Storm Aftermath: Aquarium Trade Checks-In, Part 5
22 Sep, 2017
It’s been a week since our initial coverage of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Florida Keys are still a mess, with residents working tirelessly to clean up, nevemind the months or years some residents will face in trying to reestablish their homes and livelihoods, if they even can.
Meanwhile, our friends in Puerto Rico are facing unparalleled devastation in the wake of Hurricane Maria. As this latest report comes together in the early morning hours of Friday, September 22nd, 2017, reports predict Puerto Rico will suffer “months without power,” while flash flood warnings are in effect for the island; meanwhile, Turks and Caicos residents prepare for Hurricane Maria. This hurricane season gives the impression of being an order of magnitude more extreme, perhaps unprecedented.
We’ll continue to share stories and updates from our friends in the aquarium industry as they come in. If you have an update we should know about, please email your story and images to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
Reports from Florida, Week 2
Reporting from their Marathon, FL, Coral Farm
Status: After many days of keeping news internal, Bill Backus finally broke the silence at A&M Aquatics today, 9/22/17, and shared the devastating news for their Marathon, FL, coral farm.
“Many of you know we have an aquaculture farm in the Florida keys which was recently devastated by Hurricane Irma. We’ve had a lot of questions about how things are at the coral farm and we wanted to give you a quick update.
“First of all, we are thankful we evacuated safely. It’s been a long, hot couple of weeks since Labor Day when we began preparations for the storm and we are still evaluating our situation.
No one can comprehend what this area is like without being here. We are in Marathon, one of the hardest hit areas.
“In the pictures [above], you can see a before and after of our mobile home where we live when working at the farm. The farm fared slightly better, but it’s going to be a long road to recovery.
“We want to give a special thank you to staff and volunteers from Coral Restoration Foundation who have spent time with us this week helping remove debris at the farm. It’s an overwhelming task in oppressive heat and humidity with only power from a generator. We also want to thank those of you who have reached out and kept us in your thoughts and prayers. If we have not responded to some of you, please accept our sincere apologies. We are physically and mentally overwhelmed by this and are behind on our communications. Your continued support is greatly appreciated as we take this day by day.
“Stay tuned for another update next week.”
Image Credits: A&M Aquatics
Henry Feddern, Florida Keys Marine Life Collector
Status: Dr. Henry Feddern, a Florida marine life collector interviewed for CORAL by Ed Haag back in 2011, was finally able to send an update to CORAL’s Vermont headquarters on Tuesday night, 9/19/17. “We returned last Thursday [9/14/17]. Power was already on, but we had no television, Internet, fax line, or air conditioning. We are under a boil-water advisory. My house is fine; the downstairs fish holding area had three feet of salt water in it. No real damage except for destroyed air and water pumps. My boats are fine. We have three trees down. The beehives that I had in the yard have disappeared. One week after Hurricane Irma, the water in the creek is still like chocolate milk. It will be at least 2 weeks before I am back in business, depending on water clarity. I shudder to think what I will find in my collecting areas.”
Chemipure [Boyd Enterprises], Reef Aquaria Design, and Jellyfish Art
Status: Last week, president Jeff Turner wrote us, about to depart for the Florida Keys by boat, as it was the only way into the Keys following Hurricane Irma. On Sunday night, 9/17/17, Turner sent in an update and several images of the destruction witnessed on the journey to Marathon.
“By Wednesday we had power at our warehouses; however, I’m still on the generator at my home,” wrote Turner. “I took in one of my buddies and his gal from Marathon and they kept getting turned back at the roadblock in Homestead.
“So we decided that we would wake up early Thursday and take my 42 Hydrasports from Miami Beach all the way down to Marathon on the outside past all the lighthouses to avoid any submerged debris. Wednesday afternoon my client from Marathon also flew into FLL [Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport], and he joined us for the trip. I had a ton of water, fuel, two generators, and loads of food.
“Getting enough fuel was a whole other situation, and we were limited to only 100 gallons at the first open dock location in North Miami. I made some calls and found fuel open on Key Biscayne, so we hauled ass that way and were filled up with 630 gallons by 1 P.M. Rolled out around Key Biscayne Lighthouse at 40 knots and kept it trimmed up all the way down past Fowey, Pacific, Carysfort, Molasses, Alligator, Tennessee, and finally turned into Sisters Creek with Sombrero Light offshore. What an unbelievable ride on super-calm seas. Never stopped the boat and just avoided planks, huge bay grass clumps, traplines, and an assortment of sketchy stuff. Passed three or so lobster guys pulling traps in the deep water edge and only saw one other boat southbound. No FWC or Coast Guard at all, so we lucked out getting here.
“Getting near shore at Sisters Creek Pass, it was obvious that they took a significant blow/surge, and the tree, dock, roof and boat damage was surreal for sure. We made it to my client’s incredible home with roofs intact and his natural gas generator was still running perfectly since Sunday. His reef aquarium looked beautiful still, but there are lots of other things to attend to outside. My buddy Doug and his gal Wendy, the owner of Tildens Dive Center in Marathon, took bicycles to her vans, and it appears that they have lots of issues with their homes and businesses.
“The most amazing thing is we made it here and I cooked a wonderful dinner of Mahi Mahi, got fifty bags of Mahi in the freezer here, and finally took a hot shower and slept in AC. I went over to Ben Daugherty’s house from Dynasty Marine and Aquarium Encounter (he literally lives three doors down), and his generator was running outside the house. Left word with the neighbor to see if he needs help and will find out today after lunch. Their large dive cat is looking good at his dock that I can see right now as I’m cleaning out the crap from my client’s boats.
“We are pretty lucky here in Marathon and understand Big Pine south past Summerland is in a real pickle for sure. That’s all for now. Will try to send you some images after the sun goes down. It’s a wonderful life here in Florida and sometimes Mother Nature has to straighten things out a bit…”
Some of the sights from the Keys, as sent in by Jeff Turner this week:
Image Credits: Jeff Turner
New Life International (Spectrum Foods)
Status: We overlooked the news out of Homestead in our initial compilation, but wanted to share the story, as told by company president Ian Teepot on 9/14/17.
“As we get into the clean-up and preparations for resuming operations after our brush with Hurricane Irma, I want to thank everyone for their patience during this time. We also want to give you all an update as to our status and when we can expect New Life Spectrum® to be shipping from our facility once more!
“We anticipate being able to resume shipments (and production) starting next week. This week we are cleaning up the facility and prepping it to begin production, packaging, and shipments. This applies to orders that have already been submitted, to clear our backlog. Unfortunately, we will likely not be processing new orders until between September 15-18th. Our facility has power, but we don’t have telephone service or internet as of yet. Once this comes up, we will resume full normal operations.
“For customers looking for New Life Spectrum® in stores, this likely means that you will see little or no disruption of continuity in having our nutrient-rich pellets on shelves.
“We were very fortunate that Hurricane Irma turned away from Miami-Dade county at the last moment, and we only received Category 1 Hurricane winds — avoiding most of the potential damage that could occur. However, I want to take a moment to recognize those that weren’t so lucky in the Florida Keys, Marco Island, and the west coast of the state, along with those experiencing flooding. It’s one of the unfortunate parts of hurricanes that one area’s good fortune comes as the expense of another.
“Our new social media coordinator, Hilary, has done a great job in her first outing with us under unusual and trying circumstances. With her help, we’ve posted items on our Facebook page about resources to help those more hard-hit than we by Irma.
“It also means that we may be out of communication for a bit, due to interruption to internet and voice telephone services that may persist for a significant period. Our Facebook page should have updates on our status. This also means that, during this period, customer service will be necessarily limited. We thank you for your patience during this time, and we thank you for being a New Life Spectrum® customer.”
Two Little Fishies
Miami Gardens, FL
Status: We were told by Colin Foord (Coral Morphologic) that Julian Sprung had quite the story to tell in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. It took several days, but finally, after we had published our first series of stories, we were relieved to hear from Sprung, the man behind Two Little Fishies (and countless reef aquarium books and articles) on Saturday afternoon, 9/16/17.
“My family and I and all of Two Little Fishies’ employees are safe,” Sprung relayed. “We suffered no injuries or damage to our properties, but of course there are plenty of downed trees to be cleared. The most significant impact for us personally and at the business is the loss of electricity. We are used to that happening with these storms, but this time it seems like our utility company was not prepared for the scale of outages.
“As I write, we have now been without power for 6 days. Typically we would expect to be without power for one or two days; three would be a bad case. Public schools have been closed due to the power outages, not due to damage. Schools are scheduled to resume next Monday, eight days after the storm. At my home, the loss of electricity is 100%, while at Two Little Fishies (TLF) it is partial—the power at TLF is 3-phase, and one of the phases is out. As a result, we fortunately have power to keep the aquariums running, and also our freezers that maintain food ingredients. The air conditioning and the process equipment we use for production, however, are without power. This week we have only been able to produce some items that are packaged by hand.
“As a result of the power loss, and the high temperatures that come from losing air conditioning, I’ve lost many of my fishes and some corals. The fishes lost include several over 10 years old and one 21 years old.”
Sprung, on the harsh reality that even when you’re prepared, things can still go awry: “I’ve had experience with storms. We have impact glass windows at TLF and I have impact glass at home. Having a generator is a given for emergency power loss. This storm was predicted to produce a potentially catastrophic storm surge, so we gave extra attention to using sandbags to prevent water entry into our home. I was more focused on preventing damage to my home first.
“Aside from that, I look after my 92-year-old mother, who lives an hour north of Miami. She had to be evacuated from her home to a nursing facility because she cannot be without electricity. There was a lot to take care of in advance.
“Could I have done more to prevent the fish losses? Without a doubt, yes, but hindsight is 20/20. Given our hindsight with this storm, I am convinced that being dependent on the local utility company is not a good long-term option. Generators are helpful, of course, and installing a natural gas–powered one with automatic switching is a common option that we could use at home, but I believe that having solar photovoltaic systems with battery storage (for example, the Tesla Power Wall) would have been very helpful both at home and at work. I’ve been contemplating that for years, looking at the financing options that make such an investment make sense. The experience of this storm motivates me to proceed at last. At TLF, we could have been operating without interruption had we installed a PV system with storage. The generator option is less practical at our facility, as our warehouses are part of a condominium–there could be no location for a generator unless it was one that powered all of the units.
“I used battery backup pumping of air to maintain the aquariums until I could get to them to supply better circulation with a generator if needed. I have usually been at home during hurricanes, and this set-up has worked in the past. This time, I evacuated and the curfew prevented me from arriving home as soon as I wanted. Furthermore, the timing of the power outage was such that the battery ran out before I got there. At the high temperatures that resulted from the power outage, this was a critical mistake I made, and the fishes suffocated early Monday morning. Only two fish survived.
“Another error was leaving the metal halide lamp on one of the TLF office tanks plugged in. There was power running the pumps and the light, but not the air conditioning; the tank, located in a small closed office, overheated. I should have left the light unplugged before the storm. The other office tanks have LED lamps and did not overheat, though they were hot (and still are…seven days later).”
In the days following Irma, Sprung found time to document some of the sea life washed up on Miami Beach.
Image Credits: Julian Sprung, Two Little Fishies
Mote Marine Lab
Summerland Key, FL
Status: Many wondered about the condition of Mote Marine Lab in the Keys following Hurricane Irma. Tuesday, 9/19, Mote published this official update of their condition by Content Development Manager Hayley Rutger:
Hurricane Irma moved directly over Mote Marine Laboratory’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration (IC2R3) on our Summerland Key campus on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Our hearts go out to our staff and other Keys residents who experienced significant hardships and losses due to the storm. This important community and its recovery are in our thoughts each day.
As the southernmost marine laboratory in the continental U.S., Mote’s IC2R3 is a unique “collaboratorium” for coral reef research and restoration, providing vessel, dive, field and lab support for visiting scientists and educators. The 19,000-square-foot IC2R3 was made possible entirely through the philanthropic support of generous community members, and was constructed to Gold LEED standards and to withstand category 5 hurricanes.
Mote scientists were extremely fortunate and are grateful that IC2R3 was built to remain structurally intact and operational through such a dangerous storm. As the storm passed, our backup systems for electricity were fully functional, and our coral gene-bank, and seed stock for restoring the coral reef tract, remained safe inside with running seawater systems, aeration, and other critical life support. The entire building, including its dorms, eight labs, two classrooms, and offices, is secure with minimal or no impact.
However, there was a significant storm surge on Summerland Key, which when combined with winds significantly impacted our exterior infrastructure, including outside coral raceway systems. Mote’s three resident research vessels appear to have weathered the storm well.
Mote staff at IC2R3 have already begun repairs of the external raceways. IC2R3 continued to maintain operations with running seawater with back-up generators until power returned to the campus on Sept. 18. Second only to the safety of our staff, our highest priority is to maintain life support for our Florida Keys coral gene-bank and coral seed stock for our state-sponsored initiative to restore 25,000 corals in the next 12 months. The road to recovery for full “normal” research operations at IC2R3 will likely be on the order of months. However, the recovery of personal property and quality of life of our staff and neighbors in the Monroe County community will likely take years.
By the time Irma reached Mote’s City Island campus in Sarasota and our Mote Aquaculture Research Park inland east of I-75, the storm had significantly weakened. However, many of our staff and other residents of the southwest Florida region experienced significant impacts to their homes, from which they are still recovering, and some areas remain without electricity.
Impacts to both of Mote’s Sarasota campuses were minimal, and we returned to operations of our research enterprise on Tuesday, Sept. 12, with our Mote Aquarium open to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
Mote has insurance to cover hurricane damages to the exterior specialized infrastructure at IC2R3, but repair needs will most certainly exceed this coverage.
How to assist with Mote’s recovery efforts:
Mote’s Employee Disaster Relief Fund
Anyone can make a tax-deductible donation to support grants for individual Mote staff who lost property or experienced financial hardship during Hurricane Irma. All staff at all Mote campuses may apply (see below).
Donate to support Mote staff: https://mote.org/support/hurricane-irma-impacts-to-mote-and-mote-staff. Select Employee Disaster Relief Fund
IC2R3 Hurricane Relief Fund
Donate at https://mote.org/support/hurricane-irma-impacts-to-mote-and-mote-staff to help keep IC2R3 in excellent working condition for Mote scientists and colleagues. Select IC2R3 Hurricane Irma Fund.
Thank you for your continued support.
Chief Development Officer
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Public Relations Manager
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Content Development Manager
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You can find all of the installments of this report at the links below. We will continue to update and add information as it becomes available.
About the author
Matt Pedersen is a Sr. Editor and Associate Publisher with Reef To Rainforest Media, LLC, including AMAZONAS & CORAL Magazines. Matt has kept aquariums for 36 years, has worked in most facets of the aquarium trade, is an active aquarist and fish breeder (both marine and freshwater), and was recognized with the 2009 MASNA Award as the MASNA Aquarist of the Year.