One of the great intangible benefits of getting involved in community work is the contacts you make. I have met some very interesting folks so far.
The members of our working group are all accomplished professionals in their respective fields. While we may differ in opinion at times, I believe we all have the same goal of providing valuable recommendations for the sustainable future of the marine sanctuary.
Folks who have come in for public comments are a welcome addition to this effort. Id like to make an appeal to folks to come to the meetings if you can. You can get the dates and locations for all the working group meetings here: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/visitor_information/events.html
When I met fellow working group member Joe Weatherby from Reefmakers in Key West, we hit it off immediately. Beyond the love of diving especially wreck diving we share a common interest in economic development. He invited me to accompany him to Fort Myers for an event centered on the USS Mohawk, his most recent project. His last project was the Vandenberg in Key West. How can I say no to that?
The Mohawk was launched in 1934, and commissioned in 1935. She saw service in World War II, both as a German u-boat interceptor and as a participant in the D-Day invasion. You can read her entire history here: http://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/Mohawk1935.pdf and see the new Veterans Memorial Reef here: http://ussmohawkreef.com/
As the first Veterans Memorial Reef, she has already has had a positive impact on the Lee County diving community, in that same way the Spiegel Grove and Vandenberg have economically benefited the Keys. As of last weekend, whale sharks had been seen seven times so far on the Mohawk. No such luck for us.
Several resident goliath groupers hang out on the wreck, and scores of tomtates school around the wreck. When we first descended, we were greeted by a curious cadre of jacks and barracudas.
This artificial reef has tons and tons of fish... and urchins! The sponges and coral will take more time, but the fish are here. Compared to our local headliners, the Spiegel Grove and the Duane, the Mohawk has a fishy biomass that is at least as abundant as our local favorites. This is a highly productive fish oasis.
The Gulf of Mexico, of course, is very different than our waters. Its a vast, flat bottom underwater plain. We left the dock with about 10 feet of water under the boat, and I watched the miles flip by as we gradually increased the depth. At nearly 30 miles out, we hit the 90-foot mark, where the Mohawk lies. She is upright on the bottom, and about the half the size of the Duane.
The engine is still there, and its now home for a few small goliath groupers. You can start in the engine room and swim straight up and come out through the smokestack.
Our boat for the festivities was a private boat, captained by Kevin Shimp, a life-long veteran of the GOM. He is an avid diver, fisherman and spearfisher. It was interesting to hear about his life on the water, and compare that with the way we live in the sanctuary. Its a whole other country up there as far as the rules are concerned. Their rules are fishery rules. Our rules are sanctuary rules. Its a different mindset.
One of the things Kevin taught us about the GOM is that any type of bump or edge in the sand will attract a lot of activity. On the way back in, we stopped on a spot that had a change in contour of less than 2 feet, and the fish finder was alive with color. Every bait that sank to the bottom was hit immediately. We caught (and released) a few red grouper within five minutes. All the fish we caught were about an inch less than the minimum size limit. What I could not believe was the mass of activity on the fish finder.
It is very easy to see how the Mohawk has established itself as a metropolis of fish activity so quickly in her second life as a reef. Once she gets some age on her hull, like the Spiegel Grove and Duane, this will be not only spectacular from a fish perspective, but quite colorful for imaging. The prop and rudder are intact and are already quite a sight. The engine room is easy to enter and there are many swim throughs on the ship.
This was a very special event for the Mohawk, and Lee County. Andreas Franke of Austria, whose work you may recall from his recent exhibit on the Vandenberg, was here to hang his newest exhibit in his Sinking World series.
I had a blast meeting new folks and diving in different waters. The long boat ride reminded me of my Hatteras diving days, and we were thankful for winds less than 10 knots. The group collectively handled the event quite well. We had about a dozen boats there, and more than 60 divers in the water during the hanging of the photographs. There were no incidents and no complications. All who participated should be commended on the level of professionalism and the emphasis on safety exhibited on this terrific day.
This was a great break from diving in the Keys, but at the same time it makes me appreciate what we have here all the more. I like the simplicity of the nearby reefs and wrecks, and our diversity of habitat. Cant wait to hit the Speigel Grove again this week!
Tim Grollimund is a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.