Join the Wild Women of Women Outdoors, Inc.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

I was pondering this the other day as I was sitting in class wishing I was enjoying the crisp sunshine of a beautiful Florida fall day so I decided to take it upon myself to find ways to jump-start a love for the wilderness.  Of course, in order to do that, I stayed inside and “Googled” a solution.

I was happy to come across a good “.org” site which every journalist and blogger knows is a legitimate source.  This website is called womenoutdoors.org. 

The website itself is green-hued and filled with pictures of life-vested, hiking boot-donning, smiling women engaging in my favorite sorts of activities: hiking, kayaking, fishing, you name it.  As I read on, I found that Women Outdoors, Inc. is a “nonprofit, all-volunteer organization” founded in 1980.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

 

This chapter explores Big Cypress National Preserve, the Intercoastal Waterway (my neck of the woods, ya’ll), the Everglades, and the Florida Keys.  At only $30 a year for dues and $15 for students ages 18 to 25, these opportunities are tough to beat. 

Each year on Memorial Day weekend, the group gets together for their national conference called “The Gathering” in which all region join together to engage in activities ranging from knot-tying to kayaking to Tai Chi.

This year’s Gathering will be held at Sargent Center in southern New Hampshire.

In addition to The Gathering conference each year, Women Outdoors encourages members to attend a service-based trip called “Women Outdoors: Unleashed!”  In the past, this trip has included involvement in Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans in 2007 as well as fund-raising hikes such as Wilderness Heals for the Elizabeth Stone House in 2008.

The group encourages women to speak their ideas for Unleashed! trips for the future.  By emailing SpecialEvents@womenoutdoors.org and providing them with materials on the service or volunteer organization you would like to help benefit, the next trip could be your idea. 

The organization’s mission statement explains their dedication to promotion and education of the outdoors to women and to helping preserve the world’s natural resources.  With over 400 members, Women Outdoors is a great resource for ladies interested in nature. 

 

The Lion’s Share: Florida’s Lionfish Problem

Courtesy of the FWC, lionfish

Courtesy of the FWC 

A University of Florida researcher sees no end in sight for the eradication of the invasive fish in Florida waters that has been taking a lion’s share of reef habitats.

Tom Frazer, professor and interim director of the school of natural resources and environment, was published in this year’s issue of Reviews in Fisheries Science that shows troublesome lionfish may never be removed from Florida’s coastline reefs but may be kept under control in targeted areas. 

 

Frazer’s research took place on Little Cayman Island with the Central Caribbean Marine Institute based out of Princeton University.  The group studied the threats posed by lionfish to the reefs there such as eating native fishes and potentially reducing biodiversity in the ecosystem, he said. 

 

The spiny, ornate lionfish were identified off the coast of Florida in the 1980s, Frazer said.  Since then, they have skyrocketed in numbers and have now spread to Caribbean and South American waters as well as the Gulf of Mexico. 

 

The creatures were first seen within Bloody Bay Marine Park on Little Cayman Island in 2008, he said.

 

The research done by Frazer’s team off Little Cayman Island was conducted over several months in 2011.  The group measured and dissected the stomachs of lionfish removed off of 11 reef sites by local dive masters, he said. 

 

Voracious and venomous predators, these fish victimize valuable juveniles of native species such as grouper and snapper, he said. 

 

The dissection was done to find whether bigger lionfish have different diets than the smaller, he said.  Frazer’s research shows that smaller lionfish eat shrimp, a much less economically valuable resource. 

 

The reason lionfish are such a threat to the reef ecosystems is they are prolific breeders, Frazer said.  A mature female has the ability to lay tens of thousands of eggs every two to three days.

The growth rate of lionfish is so quick that scientists struggle to study them before maturity. 

 

Adults have no known predators, Frazer said. 

 

The REEF Headquarters director of special projects, Lad Akins, said derbies have been held throughout Florida in an attempt to keep the lionfish population under control.  In these competitions, divers and snorkelers try to catch as many fish as possible in a given time frame using spears or nets.

 

This year’s tournament in Key Largo hosted 11 teams that brought in 461 lionfish, he said.  The largest of the fish was 410 millimeters long.  Prizes were given for the most fish caught, the largest and the smallest.

 

The event was September 8. 

 

Akins added the effort to maintain control of the lionfish population in Florida and Caribbean waters must be sustained over time in order to work. 

 

Similar derbies have been hosted in Palm Beach and Broward counties, according to the REEF Headquarters website. 

 

In a phone interview, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission public information specialist

Amanda Nalley said the possibility of completely eliminating lionfish is unlikely because they swim to depths that prevent divers from capturing them.  

Because of the increase in lionfish numbers, a temporary change has been made in the regulations for lionfish fishing, she said.  The change allows non-licensed divers to go after the species as long as they use equipment approved by the FWC such as pole spears, Hawaiian slings or other lionfish-specific devices. 

 

The limit for unregulated fish is two fish or 100 pounds per day, whichever is more. 

 

Commercial fish harvesters have no such limit but must report their catch, Nalley added.  These harvesters are also helping the cause by going after lionfish even if the fish are a by-catch caught along with their commercial game.  Lionfish can weigh up to 2.6 pounds. 

 

“I think that in order to make a significant impact on lionfish the effort will have to be sustained for a very long period of time and I’m hoping that, when we identify the locations that are most important, we can allocate the resource that is needed through that effort,” Frazer said.

Don’t sweat the small sharks

To the experienced fisherwoman, catching little sharks in the shallow waters of the Florida Keys is simply an obnoxious business.

However, if you’re me and you enjoy spending time on a boat with your best friends, listening to music and pulling out whatever catch manages

Carina with a bonnethead of Bahia Honda Key

Me with a bonnethead off Bahia Honda Key.

to pierce its lip with your hook, little shark fishing can be a thrilling experience.

This past summer I went on our annual Keys fishing trip which includes my own family and a couple of my friends and their families.  On days when the weather wasn’t right to get out into the open blue, we preferred to make a “kids boat” although all of us are well into our adult lives and an “old folks boat.”  In hopes of catching yellowtail snapper or grouper (and catching way too many grunts) to make up our dinner, we anchored on the west side of Bahia Honda bridge off of Bahia Honda Key. Continue reading