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September 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Flotsam & Jetsam

from the September, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Best Lionfish Weapon May Be . . . Lionfish? Florida Keys fisherman Gary Nichols has noticed something new: Lionfish are eating each other. "When you bring them up from the depths, lionfish spit out what's in their stomachs, and I noticed quite a few of them regurgitating other lionfish," he told National Geographic. He suspects lionfish eating shrimp and other crustaceans aren't satisfied by those small meals, so they're now preying on each other. DNA evidence in two studies has confirmed that lionfish in the Caribbean waters are engaging in cannibalism, and researchers are trying to determine if it's because they're depleting their existing food, like gobies and snapper. But Nova Southeastern University marine researcher Matthew Johnston doesn't think that's a cure . . . yet. "It would be interesting to see over time if there's an increase, because I think that would mean they're getting close to their carrying capacity for that area."

Florida Cracking Down on Manatee Mania. If you've always wanted to snorkel with Florida manatees, do it soon. Florida's Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing new regulations that will dramatically change how manatee-watching trips will run. Three Sisters Spring, the top manatee site, is getting overrun with tourists, going from 60,000 annual visitors in 2010 to almost 140,000 in 2014 -- it once hosted more than 1,200 people during just one day. New regulations would limit that number to no more than 29 people, including guides, at any one time. Also, fins will be banned to keep sand-stirring to a minimum, and a guide must be present with visitors at all time (nonlocals can't qualify for that position). Fish and Wildlife is taking public comments until September 4 -- e-mail them at crystalriver@fws.gov.

Your Next Dive Destination? Looks like the Great Barrier Reef has some new competition. Australian researchers just announced the discovery of a coral reef with diverse and thriving marine life rivaling that of the GBR. Using a remote-operated vehicle and underwater camera, they spent three days exploring the never-beforeseen habitats at Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park in southern Australia, separated by Tasmania from the Bass Strait. Besides boulders the size of houses, 100-foot-high sand dunes shaped by ocean currents, what makes the marine park's seafloor amazing is the "spectacular invertebrate and abundant fish communities." Wilsons Promontory is only 150 miles from Melbourne, but the area is remote and weather unpredictable. Still, the researchers want to encourage recreational diving there; government officials are analyzing their videos to determine which areas would be safest for divers.

Drug-Trafficking Diver Caught in Canal. Evelio Padilla Zepeda of Honduras pled guilty in San Diego's federal court last month after a failed attempt to smuggle nearly $1.8 million worth of cocaine into the U.S. through the All-American Canal near Calexico. His case highlights the creative ways Mexican drug traffickers are using to move their goods across the border. Padilla, 28, was arrested on April 25 after Border Patrol agents watching remote cameras spotted suspicious activity near the canal. They found him in a wetsuit and rebreather, with 55 pounds of cocaine shrink-wrapped in 25 packages. Agents then found an underwater tunnel that started at a home in Mexicali. Padilla said he was paid $700 to help transport three people across the border, and given a wetsuit. He jumped the international fence, found the waiting scuba gear and was then informed he'd be transporting drugs instead via a 1.5-mile swim up the canal to a bridge for dropoff. He said he did it because there was no other option. Padilla will be sentenced in December and faces 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Where Are the Trained Sharks? Outside magazine reports that a tourist in Yellowstone National Park recently filled out a comment sheet to complain that, "Our visit was wonderful, but we never saw any bears. Please train your bears to be where guests can see them. This was an expensive trip to not get to see bears." At least divers don't make the same request about sharks (we hope).

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