Common Sea Fans (<em>Gorgonia ventilina</em>) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Common Sea Fans (Gorgonia ventilina) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Photo: Chantal Collier

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Photo: Joe Marino

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Southeast Florida Reef News

Meet SEFCRI Vice-Chair Frank Schmidt

Ana Zangroniz, Awareness and Appreciation Coordinator

Captain Frank Schmidt displays an invasive lionfish speared off of Deerfield Beach in 80 feet of water summer of 2014. Photo by Lisa Young.
Captain Frank Schmidt displays an invasive lionfish speared off of Deerfield Beach in 80 feet of water summer of 2014. Photo by Lisa Young.

Frank Schmidt has been a Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) Team member since the inception of SEFCRI in 2004, and a Vice-Chair (leadership of SEFCRI) since 2013. In his early days as a team member, Schmidt completed the “homework” tasks assigned to him, including his work on Fishing, Diving, and Other Uses (FDOU) Project 38: Develop a reef protection campaign for SCUBA divers. Since taking on his current role as one of the nine SEFCRI Vice-Chairs, he has helped with more administrative tasks, such as reviewing resumes, participating in phone calls, surveys and attending meetings. Schmidt has helped find individuals to recruit for SEFCRI Team seats and later the Our Florida Reefs (OFR) Community Working Groups. While the work proved interesting, Schmidt often felt frustrated, as though he were not doing enough to actively participate in the conservation of southeast Florida’s reefs.

Schmidt, a long-time local captain, scuba instructor and fisherman partnered with Steven Attis of Vone Research to create a grass roots awareness effort and a video entitled "Preserving Our Treasures". Their desired result was similar in intent to what the Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) is today. Their efforts entailed both Schmidt and Attis actively visiting over 15 local diving and fishing clubs and presenting their self-produced film about the reefs. Their goal at these meetings was to share reef protection ideas and collect diving and fishing club members’ prized locations along the reefs, then later visit them and survey these high valued areas. GPS locations were then shared with both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Coastal Planning and Engineering companies. Schmidt and Attis also left their personal phone numbers with members so that marine incidents could be reported and later monitored.

The great majority of this project happened about seven to ten years ago. Since then, the implementation of SEAFAN has greatly increased Schmidt and Attis’ mission. Schmidt says “SEAFAN became a conduit for problem reporting. [SEAFAN] will follow up. They’re established. If we would have had SEAFAN in our pocket when we went around to these clubs, it would have been dynamite.”

Schmidt attributes the increased awareness of SEFCRI and endeavors of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) to additional presentations delivered to local fishing clubs by staff, contractors, and team members, especially CRCP Assistant Manager Lauren Waters and Nova Southeastern University graduate student Amanda Costaregni. These presentations augmented exposure and identified Schmidt as a credible representative for what was happening with the management of Florida’s reef system.

While out on the water, Schmidt often approaches other boaters and politely informs them of the Florida Coral Reef Protection Act (he removed “if they are anchored on the reef”). These encounters are initially met with resistance, but change in tone when Schmidt identifies himself not as a law enforcement officer, but a “filter,” as he calls it, for the SEFCRI. In other words, he’s a non-scientist, non-academic representative of the fishing community and the reef. These interactions have resulted in Schmidt observing changes in behavior from fishers and boaters out on the water. Concern for the reef is heightened. 

“Instead of tossing an anchor overboard in water to catch some bait or dive, the question is now asked, ‘are we over a reef?’” Schmidt says. He adds,  “If you went out 10 years ago [during a fishing tournament], you’d find chum boxes floating on the surface soda cans discarded over the side” he says. We’ve proved to the fisherman [that the cans and chum boxes are not biodegradable and messing up the reefs]. And people are starting to listen.”

“SEFCRI [is] not just academics and science- they're recognized and concerned people to be listen to. Our efforts are paying off.” Schmidt feels very positive about the collaborative efforts currently ongoing and paving the way for the future. “What we’re doing with SEFCRI, SEAFAN, and OFR is so much better than trying to do things on your own. [These projects] are really accepted, they are right on. We are making a difference."


 



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