribbean.

Swimming with a magnificent animal like a goliath grouper is an encounter that attracts people to the Keys. It is a Keys icon.

I don’t spearfish, but I do respect the rights of folks that do, when it is done correctly. I am not railing against spearos. Just this one.

A discussion of an act like this could bring in a lot of other topics. It could include a wide range of things like lack of sufficient resources for law enforcement, all the way to applying more severe penalties for perpetrators. How do we, as a community, protect our marine resources from folks like this?

In my opinion that person should never be allowed in the sanctuary again. They banned Pete Rose from baseball — we should be able to ban blatantly disrespectful, harmful people from our sanctuary. Period. And I don’t recall Pete doing damage to anyone but himself. On top of that, he came forward and laid it all out on the table. I will not be taking bets on this person doing the same.

Right after the grouper incident, I received an assignment from Chris Bergh, the chairman of our working group. The assignment: “Based on your knowledge and experience how would you define “Ecosystem Protection” in 150 words or less?”

Here’s the first thought that came to me: don’t allow misbehaving morons in the sanctuary. Of course, I was still engulfed in the goliath grouper malaise, but hey, wouldn’t that help?

How does defining Ecosystem Protection fit with a speared goliath grouper? Let’s see. Education is certainly an element of protection. Law enforcement is certainly a component of protection. The very definition of protected areas — and the exceptions — are critical factors of protection (why bother with regulations if you have exceptions? Atlas Shrugged, anyone?).

At first I thought this would be simple. But as I began to change my attitude from the grouper incident to a more constructive thought process, limiting ecosystem protection to 150 words became inherently more difficult.

Water quality and marine life. Point and non-point pollution. Perps. Casitas. Canal clean up. Acidification. Diver pressures. Fishing pressures. Connectivity and resilience. Causes or symptoms? On and on.

There is so much involved — and at stake — I have to be very deliberate, precise and succinct in the words I select. To me it’s like writing a mission statement for a start-up company. We need to cover the uses and zones, emphasize adaptive management, and paint a sustainable vision for the future. Books have been written on those three topics. I have one paragraph.

We live in a bountiful, complex place, unique in many ways in this country. Our space merits protection. While we have many programs and initiatives in place, like coral restoration, upgrading wastewater systems and controlling development, we are lacking in certain areas. See the Conditions Report for the details (http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/scipublications/condition.html).

Ecosystem protection involves many issues that touch all our lives, and most people’s livelihoods. So, here it is. Like it, hate it, give me and “A” or an “F.” Or better yet, give me your definition. Write to me. Contribute your ideas. Come to the meeting and deliver it during in the public comment period. I’d like to get your feedback.

Ecosystem Protection: Conserving, preserving and sustaining geographic and temporal zones as a healthy, resilient ecosystem hinges on enacting boundaries and regulations defining acceptable uses within designated areas and times. Effectively communicating and educating stakeholders and the public on the nature, intent and uses of ecosystem resources is of paramount importance.

Properly resourced law enforcement is necessary. The use of the best available science, coupled with ongoing scientific inquiry is critical to assess, benchmark, document and predict changes in conditions for sustainable management of flora and fauna.

Threats to ecosystem resources, natural or man-made, need constant monitoring and management intervention for mitigation, correction or elimination. Human interaction, socioeconomics, biogeographic considerations, recreational and commercial uses all combine to construct an overarching, holistic management process with the goal of providing access for sustainable use of the ecosystem, with all stakeholders having a role in the collaborative process.

I have seven words left from the 150: Clean the mess and protect the rest!

As always, these are my thoughts, and are not the official views of the agencies with oversight of the sanctuary.

Tim Grollimund is a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo. He can be reached at tim@timgimages.com or through his web site at www.timgimages.com. Tim is a member of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

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