Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lionfish is probably here in Antigua already.

From island to island all the way from Florida along the West Indian archipelago the Pacific Lionfish has migrated up current. The story is that this very dangerous alien species first first got into the waters off Florida during the disastrous Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. I don't think there were many people who thought we would see them here. Just over a week ago The Nature Foundation St. Maarten reported that a specimen had been spotted on a wreck very close to shore.
Why is this terrible news and why do i describe them as "very dangerous"?
I describe them as dangerous for several reasons. The lesser evil is that they have a very painful sting. According to the Nature Foundation speaking about the fish that was spotted there:

If you do happen to catch it please be VERY careful; all of the spines on the caudal, pectoral, anal and dorsal fins are venomous and can cause an EXTREMELY painful and dangerous sting. First aid treatment is immersion in hot water, as hot as the victim can take. Advise your divers about this as well.
It is important that if you do catch it the specimen be delivered to or picked up by the Nature Foundation as we need to do tissue sampling and send it off to NOAA in the States, we need to analyze the stomach contents to figure out what its been eating, and we need to positively i.d the subspecies (P.miles or P.volitans). All of this info will help us control the invasion better.
The sting you get from touching one is pretty bad, but another more sinister evil is how quickly they reproduce and take over habitats in the Caribbean. These fish are not natural to this area at all and have almost no predators. They on the other hand, prey on anything that swims near them. A Jamaican fisheries officer told me that when they arrive on a reef, they quickly kill all of the other fish on the reef. He says that before long the Lions are the only fish on the reef. This type of invasive species is the most dangerous one as it destroys the ecosystem's food chain and ultimately the system itself. After writing these words I googled a bit to see if i could find some good articles to back this up. The Guardian out of the UK printed this article yesterday: Read Here.

Unless there is some very weird miracle, the lionfish will be spotted in Antigua and Barbuda very soon as it continues to spread like a plague down towards South America.
All Doom and Gloom? Well, there isn't much positive to say about this story, but I can only say that this is once again another reason among the many that i have already written about that the Fisheries Department of Antigua and Barbuda need to start working on protection of key species of fish. Groupers are one of the only predators of lionfish, and we naturally had a very healthy population of groupers until very recently. Overfishing and the total lack of proper fisheries management has lead to some species of grouper becoming extinct here and all of the rest of the shallow water reef species severely endangered. If the North East Marine Management Area gets started with a proper board and a proper manager, groupers and all other species of reef fish will make a rapid comeback. We will then start to see other large predators out on the reefs including the green moray eels and sharks that were so common up until the 1990s. The NEMMA and other carefully managed marine parks may be the key to preventing the total destruction of our marine habitats. Lionfish are killed by groupers, but without groupers the lionfish will takeover. Have a read of this interesting report on lionfish in other areas of the West Indies. Click here. This is a section from that article:
While complete eradication does not seem realistic, affected nations are encouraged to initiate targeted lionfish control efforts as soon as possible, including targeted fisheries (lionfish flesh is tasty and cooking denatures the spine venom). Efforts to reduce densities of lionfish at key locations may help to lessen their ecological impacts. Recovering and maintaining healthy populations of potential native predators of lionfish, such as large grouper and sharks, may also help reduce the deleterious effects of these voracious invasive predators.

 History repeats itself unless you learn from it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just back from a trip to see Zemi in Carriacou.

Last week I took on a quick delivery job which entailed me taking a powerboat down to the Grenadines. The boat belonged to Elite Island Resorts which has Galley Bay, St. James Club, and Verandah here in Antigua. They run a magnificent island resort in the heart of the Grenadines called Palm Island which is in fact where my wife and I spend the second half of our honeymoon last year. We had to deliver the boat to Palm, but part of the deal was that I would use the boat to deliver a few small items to our new Carriacou Sloop "Zemi". Eventually we will add this boat to our fleet.
Back in the early part of this year the new boat was launched with the usual traditions and ceremony. Here is a movie which contains a collection of images several of us took along the way as well as on launch day:

She has now had most of her ballast added, and just before we arrived there last week, she had her mast put in.
Our job while there was to get the mast properly rigged with the forestay, shrouds and running backstays. We also had to attach both jib and main halyards. Imagine trying to attach blocks and halyards to a mast that had none in it before. It's a good thing one of the builder's sons has ice running through his veins. It was a scary thing to watch as he climbed up the mast and balanced on the spreaders while attaching the blocks. Crazy. Don't ask me why they couldn't find a single shackle on windward to put on the top of the mast. That would have made it easier to get him up there safely. Anyway, by the end of a day and a half of work, we were almost ready to sail. Unfortunately we had to return to Antigua and left them trying to fit the rudder and boom. I think they will be sailing by the start of next week.
This shot taken with my phone shows Calistus up high on the mast fixing the rigging in place.

He was up there for ages as it was very hard work and not the safest. Imagine if this boat was being built in the UK where health and safety regulations are the strongest on the planet!
Anyway, the boss was his dad, and it seemed like this was something Cal had done many times. He showed no fear at all and got the job done.
Alexis Andrew's Genesis is almost in Carriacou and another Carriacou sloop will be on its way down from Antigua this weekend. They are both on their way to the Carriacou Regatta which is held over a few days starting on the 30th. We went last year and I was toying with the idea of going down to race Zemi this year, but I think I may end up missing it. That being said, the Zemi may end up sailing it's maiden voyage in the regatta if the builders get her ready in time. I will go down again some time this summer to sail her out of Carriacou.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tropical Meteorology 101 - hurricane season must.

I found this on the CrownWeather site and he had taken it from another site shown in the link below. If you are planning a holiday to the Caribbean this summer then I hve to tell you not to worry. Remember Antigua which is in a pretty good spot for hurricanes has had 6 days of hurricane conditions over the past 50+ years. You will be fine! Anyway, you should brush up on your meterology and how a hurricane forms and what happens next. This is the best set of info I have seen so far. Check it out so that you know what we are speaking about this summer. "Tek it easy", eli.

Tropical Meteorology 101 - GCWX - Hurricane Season 2010 - The Premiere WX Community For LA & MS

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Digicel has had a problem in Antigua and has kept it secret.

The problem with Digicel in Antigua that most people don't know about has to do with phones that receive and send data. Because it's so easy to miss this problem, most people won't even believe it if you tell them. In fact, many people working for Digicel have no idea about the problem either, but it's costing some of us money and causing many problems for others. Of course Digicel says that they service allows the user to send and receive date while receiving phone calls and texts, but this isn't working properly. The problem is that calls are not coming through occasionally when you are sending or receiving data. Our company has several phones in using data on our corporate plan where we have quite a few phones. It doesn't happen all the time, but we have had to buy a LIME phone which receives forwarded calls from our digicel number printed on the brochure. We sit in full signal with our digi phone and get calls on our secret LIME number every single day.
We had been complaining about the problem for over a year with Digicel always telling us that we must be in a bad signal area. All of our Adventure Antigua brochures have our digicel number on it and don't have our lime number. Our employees, our customers and I have to call our office/brochure number many times during the day and we all have gotten voice mail thousands of times. Our phone is manned 24/7 and we know that without it being answered we don't get customers and our boats sit in port. Answering the phone is paramount to getting good business and we make sure that we are in an area that has good signal. Yet for over two years we have been noticed the problem with voice mail all of a sudden coming in without a single ring. We have also been told by everyone who calls the number that it just after it not being answered it just goes to voice mail. Time and time again we called Digicel reps to be told that we don't know what we are talking about. Finally after a year of our Lime phone taking forwarded calls each day, I spoke to a Digicel technician who we can call "Mitch". He listened to the same story i had been telling the corporate account reps for ages and said "yes, we recently found out about this problem. We know that some of the calls coming into phones that are sending or receiving data don't come through. We have done some research and found out that we need some new equipment to solve this problem". I called the Digicel office in Antigua straight away demanding another phone and sim card for my phone so that i wouldn't have to buy another Lime phone. They asked me to put it in writing to them. I did and never got a reply. Ten days later I sent it again, but didn't get a reply. Recently I spoke to our corporate representative and asked him to find out about the problem and to find out why I haven't had a reply to my letters. I am still waiting to hear from him. Anyone using data and receiving plenty of calls.... you are missing many of them. Anyone ever tell u they called you and you had no missed call, or have you ever received a voicemail without the phone ringing when you are sitting in an area that has a strong signal? It's time for digicel to come clean and to not only do something about it but to compensate many of us for lost business.
I would go as far as to say that if Digicel know about this problem and has kept it secret, then this is fraud according to my definition of it. What do you think? Below is the first email that I sent to their office here in Antigua as requested.

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: eli fuller
Date: Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 4:19 PM

Subject: problem with incoming calls that are also receiving/sending data

To: mailto:&%5E$%5E#&@digicelgroup.com

Cc: Adventure Antigua,

Dear Althea, For what seems like six months i have been complaining to Digicel representatives about a problem that i had noticed with your service. When in a position with full signal I often a) receive voice mail alerts and/or b) am told by people (including my staff and customers) that they had called me without getting a reply.
This wouldn't normally be a problem IF I heard the phone ring or noticed a missed call. The problem is that this usually happens without my phone ringing and registering a missed call.
As i mentioned, i complained about this time and time again. In fact, it happened so much on our main company phone 268 726 6355, that I nearly fired my own sister who answers that call. I accused her of not telling the truth because I would be calling her counting the calls, only to get her voice mail. She'd ring me back saying that the phone never rang. This is our main company phone that is advertised in all of our promotional materials. Our business depends on this phone receiving calls so much that I told her to go and buy a phone from Lime. We now have our 726 6355 number forwarded to the lime number, so that we don't miss calls from our customers. Despite this phone number not being on any of our promotional materials YET, we get calls on that number forwarded from our digicel number every day. This is totally unacceptable but what makes matters worse, is that for months and months I have been telling digicel reps that I am experiencing this problem on my phones and they always tell me that essentially i am imagining it. You can imagine how frustrating it is to know a problem exists and to be told that there isn't one.
Today I finally spoke with someone in your company who knew something about the problem. I was told by this person that they recently realized that they had problems occasionally where people who were using data were not receiving calls that rang through on the other end as if they were not being answered. THIS IS THE PROBLEM I HAVE BEEN EXPERIENCING FOR WHAT SEEMS LIKE A YEAR!
I know I have lost business because of this as tour reps tell me that they have just called the next tour company time and time again when they were unable to get a reply from our number.
At the very least I want you to give me simple phones and sim cards for three of my company phones that I know are experiencing this problem. We will then forward all calls to these (non data) phones so that we can receive our calls when the other phones are experiencing problems. I also would like a credit for the amount i spend every month with Lime which as it happens is a tiny charge. We only use the phone to receive calls that don't come through on our 726 6355 number and have been doing this for nearly a year.
As I mentioned on the phone, this problem which is being kept quiet by Digicel has cost my company money and wasted quite a bit of my time and patience.
Please let me know what you are going to do about it, and also please tell me when you think it will be repaired.

Thanks, eli


Monday, July 12, 2010

Just another comment on fisheries in Antigua

As you will know if you have been a regular reader of my blogs over the years, I often comment on the lack of proper fisheries management here in Antigua. Our marine ecosystem is way bigger than our terrestrial systems yet it has no real visible management and as a result many areas of the fishery and the marine environment that support it are having huge problems. Use the little search box up in the corner to search for "fisheries" and you will probably find more posts.
The comment here is about a dinner I went to this week. Actually it happened twice. The first was a dinner with a bunch of people from both sides of Antigua's political divide. The politics wasn't that interesting, but what was to me was that dinner was two different types of fish. One is probably the most widely consumed fish in Antigua and Barbuda. I have no idea what the real name of the fish is or even what it looks like. "Banga Mary" is imported from South America and eaten all around Antigua these days. The other was flying fish, another import. While i ate the deeply fried fish, I contemplated the situation. Here we were in a room with some of Antigua's most influential people and possibly the next prime minister and we were eating imported fish. Why is it a big deal? Well it's not that I am complaining as I was a guest, and the fish actually tasted very nice. It's just that I know that the reason we were eating this imported fish is that it's almost impossible to get enough local fish for a large group such as we had that night.
On Saturday night I went to another dinner. This time the dinner and import was salmon and it was totally delicious, but again had the cook had been able to get some nice local fish we wouldn't have been eating something imported.
Yesterday I went to First Choice Supermarket, where I was surprised as how much seafood they had on the shelves. Salmon, shrimp, squid, scallops, lingfish, mackerel, conch, mahi mahi and others. The only thing on the shelf that was actually locally harvested was conch. Interesting as conch fishing is banned in many parts of the Caribbean because of such low stocks. On paper, we have legislation about conch fishing and there are size limits, but if you go around Antigua's coastline you will see piles of tiny conch shells that were illegally harvested. Why? Simply because nobody is out there checking.
Anyway, even the mahi mahi at First Choice was imported. I assumed it was simply because each time I have seen mahi before in the supermarkets, it had been imported from the Indian Ocean. These had a funny colour to them and had been frozen some time ago. The labels didn't say if the fish was from Antigua as did the conch. This is a fish that we have around Antigua off shore in good numbers.
The average hotel guest coming here to Antigua will not eat local seafood in their hotel at any time during their stay. This is almost totally because of terrible fisheries management. The same can be said for our residents. We have a very hard time finding any variety of fresh local fish. IT isn't because we don't have good fisheries facilities. We have quite a few lovely ones donated by the Japanese in exchange for our whaling vote. The simple problem is that overfishing without management has all but killed our fishery. There are still a few areas which can be utilized, but without management they won't last long. I fear that conch and lobster will be wiped out before long unless something is done. The sand producing and reef sustaining parrot fish and other similar herbivores are being harvested in unsustainable netting methods at alarming rates at the moment without any management at all. It's almost not worth speaking about it because the powers that be don't seem to be interested at all.
There is always cod fish right? We have been eating that here for hundreds of years..... Hold on a moment. The cod fish industry wiped cod out.

Monday, July 05, 2010

"My wife and I had an AWESOME time!!!!"

Another lovely review of our Xtreme around Antigua day tour. It's reviews like these that make us very happy to be doing what we do. THANK YOU MIKE!!!!!

Mike Esposito

Review posted on Trip Advisor....7/4/10

My wife and I have nothing but good things to say about Adventure Antigua. They were extremely helpful in getting our reservations setup before we arrived in Antigua and great throughout the tour. We did the Extreme Circumnavigation tour - it is a little more expensive than some of the other tours available, but well worth it!!!!

The power boat that they take you on is a blast - make sure to sit in the front if you like waves, ocean spray and to feel the full experience of the boat. It happened to be raining on the day we went, but my wife and I still had an AWESOME time!!!! We laughed the entire time and made the best of it. The captain and tour guide (forgot their names) both taller, skinnier guys, were hilarious. They knew that some people were not too happy with the rain, but tried to make the best out of the day. In our opinion, the rain was not something that anyone could control, so we just made the best of it. The captain and guide were very down to earth and great to talk with - they type of people you enjoy hanging out with, plus they were full of great knowledge about the island.

You go through a bunch of smaller islands and then you go to Stingray City - the camera guy who takes your pics and the guys who help you touch the stingrays were also great - very friendly and helpful to those who might have been a little scared at first (my wife). The stingrays are beautiful and come right up to you - you can even feed and pet them.

From here you go to a private beach where the team sets up a lunch for everyone - the BBQ chicken is to die for - some of the best I have ever had...! Then you go to Nelson's dockyard and then to pillars or Hercules where you snorkel for a little bit. We had a massive storm come in and so we were only there for about 10 minutes - I have been a Scuba diver for over 15 years and that was definitely some of the most "extreme" snorkeling I had ever did - the captain and guide quickly got everyone back into the boat and then we continued to make our way around the island. We were supposed to stop at one more beach for rum punch, but the weather took a turn for the worse, so we just started heading in - I learned how to drink rum punch in 6 - 7 foot seas while going 30 - 40 mph haha - seriously so much fun!

The waves were huge that day, but for us, it only added to the fun of the tour - definitely "extreme" haha...it is a tour and day we will never forget - tons of laughing, beautiful sites and well worth the money. I can only imagine that it is that much more beautiful and fun when the seas and weather are calm.

This tour books up quickly so make sure you get your reservations either before you get to the island or right when you get to your resort. Top class operation that I would definitely use again.


Friday, July 02, 2010

While Antigua's fisheries policy is focussed on Japanese Aid, Rome burns!


The title above is just so true. I have written many articles pointing out how exactly our nations marine eco systems are in severe decline while at the same time our government has received tens of millions in grants from Japan in a "quid pro quo" arrangement. We vote with them on any fisheries related issues at the various international conventions. Each country has one vote and ours is worth quite a sum.

This is simple politics and its the same world wide. I won't change it and will have to live with it. That being said, it is unacceptable that all of this money and support we are receiving form Japan isn't actually helping our marine eco systems in a way that will benefit future generations of fishermen or any other group.

Several days ago a large foreign flagged boat ran aground in the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) causing some damage to an area of shallow sea grass beds teaming with marine life. Remember, this area has been legally made into a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Our boat tours passed it early in the morning while the ship tried fruitlessly to get itself off the shallows. There was a huge cloud of silt all around the boat as its prop wash pushed and pulled the boat in the shallow waters. Here is a photo of the boat taken later on when they had stopped trying to move themselves:

If you look above the L in "Lovely Lisa" there is a guy at the wheel house, and this gives you an idea of how big the boat is. A little further back yo can see the boat's registration number. "TT" shows that this fishing boat is from Trinidad & Tobago which doesn't actually have anything to do with the point I am trying to make, but opens up another huge can or worms which I will tackle when i get more info. Everyone involved is being very tight lipped, so I don't know why a huge TT registered commercial fishing boat was stuck on a grass flat in our waters.
Back to my point...... We called the coast guard so that some help to the situation could be afforded. They didn't seem to know about it. A call was made to the Fisheries Division who also didn't know about it. The person on the phone seemed concerned and surprised and obviously wanted to do something about it, BUT they said something like they didn't have access to transportation. Later it was alleged that the budget for fuel in the Fisheries Division had been cut to almost nothing which meant that they were essentially grounded. All those millions of dollars in Japanese aid to build fisheries buildings and not a dime permitted to be used in protection of Marine Protected Areas or anything else for that matter. What a joke. It's all politics and you have to feel for the workers in the Fisheries Department. A call was also made to the Environment Division because they always seem to have transportation in the form of cars and trucks. They said they would speak with the Coast Guard.
In the end the boat was pulled off the shallows by a tug after considerable effort and it was towed to the tug's base nearby at Crabs industrial area.
Finally the Coast Guard and Fisheries inspected the boat and the decision was made to take the boat to the Coast Guard Base. I have seen nothing in the news about this boat but as far as I am aware, no charges or considerations were made in association with the damage to NEMMA's Marine Protected Area.
Anywhere else, the boat would have been heavily fined and impounded until the fines were paid.
Here is an article taken from the Amandala by Aaron Humes. It speaks of a more serious situation that happened recently in Belize. It shows that the financial side of these accidents are something that a broke government may want to take not of!
In what Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh called one of the most “technical” cases he has ever decided in his time in the Belize Supreme Court, the Government of Belize won its claim against the owners of Dutch cargo ship Westerhaven, which plowed into Belize’s Barrier Reef on the night of January 13, 2009, allegedly because of negligence on the part of its captain, Fritz Schroeder.

The MS Westerhaven Schiffahrb GMBH& Co. KG must now pay BZ$11.5 million in damages for running over an acre of pristine coral while on its way out of Belize, headed for Santo Tomas in Guatemala. The Company was represented by Michael Young and Darrell Bradley of Youngs Law Firm, while the case for the Attorney General was argued by the mother-daughter team of Lois Young and Deanne Barrow.
Estimates of the damage were as high as BZ$52 million at one point, but when the case went to court in November the defendants conceded liability and pressed for a judgment of US$2.5 million – the amount they estimated it would cost to rebuild the reef with artificial coral. They also argued that a 1976 Convention of Limitation of Liability on Maritime Liens, to which Belize is a party, would limit the amount the C.J. could grant to the Government.
The Government on the other hand requested as much as $31 million, based on an estimate of value of some $5,000 per square meter of coral.
In the judgment, according to Barrow, the C.J. stated that the 1976 Convention does not apply to injury to coral reefs, and therefore he was unlimited in what he could award in damages.
At the same time, the C.J. thought that $11.5 million was “fair” based on a reduced measure of value, at about BZ$2,000 per square meter. (The amount of coral damaged is estimated at a little over an acre, or between 5,500 and 6,500 square meters.)
Deanne Barrow told us that on the matter of rebuilding the reef, the idea was considered “not practical” because of the state of devastation the Westerhaven left in its wake; there was quite literally “nothing to build on,” she told us.
The area damaged is located about 32 miles southeast of Belize City, and is according to Barrow located within a prime protected area for Nassau Grouper spawning.
Expecting a possible appeal, the Government is seeking to enforce the BZ$13 million bond on the ship signed last February, weeks after the grounding.
In court this morning, we are told, the Chief Justice read a poem celebrating the value and beauty of the Belize Barrier Reef, long recognized as the second-longest unbroken chain of coral reef in the world behind its more illustrious cousin in Australia, and which demands Belize’s protection.

Recently back in Feb, another yacht ran aground on a lovely reef inside the NEMMA. Huge efforts were made by nearby residents and others to get this boat moved. All the government departments kicked the problem between them like a world cup football while the boat caused more and more environmental damage. The boat is still high and dry up there off Green Island. There is aslo another ship causing environmental damage in Seatons also in the NEMMA. Nothing has been done there either. A massive fuel leak from the West Indies Oil platform happened a few months back. NADA done bout that either. There are many more similar cases. There are environmental accidents all the time here and nobody pays any attention to them. When will our leaders learn?

EDIT 2/7/10

I called the local Coast Guard to find out more about this T&T registered fishing boat. They told me that they didn't really know why the boat was being kept and that i should speak with the Customs Department which i did next. They told me that the only reason the boat was being kept was that "it was found in an unofficial port of entry." JEEZ!!!! They were taken there by a tug boat that took several hours to get them off of a protected bit of marine eco system!!!!!!!!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Purple haze all in the Caribbean......

At various times of the year, the Caribbean can be covered in thick haze which makes it difficult to see very far at all. Many people looking at things like web cams will think that what they are seeing is just a cloudy day, but most of the time in the spring and summer months what they are seeing is haze caused by African dust or the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) as it is called in meteorological circles. Check this photo from today's Saharan Air Layer (SAL) Analysis:

As you can see, the dust coloured in orange and yellow, is covering the eastern Caribbean as it comes over the Atlantic from Africa. I just took a photo on my HTC and uploaded it to my twitter page for you to see the stuff. Click here for that photo. Pro photographers hate this haze as it can make for fairly flat images, but to be honest, that's the least of the problems this dust can cause. I wrote a long detailed blog about it with a pretty good explanation about it all in 2007. Click here to learn more about African Dust in the Caribbean.