The main inspiration behind writing this grant comes from diving Florida’s fourth ever-established underwater archeological preserve known as the U.S.S Massachusetts. The Massachusetts is a retired Navy battleship that reaches 350ft in length, and sits at a depth of 30ft right here in Pensacola Bay. Not only is the ship registered in the National Register of Historic Places, it’s home to a diverse array of endangered marine species, and it is major hotspot for recreational SCUBA diving and fishing.
As a marine biology major at the University of West Florida I have been awarded many opportunities to go diving at various locations in Gulf Breeze for research, lionfish removal, and just for fun. These diving opportunities have exposed me to the immaculate beauty that our reefs possess. On my first dive of the Massachusetts in the summer of 2015, I began my descent and I was greeted by schools of fish, stingrays, endangered green sea turtles, and many other charismatic marine species.
Juxtaposed to this beautiful greeting of marine fauna was yards and yards derelict debris covering the entire historical underwater museum. Types of debris covering the ship were (but not limited to): fishing line, cast nets, shrimp nets, underwear, boat panels, beer cans, soda cans, etc. Not only was the ship veiled in debris, the fish nets had entrapped black-tip sharks that had already drowned before I got there; thousands of dead fish were scattered among the wreck.
Leaving the site left me with a feeling of desolation and I knew something had to be done to fix what was happening. I knew that if people could experience what I saw they would feel the same urge to get something done. So, with the help of social media, pictures, and word of mouth I was able to spread awareness about what was going on right under our own waters. In just two weeks I was able to raise $2,300 of donations from the community to clean the site. With the help of 8 fellow divers from the University we were able to remove 230.17 lbs of marine debris in a matter of 2 hours, which compensated for roughly 80% of the debris on the wreck. I wish the story of the Massachusetts could end here but there’s still much more work to be done.
There are 7 other wrecks in the same state as the Massachusetts (if not worse) here in Pensacola; having just as much of an impact on marine species. People travel the world to dive these sites, marine biology students like myself conduct research here. With the amount of debris piling on the wrecks and killing marine life, there will be no more sites to marvel at, or conduct research safely. This grant will allow us to get our bearings established. Collecting evidence provides us with a way to educate the general public about the threats our marine ecosystem is facing so that we can clean it together as a community. The beautiful city of Gulf Breeze’s tourism, research, and community depend on the success of our marine ecosystem and we must maintain its diversity to ensure our growth and success as a coastal city.
– Rachael Richardson