Last week we had some great conditions for diving, so we opted to spend some time on the Duane. We did five dives in three days, with moderate current on one of the days. Being able to free fall from the dive boat to the wreck is a real treat on the Duane.
I have been on it in the past where hauling yourself down the mooring line and sheltering yourself from the current behind the wheelhouse were the order of the day.
These were some of the best conditions I have ever seen on the Duane, not necessarily in terms of peak visibility, but for the ease of the dives.
We saw bull sharks all three days, although I could not get close enough for a photo of any of them. And over the side, along the bottom, one of the largest Goliath groupers I have seen lately roamed around at the edge of visibility.
We did not see the hawksbill I have seen many times before, but there was a friendly loggerhead that let me swim with him all around the main deck.
The Duane seems to be a hotspot for spotfin hogfish, which are quick to move, and can be difficult to photograph.
With all this going on, one of the main attractions was a single golden coney. My dive buddy Phil saw it first, right around the front of the wheelhouse. This is a relatively uncommon color variation. I have seen one deep (over 90 feet) on the outer edge of Molasses, one way out past the pillar coral (a considerable kick from Permit Ledge), and this one. They are unmistakable, with a bright yellow body and iridescent blue spots.
This one also looks like it is carrying eggs, with a slightly swollen underbelly.
Golden phase conies are a challenge to photograph for a few reasons. First, they are very shy. They are also very quick and tend not to want to pose for the camera. And they are brightly colored, so I have to adjust immediately to account for the bright, reflective quality of the animal, while still adequately illuminating the surrounding environment.
I played cat and mouse with this one for a while. After a few minutes of being still, with next to no movement, I was able to get some good shots. As I have said before, I am easily entertained, and something as simple as this makes my day.
I do notice, however, significantly less barracuda than I used to see. There were line and spear fishers all three days on the wreck, and there is a ton of fishing line and hooks all over the place, so be careful not to get tangled in the fishing tackle debris.
The Duane has a rich history and remains a premiere wreck destination for the Upper Keys. Covered with orange cup coral, on the day we had the moderate current the coral bloomed, giving me a different color scheme to shoot. For information on the Duane, see these two web pages: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/shipwrecktrail/duane.html and http://www.keylargowrecks.com/key-largo-wrecks.htm
You may recall last year I wrote a lot about sanctuary science as part of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group. We reconvened on March 6 and 7, and will be very busy until July.
These two days were a good restart to the process, and we are taking two days in each region to meet and discuss possible modifications to the sanctuary. There were only a few public comments, and the comments at the end of the second day were very encouraging. Both of these people have been attending regularly, so I want to tip my cap to them and say thank you.
I am hopeful we are past the hype and misinformation campaign that surrounded the first round. Based on what I see so far, open minds and calm demeanors will be present in the rooms as we examine the alternatives and make recommendations to the Advisory Council. We have a common goal of working together to make the Keys a sustainable, healthy ecosystem, with the end result being a better place to live, work and play.
We have a very rich data system now, based on a compilation of the best available science that can be spatially represented in the mapping system. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than the information used when the first zones were defined? Yes.
All topics, all zones and all uses are on the table, and we all have skin in the game. In my opinion, the diving community needs to speak up. This is the single most critical time for the next 15 to 20 years. If you have something to say, now is the time to say it, either by showing up or by writing it down and sending it to the working group.
I am committed to representing the diving industry in the Upper Keys. Your thoughts, experiences and comments are an important part of the process. I welcome your comments, and the process would greatly benefit from your knowledge in this critical time for the Florida Keys. Contact me through the email below, and let’s set up a time to speak directly.
The Upper Keys meetings are the 25th and 26th of March, at the Key Largo Hilton. Times and dates for all the meetings are here: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/whatsnew/around/2014/WGflyer.pdf
If you want some background information on reserves and how they work, see this summary page, then click through to the case studies:
Tim Grollimund is a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo. He can be reached at email@example.com. Tim is a member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. Opinions expressed by Tim are not the official views of the FKNMS.