Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rachel Bowman, Marathon

"I have lived in Marathon for 14 years and am originally from a little town in North Carolina.
I have been exclusively spearing Lion Fish for 3 years now. My friends and I brought in about 7500 lionfish last year and we are on target to do much better this year! We spear in water from 80 feet to 200 feet and we work on reefs and wrecks.
We have noticed a decline in lionfish this year in the areas we work. I collect and submit population data on lionfish for the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). The trappers (lobster and stone crab) are telling us they are not finding the amount of Lion fish this year they have previously either. That is great!
Our reefs here in the Keys are basically the nursery for the entire ocean, it is extremely important to keep the lionfish out of it. The reefs are where fish go to make other little fishies! Lionfish can eat 20 fish in 30 minutes. They do not get full. Scientists have observed them in tanks and they actually eat until their stomachs can't hold anymore then regurgitate and keep eating. They will eat everything and have the capacity to eat anything that is up to 2" smaller than they are. This fish can live for up to 15 years and get up to 19" in length. Once she is a year old, a female lionfish will release two million eggs per year, which are fertilized by males, and carried through currents and tides until hatching. They are as far north as RI and as far south as Venezuela, as far to the sides as the Gulf and the Caribbean.
Lionfish are native in the Pacific. They are a non native and a big problem here in the Atlantic waters. They don't have any predators here, our fish don't know they can eat this fish, but they can; a Grouper is more than capable. As far as the Pacific species goes, we have 2 here. In the Pacific Ocean there are Groupers and Shark species that eat them; there is also a Pacific parasite that kills them, and we have the parasite here in the Atlantic but it hasn't developed to that yet. Eventually that will help and the fish will learn, but right now we (humans) are their only predator.
They are incredible. They are the most beautiful fish in the ocean. It is magnificent to watch them flair up.
Lionfish are venomous but they are not poisionous. Poisionous means it is throughout the body. Venom is only in a part. The venomous part of the lionfish is in its glands and its spikes, it is not in their entire body. The venom in the glands and spikes is not in the meat.
Lionfish are delicious. It has the texture of a snapper and the flavor of Hog Fish. When you order lionfish in a restaurant you are not only supporting a commercial industry but you are also taking a little bit of pressure off the other species.
The current belief is that the Lion Fish were released from someone who had them in an aquarium. The fish was eating everything in the tank so it had to go. No one likes to kill anything beautiful, so they just released it. It had caused a big problem on our reefs and in our ocean."
You can find Rachel and ask her questions on her facebook page:
Photo credit to Jerry Cowan

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tiffany Wolgast

"I was born and raised down here. I was born in Fisherman's Hospital, one of the last years they were birthing babies there!
My dad was the principal of KLS (Key Largo Schools) and later Marathon, my mom was on the School Board, my step-mom was a teacher at KLS, and my step-father was the judge. Yea, I didn't get away with much down here!
I skipped school sophomore year and drove to Key West; I thought I was completely safe! On my way back I pulled up behind a school bus full of football players. I got a note stuck to the back of the bus window that said 'Aren't you Mr. Wolgast's daughter?'. Before I hit Islamorada I was getting phone calls from my dad. The coach had called my dad and sold me out! My dad was good at posting pictures of me all over his office, I am assuming for that very reason!
I left the Keys for 10 years and now I am back and raising my kids down here, they go to KLS and now everyone recognized them."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ben Daughtry, Aquarium Encounters

Ben Daughtry, Aquarium Encounters
11710 Overseas Hwy, Marathon
"I was born in Key West; I am a local, a Conch. I have lived here in the Keys my whole life.
I graduated from Marathon High School and then went on to FSU (Florida State University). I studied Criminal Justice, I wanted to work in local law enforcement on the water down here, but when I was 1 semester shy of earning my degree, I learned that you had to meet certain vision requirements to be in law enforcement and I am blind without contacts. I would not be able to get a job doing what I wanted to do, what I had been studying. Everything happens for a reason.
I came back to the Keys after college and went back to work with Dynasty Marine Assoc. I had worked with them in High School. I had known Forrest Young, president and founder of Dynasty; most of my life, his first wife taught me in 2nd grade, I lived 3 houses down from them and I got my first fish for my aquarium from him when I was 7 or 8 years old. He decided to give me a shot when all I really wanted was a job for about 6 months, and it turned into a 18 year career collecting live marine fish for public aquariums all over the world.
Collecting fish for public aquariums allowed me to travel extensively and see many different aquariums in many different places all over the world. It had been a dream of mine since visiting Curacao in 1996, right after college graduation, and we saw the Curacao Aquarium. Dutch, our friend in Curacao, has built, with his own 2 hands, quite an amazing aquarium. Within that aquarium was an opportunity to get in the water and swim with all different kinds of animals and, through a piece of acrylic, feed big sharks. I thought that was the most amazing dive I had ever had.
I didn't sleep that night. It started me thinking about what a great opportunity it would be to do something like that here in the Florida Keys, my home town. The dream started in 1996 to build Aquarium Encounters! Here it is. Nothing here is original, I took ideas from aquariums all over the world, but it works and it is interactive, fun, an amazing experience for people.
There is nothing more rewarding for me than seeing other families come here and see the wonder in their kids eyes and the joy in parent's eyes when they see their kid pet a sting ray, or if they are able to get in a tank with the animals. They get to be immersed in this experience.
I have a beautiful wife and 2 boys that get to come here and enjoy this. I take my boys to daycare every morning and we come here before daycare and walk the grounds and hang out for about a half hour a couple of times a week. It is great to be able to share this and that time with my family, my sons."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

~Atiya~ From Iraq, on work study, visiting the Keys

" Well, for one thing I'm not wearing a burqa. I hope to stay in America. I have no desire to go back.
When you look at me this way, the way I am now, you don't think about terrorism or anything. I look just like other people here.
I miss my family terribly, but, I just don't want to go back. Now with ISIS and all the other insanity, nowhere over there is safe. I'm afraid there are cells of these monsters here in America. They are not just going to go away. Their ideology makes no sense, it's just about killing, it's all about killing. They hate Christians. I hope you understand that. They hate everything that America stands for. They hate your freedom, your money, your nice life, everything.
I know you cannot imagine in America people being kidnapped and put in a cage and burned alive in your country. I know you cannot imagine people being lined up on one of your beaches and having their heads cut off.
I hope you never have to see these things.
I love my classes and I love staying with my friends in Key West on the weekends as often as I can.
This is the safest place to be, but, having lived like I have lived, I never feel completely safe. "
I'm not going back."