July, 2010
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Large grouper in the shade

          Giant Grouper Resting In The Shade, photo by Paul Mila, Cozumel Mexico

Paul & Australian Dive Buddy Layle Stanton,
  in Cozumel
Paul & Dive Buddy Layle

Welcome to the July issue of Sea-gram, the monthly newsletter for ocean lovers, divers, and "deep-thinkers," from 
I started writing this issue after watching Jimmy Buffett's free benefit concert, carried live by CMT, at the Alabama Gulf Coast to promote tourism and help local businesses struggling to survive the BP-initiated environmental disaster.
The theme of the concert: One Love, One Ocean!
Sipping an ice cold margarita, on the rocks with salt, almost made it seem like I was there!
This month's Story Behind The Photo, Group-Fest In Cozumel,  features photos, including the headline photo above, of the giant groupers inhabiting Cozumel's reefs.
If you have a good photo with an interesting story, or would like to share a good dive yarn, let me know at and I'll be happy to include your story
in a future issue. 
This month's Conservation Corner article, Making A Difference, features diver/inventor Tal Bixby, who invented the ELF, a device that is finally making a dent in the Caribbean Lionfish problem.
If you know someone who would enjoy reading Sea-gram, please forward a copy to your buddy, using the link at the end of the newsletter. 
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I hope you enjoy Sea-gram !
 Paul J. Mila
The Story Behind The Photo(s) . . . 
                 Group-fest in Cozumel, 
                                    By Paul Mila, Carle Place, New York
Black Grouper On A Sandy Slope, Paul Mila Photo (c)
Grouper on the bottom




 I cannot lay claim to experiencing an intimate grouper caress like Frank Kaufman enjoyed in the Cayman Islands (see September '09 issue). Or, planting a juicy kiss on a friendly grouper's forehead, likeTeri McDermott did in the Bahamas (see December '09 issue). 

 However I can say that I was able to get so close to Cozumel's many huge black groupers during my recent visit that I needed my wide-angle lens to capture the moment.
The three grouper photos in this issue were all taken on a single dive, about 70 feet down on San Francisco Wall. I couldn't choose just one, so I featured three: the one in the headline photo hanging under a rocky outcropping, the one above resting on a sandy slope, and the grouper below waiting for service at a cleaning station. All three were near maximum size for the species, about 5-feet long and very husky.
In addition to hosting a wide diversity of sea life, Cozumel features LARGE versions of the same fish you see elsewhere.
For example, you can find angel fish all over the Caribbean. But the ones you'll encounter in Cozumel will be twice as large. The same goes for the local grouper population. Since the reefs are off limits to fishing, inhabitants that are smart enough, or lucky enough, to spend their lives within the national park's protected boundary grow very large.
The grouper below has just opened his mouth and is waiting for tiny cleaner fish to arrive and begin feasting on tiny parasites inside and around its mouth. I wonder what dental plan he has?
Grouper At Cleaning Station
 Grouper Waiting For Cleaner Fish, Paul Mila Photo 
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Equipment Used: SeaLife DC 1000 camera, wide-angle lens, and Sea-life Digital Strobe with strobe diffuser. 
1. When very close to your subject, within two feet, or near a white sandy bottom, turn down flash power to avoid over-exposure. Use a flash diffuser to soften the shot and obtain richer colors.
2. For special effects use the sand to your advantage. In the photo at the top of the article I aimed the flash down at the sand to reflect up and light the bottom of the fish, giving a more 3-dimensional, less flat image.
3. To get close to large shy fish, like grouper, good buoyancy control is a must! Stop, relax and let the fish approach you.  If they remain still, approach very slowly; no rapid breathing causing loud bubbles, fast swimming or flailing arms. Get low, don't shoot down. 
4. A wide-angle lens enables you to shoot very close to a large subject, capturing great details and the entire fish.
5. Avoid pointing your camera at your subject as long as possible, until you are ready to take the shot. To most fish your camera lens & strobe looks like the large eye of a predator and may spook them.
Conservation Corner . . .
 Making A Difference:
               ELF Inventor Tal Bixby
Tal Bixby, in Cozumel
Tal Bixby
In June's Sea-gram we briefly mentioned the ELF, a device invented by a diver trying to help combat the invasive, predatory Lionfish.
As the lyrics of a Jimmy Buffet tune say, "Some are content to watch the world go 'round, others make it turn."
 Obviously,Tal is a "world-turner."
Here is Tal's story behind the ELF, which stands for Eliminate Lion Fish, along with video of ELF in action:
Here is Tal's Story About Developing ELF:
The first time I went diving I was hooked by the peace and tranquility of the reefs. I have returned again and again and never cease to be amazed by the brilliance of the life beneath the ocean. I have watched my young daughter and wife become avid divers as well. When I first heard about the lionfish invasion, I began to research and was stunned about what was going on in the Caribbean and the failing efforts to get ahead of this scourge. I returned to Cozumel and the lions were being seen everywhere. From what I had read, the prognosis was not pretty. I envisioned reefs looking gloomy and barren of marine life, overtaken by the invasive lionfish.
The tools being used, nets and spears, slings and homemade devices seemed ineffective at best. The one advantage we had in hunting them (they are naturally unafraid of divers) was being changed as they were being pursued with nets and spears. I had been taught not to touch the reefs and here were professional divers pushing nets into crevices and banging missed spears into reefs. Every diver I spoke with was not happy with their tools, but felt they had to do something.
I tried to fashion a tool while in Cozumel but it wasn't what I envisioned. I returned home to my shop in Iowa, and by trial and error built the first ELF (patent pending). I couldn't wait to try it out and in March of 2010 we first went on a lionfish safari off Cozumel. We had a stunning day, taking every lionfish we saw. Over the next months we sharpened our tactics and practiced our skills and began to see fewer and fewer lionfish on the reefs where we dove.
Several considerations drove the development of ELF:  
1) Must be small enough to easily carry with the diver from the boat to the water
2) Must be easily and comfortably attached, so as not to interfere with the dive (our goal is to make this standard equipment with professional divers throughout the Caribbean, so every day becomes a hunt and control)
3) Must be safe to the diver and companions
4) Must be usable without touching the reef  
5) Must be durable
6) Must be effective
7) Must be restrictive
So far we have limited our sales to professional divers who dive daily, but we believe we will need a large number of well trained divers to regularly dive with the ELF to control the invasion until nature begins to adjust and balance itself better.
To Visit Our Website, click this link:
Starting this August we'll be scheduling lion hunting safaris in Majahaual Mexico. We'll keep you posted on the outcome!
 Thanks, Tal; Great story, and good luck with ELF!
About is your home for exciting dive adventure novels, YouTube videos about ocean creatures, and more.
 Thanks for visiting, and we'll see you next month!
Paul J. Mila 
 Paul in Cozumel
75 Titus Avenue
Carle Place, New York 11514
To forward Sea-gram to a friend, please click the "Forward email" link below.
In This Issue
The Story Behind The Photo: A diver's encounter with a frienfly grouper.
Conservation Corner: Tal Bixby, Making A Difference
Featured Article in this month's 
 Conservation Corner: Tal Bixby, Making A Difference.
Read how this diver/inventor decided to take action and make a difference in helping control the Caribbean Lionfish invasion. 
  Lower left column.


Quick Links, Updates & Miscellaneous Features 

Quote of the month:
 "I've been in show business  a long time, and I can spot liars when I hear them."
  Jimmy Buffett's reply to Anderson Cooper during a recent interview. Cooper had asked Buffet his opinion
about the honesty of BP executives concerning their explanations for the causes and extent of the Gulf oil spill.
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 Win for the Whales!
Two major developments at this year's recently completed meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Morocco. Clink on the links for both stories: 
However,  this is a mixed victory. Many issues remain unresolved, whaling pirates Japan, Norway & Iceland continue hunting whales, and Greenlanders were given the right to hunt nine humpback whales for "cultural" and "sustainable" reasons.
This decision, proposed by Denmark, and supported by the United States, was condemned by most conservation organizations. For details on the Greenland decision click this link below:
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 Save The Reefs,
 Eat A Lionfish for Dinner!
Sea-gram fan Martha Weisberg sent this link to an article providing tasty recipes for cooking Lionfish:
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 For All You Dolphin Lovers:
An amazing video about how Sea World dolphins blow bubble rings:
Yes, yes, I agree with all of you who would rather see dolphins free than confined in Sea World's tanks, but it is still a cool video.
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 Sea Shepherd Updates:
SeaShepherd's Operation Blue Rage, Defending The Bluefin Tuna, is in full swing.
Click on the link below for the latest highlights and photos of the campaign: 
Click the link below and watch Sea Shepherd's divers cutting the nets of the illegal fishermen and setting the Bluefin free:
Sea Shepherd is now planning Operation Gulf Rescue, to help save wildlife endangered by The Big Spill. Click below for details of Sea Shepherd's new campaign:
Pete Bethune, Captain of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil, which was rammed & sunk by a Japanese whaler, was set free after a "show trial"
in Japan.
 Read the details below:
Don't forget to watch the third season of Whale Wars, Friday's at 9pm Eastern time on Animal Planet. 
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A fun dive site, where you can rent a beachfront condo, view great dive photos, and more!
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For The Best In Long Island Scuba Diving: Training, Sales, Service, and Diving,
 click below:
 Long Island
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AvailableGuest Link! 
Post a link to your web site here!
 for details. 
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New Zealand-based marine biologist, author, and Sea-gram fan C. George Mueller sent in this story about the death of Moko, a special wild dolphin:

"Moko was a wild bottlenose dolphin who used to interact with swimmers and surfers off the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island.

 "If you search the NZ Herald website for 'Moko' you will find lots of previous articles about him and his antics over the past few years, including video of him playing with people.

"He once even famously helped save the lives of a stranded whale and her calf.

 "He will be missed by all those whose lives he touched."
 Click the link below:
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