History of Live Rock

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liverock

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Nice to hear from you old man...lol.....yup my first dive was at Point Arena California......totally green....forgot my booties...ankles froze lol...back then you had to park on the hill....and climb down the side of the mountain to get to the surf...we are talking straight down...with all your gear in your hands...tank and all....was a good lesson!
 
Legendary Corals
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liverock

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Think about it, here is a guy who had never dove before, ready to go over the side, in the big blue Gulf. He defiantly had the drive and ambition to become a tropical fish collector. We both were ready and hopped over the gunnels of the boat into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

What we found was beautiful and wondrous!

We had before us an incredible living reef, thousands of fish, inverts, sponges, and of course live rock. We had no collection devices back then and we proceeded on swimming around, finding a rock, swimming it up to the surface, and dropping it over the transom into the boat.

Well it did not take but one dive this way for us to figure out a different approach to collecting live rock. You need to remember that this was the first collection of live rock ever to take place on the west coast of Florida and we had no idea what this would eventually grow into.

We collected a few rocks and critters that day, made two successful dives, and proceeded back to port. Mark's "Jesus" belt had worked and we had "broken the ice" of the live rock industry. We made it in to port OK, and loaded the boat up on the trailer.

Back in those days we always trailed our boat to and from the marina, as money was tight and we could not afford a "slip" at the marina. We hauled our rock back to Manila Aquatics, where we were meet by Jerry Eyas, the manager. He was elated at our new rock, and so we had a local market to sell our rock and critters.

Well with a little money in our pockets it allowed us to rent some proper diving equipment, sparing Mark his "Jesus weight belt". For about a year we were the best customers of Tarpon Sports Supply, as we rented our scuba gear, spending about $75 per day on rental fees.

Having proper equipment eventually led us into purchasing our own diving gear, eliminating the daily expense of renting and allowing us to go whenever we wished. In fact I still own the original buoyancy compensator that we purchased years ago.

Our methods of harvest also improved as we started using mesh dive bags to collect rock on the bottom. We would swim around finding and placing rocks into our bags until we could not carry them under water anymore, then inflate our BCs giving us enough lift to pull us and the bags of rock to the surface. Upon reaching the surface, we'd locate and swim to the boat, come up behind the motor, and grab hold and "push" the bag of rock up and onto the stern of the boat.

Needless to say this was a very hard and dangerous way to go about it, but we were still learning. While underwater, using the BC for lifting the bags, we did not consider that death was inches away. If we happened to drop the bag, we'd pop to the surface like a Polaris missile and die of an air embolism.

We were a little crazy back then, but there was no other way, as we were "pioneering" live rock collection.

After a few months of doing it the hard way, we tried using mesh bags made from old shrimp nets, heavier and stronger, and ropes and buoys to the surface. Wow, what a difference! Imagine coming up behind the boat with a bag full of rock, the current screaming, pulling you away, and having to push up, over, and onto the stern of the boat a 100 pound bag of rock. There was many a bag of rock lost when you came up too far behind the boat, against the current, tired, out of air, and 100 yards back behind the boat. It is a real wonder that we survived all those years, before we got a little smarter.

Using the ropes, bags and buoys proved to be a major step forward in the collection of live rock. Now we could go out in the Gulf collect six bags of rock each, leaving each one on the bottom when filled, and locate it from the surface with the boat. In those days we could collect about 1200 pounds of rock in one dive and be home by noon! What a difference from what in the future was going to become a 15 mile ride out into the gulf, in 60 foot of water instead of 20.

We did not know how well we had it back then collecting in State of Florida waters. The usual procedure was to swim along the bottom and pick up any rock that looked good, even with corals, some larger than the rocks themselves! This was before the Florida Marine Patrol was aware of live rocking, and anything you picked up was OK to harvest.

Once all the bags were loaded in one dive, we would surface, climb on the boat, and proceed "pulling" our catch. This involved running the boat around to each buoy on the surface, snatching it with a gaff and with the two of us straining our guts out, hauling 100 pounds of rock on board. Needless to say we developed great cardio vascular activity and arm muscles.

We did it this way for years and years before we got a little smarter.

Of course there were the bad trips too, weather, lightning, sharks, exploding regulators, and one day when we were really overloaded and almost sunk the boat. We were using big plastic 55 gallon barrels that we would store the rock in, underwater, until we got home to the "fish house" in my backyard. You can imagine how heavy the 55 gallon drums of rock and water is on a little 20 foot boat. We were all loaded up when a squall came through, kicking up the seas to about 6 foot. We began pitching and rolling, and all of a sudden our whole load shifted to one side of the boat, causing us to flounder, take on water in the stern, and almost sink.

We learned that day that it was prudent to tie off the barrels to cleats on the sides of the boat to contain shifting. If we had not have been able to power up the boat and get underway, forcing the water to the stern of the boat, we would have been part of the artificial reef.

Events like this enlightened us, and improved our collection efforts. We spent years harvesting live rock this way without any competition, as the live rock industry was in its very infancy, and we still were the only collectors. We made hundreds of trips full of live rock from the Gulf back to land without any interference from the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol, or any other agency. In fact in all these years we have only been boarded once, and that was a safety inspection from the Coast Guard.

This was soon to change as the industry grew, so did scrutiny from those officials. We ended up hiring a diver to help us collect rock and it was the beginning of the end. After we educated him to the industry, pretty soon he was out in his own boat collecting live rock and developing his own market.

Things exponentially exploded after that. Pretty soon every grouper, long line, and sponge boat, turned to live rocking, as the pay was better and a bit easier than fishing for a living. Then one day a 60 foot oil derrick/treasure boat showed up in the river and began collecting rock.

Well, you can put allot of rock on a 60 foot boat, and soon he was bringing in 30,000 pound loads of live rock. Seeing him come down the river after a days diving, they would almost be sinking under all that weight on board.

Well not only did we see it but so did the "Head boats", boats that take people out fishing, who became very concerned that there rock ledges and habitats were being removed, ruining their fishing efforts. They would see this big boat pull into the dock each day and unload tons of live rock. This really was the beginning of the end as the fishing boat operators contacted the State and Federal Governments, concerned the reefs would become rocks in someone's fish tank.

If this industry had stayed "mom and pop" I believe that we may have still been harvesting wild live rock today. But that was not to be, as the industry continued to grow, with no restrictions or regulations.

Not being a "traditional" fishery, we were not subject to existing rules and regulation. This was all beginning to change in a big time way as in 1989 the state of Florida called the major players, five of us, to the states capitol for a meeting on live rock harvest.

There were to be major changes in the industry of live rock that none of us could have imagined. This part of the story covered in the next section, of The History of Live Rock.​
 
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Governmental Nightmares
Richard Londeree, Owner Tampa Bay Saltwater

It was in 1989 after a number of years of unrestricted live rock harvest that the State of Florida became interested in the harvest of live rock. This interest was spurred by the unregulated harvest of rock by an ever increasing number of divers and boats.

Live rock harvest went from just my partner and I to almost every vessel that could make it out to the Gulf. Soon it seemed every boat going down the channel was coming in full of live rock. Not only did this affect the market price of live rock, it also caught the attention of everyone at the dock when these boats would pull in and start unloading live rock.

After complaints from recreational and commercial fishing boat operators about the harvest of live rock, the State of Florida got involved in a big way. I received a phone call one day from an offical of the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission in Tallahassee, Florida. He was soliciting the live rock harvesters to a meeting in the capitol of Tallahassee. Well Tallahassee is about six hours from Tampa, but I said we would attend to find out what their plan was to be as we were the major producer of rock at that time, and wanted to continue in the live rock business.

Well I loaded up the van for the long trip to Tallahassee, but little did I know that this trip was to be the first of many trips through the state of Florida and other states. Six hours later arriving I found a hotel room and crashed for the night. The next morning found me in the Capitol in some bureaucratic building full of bureaucrats. There was five live rockers that showed up and we were sitting face to face with all kinds of State officials.

There were people from the Deptartment of Natural Resources, now the Department of Environmental Protection, State of Florida submerged Lands, The Marine Fisheries Commission, The Coast Guard, The Marine Patrol, and Florida Fish and Wildlife. I had never seen so many badges, ribbons, and shiny buttons in one meeting room.

Here I am, a commercial fisherman about to be swallowed by politics and bureaucrat QUAGMIRE as I had no experience in dealing with state agencies, but let me tell you after six years of fighting, I became an expert. The State people proceeded in telling us that they did not like our activity of harvesting live rock and were going to regulate us out of business but "allow aquaculture." Remember that phrase "allow aquaculture."

We heard from all the agencies involved, and their plan to eliminate harvest of live rock from submerged State lands with a three year "phase out." Their plan was to allow us to switch to aquaculture of live rock over a three year period, giving us enough time to get the permit, (6 months), place seed rock in the ocean, and allow it to grow for two years. This was the State's idea of how long it would take live rock to grow; then when harvesting of live rock ended in 1991 we would still be in business with an aquacultured product.

Well, we then learned that the application carried a $200 fee to process. I looked around the room, and nobody but me had their hand raised. I thought to myself, Hmmm I'm in the live rock business, kind of like it, and wanted to be in the live rock business in the future, this was the way to go! We discussed the live rock issue some more and adgourned the meeting.

I was met outside by the offical of the State of Florida Marine Fisheries Commission, who grabbed my hand shaking it and proclaiming "congratulations Richard, you are going to be our first aquaculturist!" He gave me a number to call to apply for "The Permit" to aquaculture live rock. He said "in six months you'll have your permit, place your rock and be ready for the elimination of wild live rock harvest". Well I found out that nothing could have been further from the truth!

So with desire in the heart, I hopped back into the van for the six hour drive home. I had all kinds of rock dreams on the way home, wondering how I was going to become a live rock aquacultrist. What was the future to hold, and how was I going to do it? I awoke the next morning and promptly called the number I was given. It was for the local DEP office in Tampa. I informed them of what transpired in Tallahassee and how they were supposed to help me obtain this "Permit".

My first contact was a gentleman who told me "We don't like live rock harvest and you will never get this permit!" I was a little taken aback by this comment, but persuaded him to send me an application for the permit. I received it a week later and proceeded to wade through the pages and pages of information needed. It took hours to figure out and fill out the information requested. I fulfilled all they requested and mailed it back in.

After a couple of weeks I called for an update on my application, and was told it was "under review". Well under review is what I heard for nine more months. Becoming very frustrated I called Tallahassee again and told them of my predicament, that it was way past the six months they told me it would take to get the permit, and the phase out on rock harvest was rapidly approaching; I needed "The Permit".

I was told by Tallahassee that the permitting process was going to be handled in Tampa, and they could not help. So I called Tampa again and asked for the status of my permit. I was then told that they had "lost" my application, and could not find it, but the funny thing was they had cashed my application check nine months earlier. They told me to call Tallahassee. Catch 22!

So I called Tallahassee back and started in on them as I was tired of being the pawn and wanted some action. I called and wrote the Governor, no answer, no help, I called my Congressman, he didn't know what was going on, and finally I got switched to a lady named Wanda Prentis. Thank God for Wanda Prentis.

Turns out Ms. Prentis was head of the States submerged lands unit and without her help and understanding we would have never received our permit. I told her of my predicament with the application, and she said she would look into it, as I had told her they already had my $200 application fee. About a week later I received a call from her and I thought "all right, I'm going to get my permit after all!"

Well needless to say I was way off base again. I learned that the application from Tampa, not only being lost, was no good anyway as I needed to fill out an application for a submerged land lease with the State of Florida. So here we are one year into the phase out of wild rock harvest, I still had no permit, and rock harvest closure was just two years off. I received their permit application in the mail, and this one was a half an inch thick!

Leasing lands from the state was going to prove to be quite a conquest, even just filling out the paper work. Wading through this application proved to be quite a process, but it was just the beginning, as I learned that there was to be an underwater site survey of my proposed five acres of the Gulf also. Plus we had to have permits from The DEP, Marine patrol, Coast Guard, Local Pinellas County Commissioners, The Regional Planing Council, The Aquatic Preserve, And another permit for removal of the rock, by the DEP.

I started the process by calling the Marine Patrol. They had no idea what "live rock aquaculture" was, as did the rest of the agencies I contacted. The problem was there was no "permit" available as there was no avenue to obtain this "permit" because there was no such thing as rock aquaculture. Each time I made a call it was like starting at the bottom of the mountain with no climbing shoes, because nobody had any idea how to go about permitting.

Just because Tallahassee said it "would allow" aquaculture, doesn't mean it could happen, as no one else was concerned with helping out the permitting process. I was told a million and one lies by many different agencies, totally frustrated in the process. I literally made hundreds of phone calls in two more years of trying to obtain "The Permit"

During the next two years We were told many times that the state was ready to do a site survey, they would give us a date, and then cancel. I really became hostile at this point, three years into a six month permitting process, I bypassed the little bureaucrats, and went to the very top, a lady named Virginia Weatherall, the head of the Department of Natural resources for the state of Florida. Well I really didn't get to her, but her secretary. I told her the three year story, and she was very sympathetic, and said there would be some action taken.

Well hurry up and wait some more, as nothing transpired for two more months. I was tired of being the nice guy and called back telling the secretary that if the State of Florida did not get off their rear ends on this one, I was going to bring a lawsuit on them for telling me they "would allow" aquaculture, but then making it totally impossible to obtain "the permit". Bingo! Action was taken, and I received information that the State was sending a dive team to go out with us and find a spot suitable to them for aquaculture.

It was another big joke as when the States dive team showed up the had a bass boat, a small sixteen footer, made for lakes, not the big blue Gulf. We had to carry all their dive gear on our vessel as it was a rough day and they would have sunk. We followed them out the channel and into the Gulf.

After riding around for hours, the states team never even got into the water, as they had no electronic bottom finding equipment, had no idea where they were, much less the ability to find us an aquaculture site. I told them I was going further south to look, because we were not getting anything accomplished where we were. As I said it was a rough day, and their little lake boat could not fight the waves and swells heading south, so we soon lost sight of them, as we headed south.
 
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Just off of Anclote key we saw some promising bottom and did some preliminary dives to see if it was a suitable location that the State would approve. The state was requiring a sand bottom area, totally devoid of all life, no sea grasses, calurpa, sponges corals, no nothing. Well it is pretty hard to find a sand bottom area where the sand is not to deep and no life is present to aquaculture live rock. Somehow after hours and hours of dragging behind the boat on a long rope, like a big piece of bait we located a nice looking area, where the sand was about two inches deep over hard rock.

We were real excited with this area and thought this was it! Making it back to the dock we came upon the State team, who's boat motor had conked out soon after we left them, they almost sunk, and were not real happy with us. There was some mention of "us" leaving "them" to sink in the Gulf. We learned a long time ago to respect the Gulf of Mexico, because it can get real nasty, real quick out there and people die every year by going out on the Gulf, ignorant, and unprepared for mother nature. They went away with their tails between their legs, and we went home, still with no approved site by the State.

The next day I fired off another phone call to Ms. Weatherall appraising her of the states dive team folly, to which she replied, they would try again. At this point, at wits end I hired a lawyer to attend the next Marine Fisheries meeting, in Naples Florida. We really could not afford the attorneys fees which eventually totaled $18,000 but I had no other option as the phase out of live rock harvest the state imposed was just two weeks away, it had been three years, off blood, sweat, tears, and we were still not even near finding a suitable site, much less a permit for live rock aquaculture.

I think I was developing ulcers at this point, and was even more hostile than before. My attorney and I made the five hour trip down to Naples and appeared before the Commission. My lawyer gave them the spiel, we had a one inch document detailing the grief, paperwork, years of trying to get their "six month permit".

Their attitude was "hey it's not our problem. we just make the laws." We left that meeting dumbfounded, and mad as hell, because in just two weeks until we would be out of business. At this point we gathered the other live rock harvesters in the state together, and hired a big gun lawyer from Key West, Florida who had fought the state before on fisheries laws and won.

His name was Ed Horan. Now Mr. Ed proved to be our salvation, as we went to Federal Court, in front of Judge King in Miami, and argued our case. The State did not even show up in court! They stipulated, which means they knew they were wrong all along but just did not care about us live rock harvesters.

We were all elated as the "drop dead" date was now meaningless, but there was a catch. We could not harvest in State waters anymore, but could go out into federal waters, more than nine miles offshore, harvest live rock and legally land it on Florida's shores. This sure was a lot easier than our plan of using a helicopter to fly out to Federal waters, drop a cable down to a diver who would swim down to a cargo net full of rock on the bottom, 3,000 pounds, lift it up and fly it to shore, as the state would not allow landing by boat, but flying it in was OK.

Sounds stupid? Well it was. We would have to raise the rock up out of the Gulf, fly over another state's airspace, then back to Florida to land, legally. This was going to cost big bucks, but was our only avenue to continue in business. Just to make sure this would work, we called the Marine Patrol in Tallahassee to tell them of our plan; they went ballistic!

They told me they would arrest everyone, confiscate the helicopter, and the live rock, and put us in jail. Well the guy with the helicopter backed out and I called Mr. Ed again. He called Tallahassee and reminded them of Judge King's ruling and gently told them if they interfered with our landing Federally harvested live rock we were going to sue them for $1,000,000.

Guess what? The State backed down and were now able to go out nine miles, harvest live rock and land it legally on Florida's shore. Whew, what a fight! So at this point we still had income from the Federally harvested live rock, which helped finance the continuing fight with the State to obtain "The Permit".

The year was 1991, three years since our live rock meeting in Tallahassee, and three years into our "six month permitting process" we still had no site approved. In fact it would be another three years of fighting with the state to obtain "The permit." We were now working with a State official out of the Saint Petersburg office of the DNR. Her name was Jenny Wheaton, the only other person besides Wanda Prentis that actually was helping rather than hindering our efforts at live rock aquaculture.

Jenny was to be the one to orchestrate the states effort to come out into the Gulf and do the site surveys needed to satisfy the requirements ordered by the State. This dive was actually scheduled and canceled many times over the next three years. Of course we had to be ready for the team each time by placing corner markers on the five acre site, along with underwater ropes circumventing the perimeter of the site, so they could do quadrant studies of the flora and fauna existing on the site.

They were to set down a grid device, count all the critters within the grid and determine the density of life in the area. With each cancellation of the proposed site survey, my ulcers and nerves grew to a point where we were once again forced to hire legal guns to battle the State. I informed Jenny of my plan to hire Mr. Ed again, which spurred her on to get the State to do the survey they had promised to do years earlier. With the threat of another lawsuit from us, finally there was movement, another date was set, and we were actually going to do the site survey!

Jenny's team was to come by boat from Egmont Key, about 25 miles south of Tarpon springs, dock in Tarpon and then survey the next day. Well there was another catch; they had to dock the boat, but had no money to pay for it. So we had to pay the marina for the State's boat to dock. It wasn't that much money, but it was the fact that the State dropped the ball again.

There were many events like this, but we will let them slide in this story. The big day came for the dive survey and we were out in our boat to assist the state's team. The good thing was that the survey had been put off for so long that it was nearing winter time, the water was freezing, and the flora and fauna which was present in the summer time was covered by sand, or had died off due to the cold water. The plants and sponges that thrive in the summer basically disappear in the winter time. Plus the storms had blown in allot of sand, which had covered the little bit of existing hard bottom which was present.

This proved to be our salvation as the State would have never approved the area in the summer, as it had too much life. Jenny used a motorized sled along with a couple of other divers, and spent a few hours doing a very thorough survey. They took underwater video, counted every living thing in the five acre area, and eventually came up with a plan. It seems there was a little too much hard bottom just east of our site so she could not approve that area, but she said if we were willing to modify our lease request to eliminate the eastern edge of the five acres, she would approve it.

Well needless to say we jumped at the opportunity to finally obtain "The Permit." She agreed and we ended the day on a high note. Sounds good huh? Well the biggest hurdle was still to come as this application had to go through the lengthy process of approval from the Governor and State's Cabinet. We were put on the agenda for consideration in September of 1993.

This was the first ever application for leasing submerged lands for live rock aquaculture, and it was going to prove to be very difficult to convince the Governor and cabinet to approve our application. I decided not to attend the meeting in Tallahassee, and it was a good decision as I am sure I would have been a little too hostile to confront the top bureaucrats in the state, after the fight we had been through for six years. The day for the meeting came and they ended up discussing the issue for hours. It came down to one dissenting vote, that from Bob Butterworth, the Attorney General for the State of Florida.

He was concerned that someone may have set up aquaculture in front of his condo, in Boyton Beach. It is a good thing I was not at that meeting as I am sure I would have spoken my mind about what I thought of their permitting process, and the State's treatment of us, but it actually went to a vote and we were approved! It came down to that one vote, after six years of grief to obtain their "six month permit." Hallejelua!

It finally seemed as though we were ready to actually start growing live rock. But there was another catch. The rock I had located five years earlier was soon to be unavailable, as when I was working the deal to purchase the rock I had told them it was six months until I needed it, but it had turned into six years, and things had changed at the rock quarry.

More history coming!
 

Dana Riddle

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I still have my copy of Nature magazine, with the infamous "Raiders of the Reef" caption. I thought at the time it might be the end of the Florida live rock trade- but not so. Thank you for your perseverance! With that said, I tried the dead rock route when I moved back to Georgia. Never again. IMHO, live rock is the only way to go.
 
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The dry rock trend really started as there was a huge hole in the industry for real live rock. After collection ended there simply was not enough live rock to go around, thus alternatives, man made or quarry rock became popular.

Took years, but folks found out that starting with inert rock presented many problems down the road. I see folks everyday ditching their dry rock for real live rock from the wild. Especially the coral folks found their corals did not do as well with inert rock as compared to live rock.

Isn't the photo on the magazine that of Jeff Turner collecting rock down in south Florida, back in the 80's?
 

Dana Riddle

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The dry rock trend really started as there was a huge hole in the industry for real live rock. After collection ended there simply was not enough live rock to go around, thus alternatives, man made or quarry rock became popular.

Took years, but folks found out that starting with inert rock presented many problems down the road. I see folks everyday ditching their dry rock for real live rock from the wild. Especially the coral folks found their corals did not do as well with inert rock as compared to live rock.

Isn't the photo on the magazine that of Jeff Turner collecting rock down in south Florida, back in the 80's?
It's been years since I've looked at that issue. I'll try to find it in all the books I haven't unpacked yet.
 
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I think it was the same day that pic was taken...that a Florida Marine Patrol plane was watching him dive....and crashed into the sea next to him....Jeff swam over to the bottom....and unbuckled the pilot underwater and saved the guys life......got a well deserved citation for that rescue.
 

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I think it was the same day that pic was taken...that a Florida Marine Patrol plane was watching him dive....and crashed into the sea next to him....Jeff swam over to the bottom....and unbuckled the pilot underwater and saved the guys life......got a well deserved citation for that rescue.
And it seems that he inadvertently became the poster boy for the anti- live rock movement? :(
 
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Dana Riddle

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And it seems that he inadvertently became the poster boy for the anti- live rock movement? :(
Your favorite spot in Hawaii must have been Puako, or close by. A magical place unless you were unfortunate to dive during an out-going tide.
 
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Your favorite spot in Hawaii must have been Puako, or close by. A magical place unless you were unfortunate to dive during an out-going tide.
Well, it was of course Kapoho. :) Nowhere I've ever been to had all the stuff in such an easy-to-snorkel place as the mid-to-outer tidepools. (like the pools loaded with the 6ft M. capitata colonies). It was worth the drive out in and of itself.

Oddly, I've never been to Puako. I saw it in the Wizard Big Island revealed book, but never actually even went up to that part of the west coast before. But it was honestly not until @Jake Adams at reef builders did a video that I realized what I'd been missing. Definitely going there next time.

All that said, my go-to on the West coast has always been Honaunau. Nostalgia I guess - it was the first place I ever saw the sun set into the sea, when I was 8 years old (on the area seaward of the temple), and the place has always been special to me. It's always fun to snorkel (never dived though, since I'm usually only in Kona for a day or two before going either south or up the saddle road), though when I went last in winter 2018 the P. compressa was all dead above like 20 feet. :(

Anyway, @liverock thanks for sharing. I've worked with the bureaucracy, but never would have imagined something so complicated. Hiring a high powered fisheries lawyer unfortunately was the right choice. :(
 

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Kapoho… Of course. How my Hawaiian has become mangled since leaving there 2 years ago. Beautiful tide pools, now new real estate.
 

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Loving this series. It's a total case study of what people mean when they talk about how regulation destroys the ability of private enterprise to operate. It's not because business owners aren't willing to comply with the law it's the red tape and obstructions making it too difficult to show you are complying with the law.
 
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One Million Pounds of Rock!
Richard Londeree, Owner Tampa Bay Saltwater

Well a lot of years had passed since we started our endeavors of being live rock farmers, and we had finally reached the point of having a permit to actually place our seed rock in The Gulf of Mexico! We had located a source of good quality reef rock from a company called Dravo right here in our home town of Tampa. I had originally spoken with the foreman, a nice guy named Reease, who told me of their operation in the Bahamas digging and widening the canals in Freeport. The byproduct was beautiful coral rock that they were going to bring into Tampa on a 600 foot container ship.

This rock was loaded on the ship in Freeport, steamed around southern Florida up to Tampa Bay where it was unloaded by a giant conveyor belt apparatus into huge mountains of rock. They would then take a front end loader and scoop up a bucket full and dump it onto a grader which would separate the different sizes of rock; pretty cool! it gave us just the right size of rock for aquaculture. I had originally spoken with them on purchasing rock years before, but the permitting process took so long they had almost sold all of it before we were ready with "The Permit."

When I showed up with all the right permits they only had about 10 million pounds left. I committed to one million pounds, gave them some money and said I "would be back". At this point Reese had been transferred and a guy named Danny was the Manager. Turned out Danny was a cajun loved crawfish and we hit it off well. He was interested in our project and helped us out immeasurably.

Now we needed a way to get the rock offshore, which proved to be another big hurdle. I called all over the state looking for an ocean going barge and was having a real hard time until I happened across Gateway Marine just 2 miles down the Hillsborough River from where I lived in Tampa!

The owner was a crusty old sea Captain but with a twinkle in his eye. He listened to my story about my situation, and he said he would "think about it." Well this was the only lead I had to actually have a way to get the rock out in the Gulf, so I began camping on his doorstep, showing up every day asking "can you do it Capt? Can you do it Capt?" After about a month he called and said he had time to "mess with us" and I bolted down the river to his place. He had a 200 foot by 100 foot barge he used for bridge construction tied up behind his place. He said "See that, boy? That's where were going to put your rock!" Boy was I elated!!

The next day I was there at 8 a.m. as planned and we began the process of "getting it together." First the million dollar crane he had had to get from land onto the barge. This proved to be a great undertaking of which I have killer video of. The giant crane inched along a road bed we had to make out of dirt and timbers leading to the barge floating in the river. It took all day to move the cane 50 feet onto the barge. One of the timbers collapsed under all the weight and the crane about fell over but caught a tread on a solid timber which prevented it from going into the drink. This stopped everybody's heart but turned out all right.

Now we had the crane on the barge and it was about 6 miles down the river out into Tampa Bay and around to where Dravo was located on the river. But fate was to strike again as when the Capt. was reviewing my paperwork. In one of the zillions of permits I had to have to do the project he found my permit from the Corp of Engineers said "permitted to place 50 tons of material" instead of "500 tons of material." Oh man what a bummer. Here we were with the crane on the barge, the rock yard was on alert for us and we had a bogus permit. He would not proceed without the right number on the permit, he already had my money and the clock was ticking. I fired off a call to the local Corps agent, but he was on vacation. I got his secretary who was sympathetic, but said they had some other fires to put out first, I would have to wait. Well not being a waiting kind of guy anymore, I called the main office in Jacksonville and got the head honcho and explained the situation to him.

More history coming....
 

saf1

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What is probably more ironic or odd is that after this is all said and done, and if I understand the original lease requirement of life requirement per acre, is this. Did they ever come back after you placed the rock and see how much life it brought back to the area?

And yes @Sm51498 regulations are a double edge sword. No one ever goes back and see if it makes sense it todays world. Maybe they are still needed, maybe they need to be changed, maybe removed. New ones keep getting added and the stack grows and grows. That is why they say follow the bread crumbs, er, $$$$.

Edit: And for all the warm water diving - you lads must come to the colder waters of Northern California and dive Monterey :)
 

homer1475

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Great read Richard! Can't wait to read the rest.

Always wondered what the "permitting" process was for you to "rent" underwater land from the "great" state of florida.
 
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liverock

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He turned out to be a Godsend as he immediately faxed us a copy of a corrected permit, and we were in business!! We were to load the barge the next day. I was jumping around like a hot potato all night, heavy with expectations. Morning found me at the rock yard, video camera in hand awaiting the arrival of the barge. I can't tell you how happy and relieved I was when I saw that barge come around the cape and into view. I was pins and needles, felt like a kid at an ice cream party. The barge mover ever so slowly inching along up to the pilings under the giant conveyer belt. The belt was about 75 feet off the ground extending about 50 feet over the water. The barge was pushed into place by the tug "Big Roy." Now we were actually ready to start loading the rock.

Danny drove one front end loader and his man another. Each loader held 5,000 pounds per load, which they dumped into a hopper kind of container that had a rotor in it that fed the rocks onto the belt which fed onto the barge. Of course I was the one that had to hold the deflector plate on the very end of the belt that the rocks would roll out onto, hit and fall onto the barge. Big mistake, as it sounded like atom bombs going off. I have never heard something so loud! Bang, Bang, Bang as the rock hit the plate and fell onto the barge. But you know it did not bother me as I was in adrenaline overdrive. It took about six hours to load the barge with one million pounds of rock. We worked into the night and when done I pulled out a stash of boiled crawfish and we all ate, told stories and laughed, as it was all over, or so I thought. The hard part was yet to come.

The Capt. of Big Roy was going to push that giant barge of rock out through Tampa Bay, under the Skyway Bridge, through Egmont channel, then into the inter coastal waterway, up through St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Duneden, then back out into the Gulf at Johns Pass for the rest of the trip another 25 miles up the coast to just off Anclote Key where our site is. I slept well that night; don't ask me why.

The next morning found us on my boat with the Capt. from Gateway Marine, leaving Dukes Marina on the Anclote River heading out into the Gulf to meet with the barge. As we exited the channel we could see the barge offshore, but to our dismay, it was half sunk! It seems that when they were docking under the belt the rock was loaded with, they had punched a hole in one of the compartments. The barge was listing at about 15%, the crane tilted, not a pretty site. We zoomed back to shore and Tampa and retrieved a giant pump the Capt. had, broke all the speed limits going back to Tarpon Springs, onto the boat and back out to the Gulf. Thank goodness it was a calm day as the Gulf was like a lake; very unusual for the Gulf of Mexico. We got the pump onto the barge, started it up and soon we were no longer in danger. I had flashes of a big giant barge on the bottom of the Gulf with our rock and a million dollar crane.

Out of danger, we began the process of unloading the barge. A million pounds is a heck of a lot of rock and it took all day to unload, one clamshell load at a time. We had placed plywood under the rock to protect his barge and as the rock came off we used the sheets to "push" the rock off like shovels. We even resorted to throwing it rock by rock. It was a trip!

Of course the the Florida Marine Patrol was present for awhile, with Jenny Wheaton to make sure we were in the right spot, and soon the Coast Guard showed up and wondered what the heck we were doing. After some persuasion, permits, and dancing we were allowed to continue the deployment. It was quite the day -- a culmination of six years of work to obtain a "six month permit" for aquaculture of live rock.

When I look back now, over five years later, it just seems like it never happened, as our efforts have now produced the largest artificial reef on the West coast of Florida. We now have over 5 million pounds of rock out on our five acre lease, and millions of fish and inverts where there was nothing before. Amazing!

More History coming!​
 
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liverock

liverock

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The Coast Guard is my Savior
Richard Londeree, Owner Tampa Bay Saltwater

I have been collecting marine life in the Keys since 1973. Wednesday began as most every other day that I am working in the Keys.

I was up at 4am, hooked up the boat and trailer and was off to Miami to pick up a load of rock for use as seed material on our Federally Permitted Aquaculture site for live rock. I put 2780 pounds of rock on the boat, trailed it back to Plantation Key, launched the boat and proceeded out to our aquaculture site on the reef. It was a beautiful day, calm seas and bright skies.

A quick 20 minute ride to the reef, anchored up and began deploying the rock. After making a dive to arrange the rock on the bottom, and observing the myriad amounts of marine life which now inhabit our new reef, I decided to head offshore to go dolphin fishing as I had caught a 45 pound bull and lots of schoolies the previous few days.

Well as everyone knows the fish are way offshore 18-25 miles, but it was a nice day and I was out 22.5 miles when I began trolling. I put the baits over the side and started up the weed line. When I turned around to see how the ballyhoo were running I noticed my rear deck plate awash. I thought this was very strange as I have 2 bilge pumps, one automatic, one manual. I stopped the boat and pulled the hatch. Water was coming in like a geyser. A bit alarmed I turned on my manual bilge pump, hoping to keep up with the water. Well I soon realized I was loosing ground as soon the water was up to my batteries.

I grabbed a 5 gallon bucket and began bailing like crazy. I could not make progress to shore as I was alone and could not steer and bail at the same time, but sitting there 22 miles off shore and sinking was not a pleasant thought. So I tied off the wheel, which allowed me to bail at the same time. Unfortunately doing 3 knots towards shore made the water come in faster.

At this point I knew I was going down, so I tied all my life preservers together, put one on my dog, Susie, put some cans of water into a small cooler, and got my flare gun. If I was going to have to abandon the vessel I didn't want to die of thirst, or not be able to signal for help, as there was not another boat in sight. I was still loosing the battle when I had the idea to use my washdown pump as a bilge pump also. I broke it loose from the deck, busted the PVC piping to it and tossed it in the bilge.

This pump proved to be the difference between sinking and staying afloat. With the 3 pumps running and me bailing with a 5 gallon bucket I was able to stay even with the incoming water. I putted towards the reef bailing all the way. About two miles off the reef I became so tired I could not bail fast enough and had to call for assistance. On channel 16 I reached Poseidon towing who placed a land line to the Coast Guard Station in Islamorada. They immediately dispatched the 41 foot boat out of Snake Creek and their red zodiac put of Tavernier Creek.

At this point the water was over the batteries, and I knew if the motor quit, it was all over. In about 10 minutes the coast guard was in site with their zodiac, which gave me renewed strength to continue bailing. Upon reaching me one of their men jumped on board and started to bail as I was exhausted.

Soon the 41 footer was on the scene and provided the zodiac with a pump that proved to be my salvation. First we had the pump on their vessel with the suction end in my bilge, but it still could not keep up with the water as the head pressure was too much so we transferred the pump to my vessel which decreased the head pressure and began pumping more water. While all this was happening the zodiac was tied up alongside and the 41 footer was behind me.

With the efforts of the Coast Guard man on my vessel we were able to eventually evacuate enough water using my three pumps , their pump and five gallon buckets, to get the boat up on a plane, zoom down the creek, to Tavernier creek marina , who the coast guard had called for an emergency haul out with their fork lift.

Coming under the bridge I made it to the forklift just as we were becoming awash again. When they lifted the boat up, it looked like Niagara Falls was coming from the split in the hull which was about four feet long and a half an inch wide.

I cannot say thanks enough to the Coast Guard, their professionalism and actions saved my vessel, they were truly a class act, we are very lucky to have such dedicated , professional and courteous Coast Guard personnel to assist in emergency situations. Special thanks to the men on the zodiac, and the crew of the 42 footer who provided the pump. They even went as far as providing a ride from the creek to the boat ramp to get my truck and trailer to put the boat on.

Now the bummer part, I was informed by Tavernier Creek personal that they were charging me $120.00 for lifting my boat up and putting it on the trailer. This seems to me to be a bit outrageous, concerning the emergency nature of the situation, and the fact that they had me where they wanted me, helpless.

I once had a problem with my boat a couple of years ago when I had to be hauled out with the forklift and Ellias at Plantation Boat Mart charged me $25, due to the nature of the situation, which I felt was more than fair.

The moral of the story?? When going offshore by yourself file a float plan with the Coast Guard, or Posiden Towing so somebody know where you are and when you are to be back, and be sure to check in when you get back. Have proper safety equipment, and test it regular, as if my VHF had failed, I probably would be floating in the Gulf Stream off of Fort Lauderdale today.

Do business with locally owned business in the Keys, they care about the locals, Not like Tavernier Creek who I learned is owned by Glen Straub of the Polo Club in Wellington, Palm Beaches, purchased for his daughter, but administered by a management company, with no interest in helping the little guy. When I phoned him to express my displeasure he could not tell me who to call, as "He was just the money guy" and did not really care.

Be aware that this could happen to you too, as I have been boating in the Keys for 25 years and have never had an emergency situation like this, but it did happen, I learned a lot, and will be better prepared, and informed the next load of rock I take out to the reef.
 
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