Friday, April 28, 2006

Reef lures few fish, survey finds


The News-Press
By Kevin Lollar
April 26, 2006

Areas slow to recover from red tide
Engineering technician Paul Stancati from Lee County's Division of Natural Resources, surrounded by a red-hued macro algae floating in the water and coating lifeless coralhead, counts fish Tuesday during a survey at Pace's Place, an artificial reef five miles southwest of Redfish Pass.

A surreal, ghost-town atmosphere enveloped Pace's Place artificial reef Tuesday during a fish survey conducted by Lee County scientists.

During the first dive, the scientists counted only a handful of fish from seven species on a structure that should have been swarming with hundreds of fish from up to 20 species.

At the same time, despite top-to-bottom visibility, the water was full of fist-size blobs of algae, and algae coated the structure like soft, red fur.

Pace's Place, a one-quarter-square-nautical-mile site in 35 feet of water five miles southwest of Redfish Pass, is home to several structures, including a barge, crane, concrete tetrahedrons and piles of concrete boxes and risers.

Divers from the county's Division of Natural Resources were at Pace's Place on Tuesday to supervise as McCulley Marine Services of Fort Pierce dropped 450 tons of limestone rock from a barge to create a new structure at the site.

The rock came from the jetty at the north end of Captiva, which is being replaced.

"Limestone rock is the closest mimic to the natural system," said Chris Koepfer, a Lee County natural resources supervisor. " 'Artificial' reef is a misnomer: This is as natural as it comes. It's what a natural ledge is made of, so what you get fish-wise is what you get in the natural system."

In addition to supervising the rock deployment, Koepfer and engineering technicians Mike Capps and Paul Stancati conducted two fish surveys at Pace's Place.

Diving on two structures, they saw few fish, live crustaceans, mollusks or sponges.

Some local reefs haven't recovered from last year's massive die-off, Koepfer said.

Behind that die-off were red tide and a thermocline — a layer of abrupt temperature change in a body of water.

Karenia brevis (or K. brevis), the red tide organism, doesn't like to swim through temperature changes, so when a thermocline forms, huge concentrations of K. brevis can be trapped beneath it.

The resulting red tide kills fish and other organisms beneath the thermocline; their decomposition sucks oxygen from the water, and the lack of oxygen kills more organisms.

In the meantime, if not enough light gets through the thermocline, K. brevis dies, rots, and adds to the oxygen depletion.

Last year, scientists found areas of no- and low-oxygen levels from Pasco County to Lee County.

"Red tide and no oxygen: A double whammy," Koepfer said. "We were watching fish die last fall during surveys. It was active death all around us. Anchovies were doing death spirals. They were falling like rain.

"Now we're seeing very few species and very low numbers. I don't know how many years it will take to get the reefs back to where they were."

Adding to the strangeness of the almost lifeless reefs were the unusually clear water, the thick streams of drift algae, which looked like floating phlegm, and the hairy carpet of algae covering the reef.

"I've never seen anything like this," Koepfer said. "It's very strange. When the water gets warm, we start getting algal blooms, but nothing like this."

Much has been made in recent months of inshore algal blooms caused by nutrients flowing down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee and nutrients from sources such as lawn and golf course fertilizers and septic tanks.

Nutrients flowing into the estuaries and Gulf increase with heavy rains, and the past two years have been wet.

"Look at the nutrient load discharged from land over the past almost two years," said Brian Lapoint, a senior scientist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce.

"We're talking massive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Some of it is being recycled from the sediments. We still have nutrient memory from past years of cumulative nutrient inputs."

But a massive algal bloom takes more than nutrients, said Paul Carlson, a research scientist a the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

"The bloom on the reef is related to the extreme water clarity you noticed: You could see the bottom in 35 feet of water," Carlson said. "Macroalgal blooms are largely driven by light availability. That might not be the whole story, but you could have nutrients and no light and not have algae."

For two hours, the McCulley Marine front loader dropped 450 tons of rock into the clear Gulf water.

With all the rock off the barge, the reef ran 130 feet long with relief to 10 feet off the bottom.

"This'll be a good reef," Koepfer said. "If we can keep the water clean."


Monday, April 10, 2006

Old warship unlikely to stay afloat as hotel


New Zealand Herald
By Ian Stuart
April 10, 2006

HMNZS Canterbury.

Converting the navy's last steam frigate into a floating hotel has been suggested as one option for the 36-year-old warship Canterbury, now sitting dead in the water at the Devonport Naval Base.

However, the old Leander-class steam frigate, launched in Scotland in May 1970, is unlikely to host paying guests as a hotel because of the cost of keeping her afloat.

The 3000-tonne ship was decommissioned a year ago as the navy's last steam ship and has been sitting alongside at the Devonport Naval Base ever since.

The ship's boilers have not been fired up since it was decommissioned. However it was connected to the base's shore power, had its fire main charged and ready to be used and had regular safety inspections, the navy said today.

The ship is for sale by tender and would be sold for scrap or sunk as a dive attraction, as was its sister ship, the former HMNZS Wellington which was sunk at Island Bay in the capital after a trust bought it from the Government for $1.

The navy has advertised for anyone interested in buying Canterbury and that process closes next month. The Government is then likely to decide if it will be sunk or sold for scrap.

The navy said today it had had a lot of interest from organisations interested in sinking or scrapping the ship.

The navy said it had also been asked speculatively about keeping it as a floating hotel although the cost of keeping the old ship afloat and watertight was expected to be huge.

Shortly before it was decommissioned, the ship had several hull plates replaced because they were badly corroded and the navy said it was not safe to put to sea.

In late 2004 the navy put the ship into dry dock for an inspection to see if its useful life could be extended beyond its retirement date but found the corrosion in some hull and deck plates was far worse than expected.

Because of the condition of the ship, keeping it afloat as a hotel was thought to be beyond the resources of a private company without the navy's help.

If Canterbury is sunk, it will not be with its main gun. The twin 4.5-inch main turret was removed and will go to the new naval museum in Auckland.

If it is sunk, it will be the fourth navy ship sitting on the seabed around the coast of New Zealand as dive attractions.

The old navy ship Tui and the Leander-class frigate Waikato were both sunk off the Northland coast several years ago.

Wellington was sunk last November but stormy seas broke in into three pieces earlier this year.

However, even when Canterbury is sunk or scrapped, the name will live on.

The navy has announced its new multi-role vessel, one of a fleet of seven new ships, will be named HMNZS Canterbury. The new ship was due to arrive in the country late this year or early next year.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Hurricane-wrecked I-10 bridge to become Gulf of Mexico reef


Ledger Enquirer
April 08, 2006

PENSACOLA, Fla. - The damaged Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay is set to become a concrete haven for fish and other marine life.

The 2 1/2 mile bridge is in line to be sunk in the Large Area Artificial Reef Site, which encompasses about 125 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 miles south of Pensacola, officials said.

Hurricane Ivan wrecked the bridge in September 2004, with pieces of the structure ripped away by the bay's roiling waters. A wider, taller, $243 million bridge is under construction.

Workers could begin dismantling the old I-10 bridge in January or February. The contractor has a $10 million incentive to finish the new eastbound span, which will handle four lanes of traffic, by Dec. 29.

"Once there are four lanes across the bay, the contractor will start demolishing the old bridges," said Bryan Estock, project manager for the I-10 bridge replacement project.

The USS Oriskany, an 880-foot decommissioned aircraft carrier, is scheduled to be sunk May 17 in the artificial reef area. It will join M-60 tanks, parts of oil rigs and sunken tug boats already on the Gulf bottom.

The old U.S. 90 bridge over the Escambia River, the old Bayou Chico drawbridge and the old Blackwater River bridge also have become artificial reefs. But the I-10 bridge has more concrete than all of those bridges combined.

Merrick VanLandingham, a dive pro in Pensacola, said the naturally flat and sandy floor of the gulf is not good habitat for fish.

"Things like concrete rubble are fantastic reef material. It doesn't rust, it doesn't get blown away and the fish love it," VanLandingham said. "Whenever something goes down, that's like your oasis in the desert."

Workers will remove iron from the bridge before it is sunk.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Attractive artificial reefs need not be shipwrecks


The Miami Herald
By Susan Cocking
April 02, 2006

REEF WONDERS: Concrete modules located

near Hollywood are covered with coral.

A Broward County official advised sport divers to explore some lesser-known structures in South Florida waters.

An artificial reef does not have to be a shipwreck in order to provide enjoyable recreation for scuba divers. That's the contention of Ken Banks, manager of marine-resources programs for the Broward County Department of Planning and Environmental Protection.

With federal and state permits to sink ships more difficult to obtain these days, Banks would like to wean sport divers away from barges and tugboats, advising them to check out some of the lesser-known structures that have been deployed in South Florida waters in recent years.

One of the least visited and most interesting sites is a collection of limestone boulders and tetrahedrons (four-sided concrete pyramids with each side an equilateral triangle) in 40 feet of water about a mile off the Renaissance towers in north Hollywood. The GPS coordinates are: 26 degrees, 03.147 north; 80 degrees, 05.822 west.

Deployed about six years ago as part of a mitigation project for damage from the 1993 grounding of the U.S. Navy submarine Memphis off Dania Beach, the boulders and pyramids are packed with numerous kinds of marine life.

Diving on the site last Wednesday, Banks and colleagues Joe Ligas and Don Behringer spotted a fat green moray eel and large schools of goatfish, grunt, snapper and wrasse. Bulbous, bug-eyed porcupinefish cruised the structures, along with Bermuda chubs, bar jacks, vibrant-hued parrotfish, scrawled filefish and angelfish. Tucked away in the crevices between the rocks were three long-spined sea urchins, which had been all but wiped out locally in the 1980s.

''Fantastic,'' said Behringer. ``People who dive look for conspicuous fish, and it is loaded with every kind of bony fish.''

On nine previous dives, Banks said, he saw snook on the reef, but Wednesday's 70-degree water might have sent them to warmer waters.

After exploring the boulders and pyramids for a while, the group headed north to three low-rise concrete castles where parapets shielded a few small heads of star coral and clouds of small fish. Beneath one sat a large lobster. Ligas said they were interlocking modules donated by roofer Danny Warren that serve as a small coral nursery.

''We'd like to do more of these instead of ships,'' Banks said. ``If people go back to these over time, they'll see them develop.''