Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Love — Hate Relationship with Dolphins

Today I went on a six hour deep sea fishing trip out of Destin, FL in search of a little fishing action and possibly dinner. We started out at 7 a.m. with the weather forecast calling for a 50% chance of rain. Luckily we had smooth sailing and no rain for the entire cruise. It was an hour and a half to our first fishing location so I settled in to enjoy the fresh salt air and absolutely beautiful day. 

At our first stop we fished for a little while in about a hundred feet of water with about half of our passengers managing to catch something, even me (although they were too small to keep.) It was a week before red snapper season opened so everyone that caught red snappers had to release them. A pity because they were nice sized and abundant. My supervisor from my day job came along with his family and he caught a really nice Trigger Fish. He's lucky — he caught it right before the bane of my existence showed up — dolphins. 

Normally I adore dolphins, especially when they're frolicking around my kayak in Choctawhatchee Bay. When the dolphins turned up I was excited at first, that is until I saw what thieving little opportunistic monsters they are. As soon as someone would hook onto a fish (and we were all instructed to reel hard and fast) the dolphins would dive under the boat and steal the fish right off the line! GRRRRRRR. NOT cool!!

Our captain moved the boat about a mile away and we dropped our lines again. No good. The deckhands reiterated that we needed to reel fast and don't let the dolphins get our fish. Dolphins can swim 35-45 mph. Humans cannot reel that fast. 

Again the captain moved our boat. Things weren't looking good. We probably got about a quarter of what we hooked to the surface. Twice I hooked into a huge fish and reeled like mad, only to have Flipper take off with my monster whatever-it-was. GRRRRRRRR. 

The captain then tried to out-run the dolphins to our next location. I managed to land a nice sized red snapper that I then had to release because it was out of season. Then the dolphins showed up again just in time for the captain to blow the horn and call it a day. 

So despite the slim pickings I enjoyed the adventure. I didn't enjoy having an empty stringer and no dinner. I am most disappointed in my beloved dolphins. I love them when they are visiting me in my kayak or fishing along the sand bars. I definitely despise them in earnest when they are harassing the charter I'm on. Bad dolphins!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Visit to St. Vincent Island

On Saturday we took a trip out to Port St. Joe along the peninsula down to Indian Pass where the tip of St. Vincent Island lies just a half mile from shore across St. Vincent Sound. The island itself is a National Wildlife Refuge where Red Wolves, Sambar Deer, Red and Gray Fox, feral hog, American Alligator, Nine-banded Armadillo, and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake can all be found living on the island. Visitors are allowed on the island by day and camping is not permitted. To make getting around on the island easier there are a network of gravel roads traversing the island, however only foot and bicycle traffic are permitted. Visitors can take a shuttle boat over from Indian Pass or do like we did and bring your own kayak or canoe.

Our trip from Fort Walton Beach to Port St. Joe took just under three hours. We arrived early and unloaded the kayaks and gear. It only took a few minutes to get underway and it was a short quick jaunt across the pass. Our group consisted of two Hobie SOT kayaks and two SIK kayaks. It was a green flag day (calm) so the group headed out the pass and paddled along the Gulf side of the island, encountering several dolphin pods along the way, until we were about halfway down before we saw one of the roads (#4) and landed there.

We ate a quick lunch, loaded up our backpacks with water bottles and bug spray and headed in to explore the island. Within just a few yards the sea breeze leaves visitors to the mercy of Florida's brutal heat and humidity. Luckily, having lived in Florida for quite a while, we were acclimated but not happy about it. However, in short order we began encountering the wildlife that St. Vincent Island is famous for.

Our first encounter was with a pack of deer flies. DO NOT FORGET to bring your bug spray with you. Deer flies are nasty, painful creatures capable of inflicting painful bites. We applied our bug spray and pushed onward. Our next encounter was watching a feral pig with piglets crossing the road ahead of us. Next we nearly tripped over a large turtle sitting alongside the road in the tall grass. We took pictures and continued on  to our next encounter with a small group of Sambar deer who bolted onto the roadway in front of us. They were too fast for my camera at the first encounter, but we met up with them again about fifteen minutes down the road and I was able to get pictures as they grazed.

Finally the heat was too much, our water levels low, so we headed back to the beach to cool off and head back to the pass. It was an easy paddle back, having paddled into the wind on the way out, however, once at the pass and with the heating of the day the chop in the pass was a bit intimidating. The SOT kayaks negotiated it without problem, while my SIK kayak had quite the wild ride while I tried to keep the kayak from pitching and rolling in the surf. I wouldn't recommend beginners attempt to negotiate the pass.

I finally made it back to the landing, just a little worse for wear. One of our group got overheated and had to cool down, just another side effect of Florida's heat and humidity. Aside from the heat, humidity and negotiating the pass it was a good trip. We're planning another trip soon with an early start to explore the bay side of the island.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dear BP ‒ Oops Doesn't Cut It

It has been a month since the sinking of the Deep Water Horizon off the coast of Louisiana and still toxic oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico poisoning our waters. Yesterday thick vats of oil slopped into the delicate marshes and bayous of Louisiana killing everything it touched. Where was BP's grand plan to stop it? Oh wait, that was the same Dog & Pony Show that kept reassuring everyone that the oil would be contained, it would never reach shore, no animals would die in the making of this disaster, and the fishing and tourism industry would not be affected. Newsflash BP: Reciting a Mantra of Lies Doesn't Make it So!

Plausible Deniability

BP has tried to distract the public with finger pointing about who is ulitmately to blame for the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon on May 20th ‒ at this point it no longer matters whether it was BP, TransOcean or Haliburton. What matters now is getting the well head sealed and cleaning up the colossal mess that has turned the Gulf of Mexico into a vat of poison. But where is BP? That's right, out spinning more yarns to pull the wool over the eyes of the public (for you Brits that's Southern speak for crafting masterful works of fiction that sugarcoat the truth.)

While sea turtles, dolphins and oil covered pelicans turn up on shore, BP keeps repeating the mantra that “while unfortunate, they are not oil related.” So, you expect the locals to believe that they all just stopped off at the Quicky Lube for an oil change because its something that they like to do for fun? Sorry, we're not buying what you're selling. However, if the Powers That Be at BP would like to join us for a locally caught seafood dinner I'm sure we can whip up some sort of tasty sauce to cover up that nasty non-oil related film that the fish have swam through and ingested.

Compensation From BP

So by now the question begs to be asked of BP: What are you going to do for us now that the fishing and tourist industry is ruined? Are there grand plans in place to replace all of the marine life that is dying off in the Gulf of Mexico? Can you put a price on an endangered sea turtle or West Indian Manatee? Have you ever seen a Diamondback Terrapin in a Louisiana Marsh and did you have a spare to replace the ones that are dying? Can you replace the experience of walking amongst thousands of tiny clicking Fiddler Crabs on a hot summer evening if there are no crabs left to see?

Furthermore, BP, have you truly realized the impact on the fishing villages along the coast? For many fisherman, fishing is their life. If the boat doesn't run, their families don't eat. They can't just go out and get another job because not only does it take time to learn new skill sets, there aren't a lot of alternative jobs in a fishing town. This isn't big city life and it is close-minded to expect them to just pick up and move to where there are other opportunities. These are their homes!

Finally, there's the rest of us that live, work and play in these small communities. Is BP going to be sending all of us checks in the mail to make up the difference in the higher prices that we will now have to pay to buy seafood that has to be imported because fishing in the Gulf has been impacted? Are they going to pay for vacations that we have to take somewhere else because we can't go to our own beach? Will they be building us a giant aquarium where we can go free of charge to see the marine life that we used to be able to see swimming in local waters? Most importantly, will they be cloning endangered species and putting them back so that future generations can see them as well and not just remember them from pictures and stories? Yep, that's what I thought...
Photo by: USFWS/Southeast