No matter if you're a Christian, Buddhist, Darwinist, or one of those folks who stick a Jesus-as-fish icon on your car, you must accept the fundamental tenet that we as a species are of the ocean. Whether by God's hand or some other primal force beyond human cognizance, the cool thing called life began wet. We crawled from the sea, folks. So don't dis fish.
Deena Wells, the director of operations for the Key Largo-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), and her crew of sea-questing associates from a number of national environmental organizations are counting on your showing our progenitors the observation they deserve via a Fish Identification Seminar, which leads up to the Great American Fish Count, an event taking place the first two weeks of July. (You don't have to be a great American to help count fish, but you might be considered one for doing so.) GAFC volunteers will conduct recon ocular piscatorial calculations -- count fish, man. They'll document what's left out there by looking (and taking a few notes, natch). Last year about 300 aquarians took part in the survey; their findings were fed into REEF's database.
"This is aimed primarily at divers and snorkelers," says Wells, noting that anyone who knows how to swim can snorkel. "At the seminar we'll show video and slides of about 50 [indigenous] species and explain about their behavior and their habitats," which, in South Florida's case, means mainly the reef waters in the Keys National Marine Sanctuary. But Wells and the other organizers are trawling for data about all of Florida and the coastal waters of the rest of the nation too.
The Keys data-gathering will be especially revealing because a year ago those waters were declared "no take" zones, meaning no one has legally fished there during the past twelve months. "We want to see if that's made a difference in the fish populations there," Wells explains.
Although 1998 happens to be the International Year of the Ocean, around here the reverence sometimes goes beyond time. The Cuban words for the sea, words that are shared by those South Floridians who respect the water all around us, are la mar, spoken in a tone of respect and admiration accorded to a glorious lady greater by all measures than anything else in the world. Some spit in the sea, some love it like a mother. Be nice to her. And the fine-finned treasures she holds could use a few chums too.
The Fish Identification Seminar takes place Friday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences auditorium, 4600 Rickenbacker Cswy. The fee is $20, which includes a T-shirt, underwater paper, and a dive slate. Call 451-0312 or 800-862-3260.